In part one of this lesson, we discussed how important it is to think of yourself as a part of the band: You are just a musician who is “Playing the soundboard”. That means you practice, do your best to make things sound “professional” and some days you are better at playing your instrument than others.
But, in order to get a good mix, there is another, even more ethereal factor, that is important: What is the definition of a good mix?
That may seem like an easy question. You would probably say that a good mix is a mix that sounds the way you think it should sound. Unfortunately, if you said that, you would be wrong.
In all organizations, there is a political element. Sorry, but this is true in churches as well. It is true for a variety of reasons, but probably one of the biggest ones is that peoples’ jobs are at state. In many churches, if the Pastor doesn’t perform the way that certain people expect, they won’t last long. This is a sad but true fact in the majority of our churches in the United States today. This subject could take up this entire lesson and then some, but that isn’t what the lesson is about. So, just suffice it to say, politics is involved.
So, what does that mean to the sound guy. Well, unfortunately, way too much. Someone has to decide what the mix should sound like. In some of our very “young” churches, the sound is loud with a persistent beat that you can feel in your chest. The sound is run like a rock concert and you have to shout to the person next to you to be heard. In other churches, contemporary music means a very sparse “band” that is essentially taking over for the organ. Some contemporary music will be done, but much of the music is still hymns done in a “contemporary way” (yeah, right).
Before I go any further, let me tell you that I love to sing hymns. I was raised on them. The tradition of the church I grew up in (and still attend) is that of 4-part harmony singing the hymns. So, when it comes to hymns, I can certainly worship in that kind of service. What pains me is to see good hymns ruined by trying to make them “contemporary”. There are some (a few) hymns that lend themselves to that kind of conversion well. There are many other hymns that would be much better musically and from a worship standpoint, if we just continued to sing them as hymns. Wow! I am really getting off point on this lesson.
So, in some churches, “contemporary music” means something completely different than it does in others. And there are churches at every point along the spectrum. Take a minute and mentally put your church on the line at the spectrum you think you are.
If you are running sound in one of the “Heart Thumping” churches, running sound is a breeze. Turn it up, and keep it up. No one is ever going to turn around and glare at you because the sound is “too loud”.
If you are running sound at a church that is somewhere down the spectrum with the volume is somewhere less than that, look out. Running sound is going to be a challenge. Why? Because everyone has an ideas about how things should sound. Everyone. Ultimately, the decision for how the sound should be run (how loud overall, how loud are the drums and bass, etc., etc.,). Realize that in these churches (which are the vast majority of churches), you will never have the fabled “good mix” as far as everyone in the church is concerned. So, who decides? Who says how loud it should be? Who says how things should be mixed?
There is only one answer: THE PASTOR. If he delegates this responsibility to someone else, then that is his option. But, because everyone has different tastes, there has to be a single individual who sets the “standard” for what the definition of a “good mix” in a given church.
I would also recommend one piece of equipment that helps to take some of the guesswork out of what is a very “squishy” standard. A decibel meter. Using a decibel meter, you can gain some repeat-ability with the overall volume. So, the idea is that someone says “This is the maximum volume level we should be running at!”. Take a decibel reading. Record that number. Now, as we are running sound, we try to keep the overall sound below that number. That gives us a verifiable, repeatable, measurable standard for volume levels. Decibel meters, by the way, are very inexpensive (at least compared to sound equipment).
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to decibel meters:
- A Decibel are in logarithmic units. That means that 30 is 10 times louder that 20 and 40 is 10 times louder than 30. That may seem to be what you would intuitively expect on the surface. However, I don’t think you would expect that 40 is 100 times louder than 20. Or that 50 is 1000 times louder than 20. So, keep in mind that a little bit “over” the limit may be a lot more sound than you are expecting.
- “Perceived sound” may not always follow what the decibel meter says. Different frequencies carry more or less in any room, people hear them differently due to genetics and hearing loss.
So, even with a decibel meter, you have to use some judgement.
I will end this lesson with an story: One time at the end of a service, I had an older (like 80 year old), respected member of the congregation come up to me after the service and say, “Boy, that music was loud today. All I could hear was that BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! of the drum.” I was surprised. I thought the mix had been quite good that day. I polled other members of the congregation and got nothing but good reviews. As I thought about this conversation later, I realized the following:
- This member usually goes to a “Traditional” service. It is not normal for him to hear anything other than organ and the occasional piano accompaniment.
- At 80, he wears hearing aids and has lost a good portion of his hearing. It is usually the high frequency hearing that we loose first, and so, he will naturally hear lower frequencies better than he hears the higher frequencies.
It would be best for this man to attend a traditional service. A mix that is “good” to him, will be unbearable for anyone else.
Thus, I end this lesson with the same question I asked at the beginning of this article: “What is the definition of a good mix?”
Go to lesson 12: Controlling Feedback