ValleyWAC 2017 Audio Mixing 101 session notes

By TJ Cornish, February 2017

Pursing excellence in worship

- Psalm 33:3 – “Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” ESV

- Exodus 35: 30-35 Constructing the Tabernacle – “He has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze…for work in every skilled craft” ESV

- Proverbs 22:29 “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” NIV

We serve before the King. God has given skills and abilities to everyone in this room, and God deserves our best effort.

We are going to talk about working together as a team, made up of on-stage and off-stage members. Both the on-stage and off-stage members are part of one team! As with any team, knowing a little bit about the whole picture and everyone’s roles and challenges goes a long way toward achieving the goal.

What is the goal? – Clear, intelligible music and speech, performed as excellently and without distraction as possible.

Let’s start with some technical principles.

  • The purpose of a sound reinforcement system is to reinforce the sound.
    • Garbage in, garbage out.  Ideally the sound system is a “straight wire with gain” – meaning what goes in, comes out sounding exactly the same, but louder. This is not the goal of a guitar amp, which is part of the sound of the instrument.
  • Audio interferes with itself – we want to maximize the direct sound and minimize the indirect sound – hearing each sound ideally from only one place
  • The loudest sound at the microphone wins

And on the musical side

  • Musicians need to hear themselves to stay on pitch, in time, and to sing or play musically

Now that we know where we are going, we can work to get there. Accomplishing these goals requires both the on-stage part of the team and the off-stage part of the team working together.

  • Maximize direct sound, minimize indirect sound
    • Aiming your speakers at the people
    • Reduce stage volume
    • Point other sources away from the audience
      • Guitar amps – knees are not the most sensitive part of the body to sound
  • What do you put through the sound system?
    • If it’s too loud, don’t use the sound system to make it louder!! 
  • Intelligibility
    • Audio interference – as few sources as possible!
    • Stage volume, AKA the cycle of death
    • Balancing fullness vs. intelligibility
  • Mic technique
    • Should be 1” from your lips
    • Don’t cup the mic
    • Don’t point the mic at the stage monitors
    • Project!!
  • Feedback
    • Loudest sound at the microphone wins
    • Gain before feedback is a physics phenomenon – relative distance between the microphone and the source (i.e. your mouth) compared to the distance between the microphone and the speakers.
    • Mic patterns
      • Omni-directional – equal sensitivity to sound in all directions from the element – the whole sphere
      • Cardioid – Sensitive on axis and to the sides. Minimum sensitivity is the back of the mic
      • Hyper cardioid – sensitive on axis and to some degree on the sides. Minimum sensitivity is 60° off the back of the mic
    • EQ
  • Monitors/foldbacks/in-ears - how to hear yourself
    • Wedges
      • Get them where you can hear them
      • Place them in the mic pattern nulls
      • Put only what you need through them
      • Roll off low frequencies
      • “I can’t hear myself” - Two ways to solve this – turn that person/instrument up, or turn everything else down.
      • Goal is not Dolby THX, but to hear just enough to do your job
    • In-ears
      • They’re not expensive!!!
      • Need to have one aux send per person
      • In-ear buds need to be isolating
      • Saves space, weight, your hearing
  • Stage to tech booth communication
    • Remember – we are members of one team. The sound person isn’t the servant of the music team, nor is the sound person above the music team, making unilateral decisions about who does or doesn’t get something. We are equal, and we all want the same goal.
    • Cultivate this relationship.  
      • If you are on stage, you can’t hear what it sounds like out in the audience. The sound person has the best overall perspective and can give valuable feedback to the on-stage team about what is working and what isn’t working.  
      • If you have a music team get-together, make sure you invite the tech folks – they are part of the team.
    • Separate musical or technical performance from self-worth. Successful teams have enough rapport within the team to be able to lovingly give and humbly receive feedback – both criticism and praise.
      • Do stuff together!!!  You can’t get here unless you have a relationship that goes deeper than 2 hours a week of rehearsal and service.
    • For musicians – clearly indicate what you need.  “I can’t hear myself” is ambiguous.  Is something too loud that’s preventing you from hearing yourself?  “Can you please turn down the XYZ in my monitor?” is a lot better.
    • Hand signals – point to what you need adjusted, then use your index finger to point up or down to indicate the level change.
      • Avoid using “thumbs up” to indicate you’re happy with the change – it can be confused with “I need more”. Use “OK”.
      • If a person does more than one thing, such as vocals and an instrument, make sure you indicate which you need adjusted. “I need more of Karen” doesn’t help if Karen sings and plays the guitar.
      • Creative adjectives are entertaining, but hard to decipher. “A little bit” usually means 3dB. “Quite a bit” would be 5 or 6 dB.
  • Using EQ
    • What is it supposed to sound like? Does that work in this situation? Too boomy, to shrill?
    • Sweep EQ – turn the gain up, sweep to make the problem worse, then cut
    • High-pass filters AKA low-cut filters
    • The problem is probably lower in Hz than you think – sound doubles in frequency per octave – not a linear relationship
  • Mixing basics
    • The sound person is part of the band!!!
    • What does the original song sound like? Should your version sound the same?
    • Can you hear everything? 
    • Should you hear everything?
    • EQing to make space
    • Be active – continuously scan the stage with your eyes and make sure you can hear everyone playing (assuming you want to hear them at that moment)
  • Troubleshooting
    • Break the problem down into smaller pieces
    • Swap components
  • Over/Under wrapping -

My website with some resources:

© TJ Cornish 2017