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Ask Casey About Church Sound: How Do I Make My Mix Bigger?

Dear Casey – I am having issues trying to get my mix big sounding every Sunday. I want a huge sounding mix. How do I get everything as big as possible?

Disappointed Mixer

Dear Disappointed,

This is actually a topic I’ve blogged about before.

I think from the very start, your goal is flawed. You shouldn’t be asking “How do I get everything as big as possible?” Rather, your question should be: “How do I get the most natural and pristine mix possible?” That’s the better question, and it’s one that most seasoned professionals strive to answer gig by gig.

Every circumstance can vary as to how to accomplish that, but here are some really great starting points to get you going in the right direction:

Your goal should be the following:

Make every instrument sound as if you are sitting right there in front of it with no amplification. That’s THE sound you should be after for each instrument and voice. God purposed it that every instrument has it’s own timbre. Each one has its own voice, and your job is to capture that as naturally as possible.

This is accomplished by the following:

1 – If you don’t have an ear for music, you need to develop one.

2 – Nothing beats a great player with a great sounding instrument.

3 – Push to have the best PA you can afford. It doesn’t have to be super expensive or fancy.

One of the best sounding PA’s I’ve heard was at a gig in Hammond, Louisiana 20 years ago. This dude was doing sound for a band called “Waterdeep.” Out of the trailer he rolls out vintage EV cabs and some large bare horns. It looked like something straight out of the 60’s, and it sounded glorious!

4 – If at all possible, always push to have the best space acoustically.

It’s something that a lot of weekend warriors forget, but it’s extremely important. I used to run sound for a a very large church that invested over a million (easy) on audio equipment, but the low-end was always mush due to acoustic issues in the room. I’d rather have a simple & effective PA in a great sounding & tuned room, than a million-dollar PA in a terrible sounding room.

5 – Knowing how to choose which microphone for each instrument and proper microphone placement, is the name of the game.

6 – Learn how to set your mixing console to unity gain, and always be aware of proper gain structure.

7 – Have a sonic goal in mind when applying effects. Don’t just add something just because you can. That was one of the great things about running sound before digital consoles. Your choices were limited, and in my opinion, it often times yielded better mixes.

8 – If you have the above right, the music will almost mix itself, and from there you’ll only have to make fine adjustments. All of the above is what I call, “mixing the band from the stage.” By the time you get to the mixing console, you’re job is 90% done.

If you would like to know more, you can always visit my page on mixing here.

For more solid advice, here are suggestions:

— ProSoundWeb Church Sound, probably the best collection of worship audio reference articles to be found, written by veteran church techs and even top professional engineers.

— “Sound Advice: The Musician’s Guide to the Recording Studio” by Wayne Wadhams is an excellent book. Even though the focus is on the studio side, the content is excellent for live sound as well.

— And, the “Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook” is not too shabby either. It’s out of print but copies are available at a reasonable price from outlets such as Sweetwater and Amazon.

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