“One [button] to rule them all, One [button] to find them,
One [button] to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”
Ok, so the mute button doesn’t have the same power as The Ring from the Lord of the Rings trilogy but it can be your greatest tool when it comes to volume balancing.
Volume balancing is the process of setting sound levels in proper relationship to each other to create the desired overall sound. In the church environment, volume balancing is performed for the vocals and instruments in a worship band. Throughout this process, you are balancing the volume of one instrument/vocal to others. For example, the acoustic guitar needs to be louder in volume than the piano, for song ABC, while being softer than the lead vocal.
The biggest problem in volume balancing is indecision.
The indecision comes when you can’t decide if an instrument is at the right volume in comparison to the other instruments. The same could be said for backing vocals and even the lead vocals. How do you know if it’s right? Introducing the mute button.
Mute Your Way to a Proper Volume Balance
Follow these three simple steps to check your volume balance;
- Establish your general volume balance. This is usually done by starting with the drums and then moving to the bass, guitars, piano, etc until you last set your lead vocals so they set on top. You can then go back to the individual channels and alter the volume balance so the sounds sit in the right place for the song.
- Focus on the channel that’s causing you problems. Set the volume to the best place you think it should be. Then, mute that channel.
- Evaluate how the mix sounds without that instrument and take the appropriate action.
The Appropriate Post-Mute Actions
Once you mute that channel, listen to how the mix sounds without it. If it seems like there is no difference, then un-mute the channel and boost the volume. Mute the channel again and re-evaluate the mix with the muted/un-muted channel.
You might find that when you mute the channel that it’s clear the instrument/voice is missing from the mix. This does not mean you have the right volume. You might have too much. There is an easy way to find out. Un-mute the channel. If the sound suddenly jumps way out in the mix, then you know it was too loud. Cut your volume and mute/un-mute again and evaluate the mix.
The Take Away
There are days when you are mixing like a pro and then there are days when the indecision kicks in. Don’t let that indecision frustrate you. Use the mute button on the channels where you’re not sure if you’ve got the volume right. Compare the muted and un-muted sounds and then make the appropriate changes. The mute button is your friend. :)