Music is one of the most creative art forms on the face of our planet. It has the power to break down walls and bring people together that would be enemies otherwise. I’ve heard it said that music is what emotions sound like. Music is art and science, a voice and an instrument, beauty and form, harmony and emotion. It’s possibly the most accepted way of expressing our deepest, happiest, and most honest emotions.
But what is music if it can’t be heard? What is art if you can’t see the color or texture?
Music is also worship. Every song that’s written is worshipping something. The God-given creativity poured out in this form of worship is undeniable. Music moves us and makes us part of it.
Some respond to this by writing songs. And others, like you and me, learn how to serve these artists by reproducing their music to audiences across the world.
I’ve always felt that my position as a front of house mixer and tour manager for All Sons and Daughters carries some creative weight. The way I mix their music and the way I manage each night of worship holds the same creative value as the music they write. My desire is to creatively express myself while producing a mix that expresses the atmosphere and message of the music.
I am a creative person. We all are in our own unique ways. So it is by no mistake that I possess this desire. We are created as creative beings because this is the nature of our Father who creates us in His image. Therefore, it should come as no surprise how important the aspect of creativity is to the mix.
My journey to adding creativity to a mix has evolved so much. First it was birthed from a need to make my less-than-perfect gear sound its best.
Then I learned that the mix must be as creative as the artist and the song. It must express the emotions that are being presented accurately. It builds the final connection between the artist and the audience.
So, how do we accomplish creativity in the mix?
The first step is to be aware of what’s going on around you. The job of any audio engineer isn’t merely turning knobs and pushing faders. Being an audio engineer requires awareness of personalities and egos. It’s about making the artist feel that you have everything under control – even if you don’t.
Start your Sunday morning by understanding the artist and what they are bringing into the service – emotionally and spiritually. Look for ways to serve them when they arrive at the church building. Leading worship can be a heavy burden. So by serving them you are taking extra weight off their shoulders and preparing their hearts for worship.
As the service starts, be aware of how the room feels. Have folks arrived excited and ready to worship or is it a somber morning? This will determine how the first song should feel. If they need to sit and listen instead of jumping to their feet with their hands raised, ease them into the worship set with a warm, rather quiet mix to allow their hearts to settle in.
Live / Dynamic Mixing
When you listen to an album in your car you may notice how dynamic the mix is. Each instrument or voice will increase or decrease in volume during the length of one song. Front of house mixing should be the same.
To simply set the gain, EQ, and levels and not touch the board until the service is over would be doing a disservice to those in attendance and to the songs being played. It is important to give your position in a worship service everything you’ve got. You’re not there to please people but to please God with your worship. Part of your worship for the morning is in the effort you put into running sound.
Remember, music is an emotional experience. This is how it was designed. So it’s important to use your emotions and creativity to keep it this way.
Being Creative With the Mix
In a worship setting, it’s a good idea to bring the vocals out front in the mix so they are clear and can be understood well. If there is a strong guitar part during the song, bring the level up a bit in the mix.
There really is no formula here. It’s up to you. Use your ears and your awareness. Be creative while making sure to minimize any possibility of distractions.
Scanning the Mix
A good practice for a front of house engineer is to constantly scan the stage during each song. Look at every instrument and every singer to make sure you can hear them in the mix. Separation of each instrument and vocal is key. If you can hear everything you can see, you are doing well.
A good way to express creativity in the mix is by using effects – like reverb and delay. I commonly use one reverb as a “room” to put most or all of my instruments in. If the room you are mixing in already has a lot of natural reverb, you might not even need to add any. Too much can cause the mix to sound muddy.
There are also so many possibilities when using delay. If I have a few delays to work with I may use them on the snare, an acoustic guitar, or vocals. Over-use of delay is very common so be careful how and when you choose to use them. It’s always a good idea to listen to the recorded version of a song to determine how to use delay.
In case you haven’t noticed, I have talked much about gear and I won’t. Gear is rather irrelevant in the conversation of adding creativity to the mix. Use what you have and creatively make it sound better than it’s supposed to. You will learn more about mixing by using less than ideal gear than you ever will with the right system. Remember where this creativity comes from and why your position is important. Treat every Sunday as if it’s the last one you’ll ever mix and have fun with it.