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Back in the Mix

October 14, 2014

My church recently (past year) switched over from an analog main console to a digital mixer. There are many benefits to having a digital mixer from the on-board processing to the ability to save and recall session or even working on sessions off-line (on a computer away from the sanctuary) and uploading it prior to a service. However, I believe the main benefit of having a digital Front of House (FoH) mixer is the ability to record each track individually. While that may not matter very much for a two track recording of the Pastor’s sermon tge ability to record separate tracks definitely matters during a 40 piece concert or even during song service which uses an 8 member praise team and 12 input band.

Using  a Dante card in an Allen & Heath iLive IDR our weekly services are recorded to an Mac Powerbook. I recently took a copy of one of the services because a song was performed that I really enjoyed and I wanted to mix it down. Since I have been focused on video recording and editing it had been a while since I have worked on multi-track audio mixing. It was definitely enjoyable to get back into it.

I used Sony Vegas Pro 12 for mixing and Sony Sound Forge 10 for the wave editing. Many people do not know what Sony Vegas started as a multi-track audio editor and it maintains that ability to this day. Because of my familiarity with it as a video editor I found it very easy to use it to mix audio. It is a great product for Video and Audio and cheaper to use the one product to do both jobs. Though some people who say, “But it’s not industry standard” it can export to just about any format you would possible use so that versatility makes it usable in just about any circumstance. It is a Windows only product so far and I am not aware of any move to change that. There are people who will use it on a Windows virtual machine on a Mac machine so there is still that option.

I spoke to a few people more familiar with audio mixing than I am and developed a plan of attack, per se. For the song I was interested I had to focus on 1 Lead vocal, 6 background vocals (2 sopranos, 2 altos, 2 tenors), 2 stereo channels each for two keyboards, 1 lead guitar, 1 bass guitar, one High and one Low channel for an organ, and 6 channels for the drums; 19 channels in all.

I decided to mix the vocals first, concentrate on the music next, bus the instruments to the main mix and then blend it all together for the final mix. I decided to pan the sopranos a little to the left, the tenors a little to the right and keep the altos in the center. I then sent the background vocals to a bus and worked with the lead vocalist track for a while. While I did some EQ adjustments and Compression on the vocal tracks I did not add any FXs yet. As my friend explained you should always save the FX until after you’ve gotten everything balanced correctly.

After I was satisfied with the vocals I moved to the instruments… and here is where I lost countless hours. Initially I just planning to do this for fun with a vow not to get too in-depth in mixing but after the third hour came and went I realized that plan had gone out the window. Just mixing the drums took a few hours. I had the kick, the snare, 3 Toms and 2 overhead mics. I realized that 1 overhead mic seemed to pick up every sound in the house so I muted it completely. I had a lot of EQ work to do on each drum as the kick needed to be deepened, the snare needed to be brightened, the toms needed individual adjustment and the overhead needed serious brightening since that was the only mic to get the cymbals. Each drum track needed to be gated to limit the bleed over from the other drums and then I sent all of it to a bus. Then I tackled the bass guitar which really only needed to be normalized in Sound Forge and then darkened just a bit in Vegas. Because that track is a direct in there was no bleed from other instruments. The lead guitar was a little more difficult because the amp was mic’d and even though we took pains to shield the mic it still picked up other instruments from the band pit. It was not easy to gate the guitar track because he played at different levels and the gate would sometimes cut out the guitar. After much time spent tweaking and EQ’ing I was happy with the results.

Once I finished the final mix down and felt pleased with it I sent it to a few people to get their feedback and I was surprised with the comments I received. Apparently the mix came out rather dark. I know I have the tendency to lower the highs and boost the bass but I usually compensate for that habit. Everything became “clear” (pun will be obvious soon) when I was able to test a pair of JBL LSR308 studio monitors. What I discovered was that my current studio monitors did not reproduce highs very effectively so when I was mixing what I thought was clear was not even close. The clarity of the LSR308’s allowed me to create a much better mix than what I had done before. When I ran the LSR308’s in conjunction with my current monitors I found that that mid-range of my M-Audio speakers matched well with the highs and lows of the JBLs. Great combination! It’s a shame that I have to send the JBLs back. Lesson learned: equipment still matters. Now I need to test out an older pair of Tannoy passive studio monitors that I came across though I am finding it hard to find a 100w amplifier…

All in all it was another great experience and I look forward to the next service that I can mix.

 

BTW – If anyone come across a good 100-200w amplifier please let me know! 😉

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