Monday, June 26, 2006

The Words Win

I'm not sure everyone in technical ministry would necessarily agree with David Wilcox's approach to mixing sound for worship, but it is a well articulated and interesting approach to mixing a band/vocals. I think it is certainly arguable that the words must be intelligible when mixing for worship in order to give the congregation the ability to freely and comfortably participate in worship. To read the entire article click here.


John Carlson said...

Scott encouraged me to post the comments I made on David Wilcox' blog in response to his idea of the mixing pyramid. I totally understand he's trying to come at things with a simplistic approach and for good reason when one is in a pinch. However I had these thouights, questions, and observations in response. Scott encouraged me to post them here as well. They were well accepted by David and he wants to offer some nuances to his original post on mixing in his Wed. blog. (If you don't know me, I work with Scott as Instrumental Music Director at Parkview!)
- John

In this modern day where everything is on video screens, including lyrics to songs, is it always so important for the lyrics to be 100% heard and intelligible for a mix/worship to be "spiritual"? Just an interesting question to ponder. Given a choice, for myself anyway, if the lyrics are present on screen, I'll take a thumping powerful in your face band mix any day over a weak mix with no energy or power but heavy on vocals. (Granted I'm an Instrumental Music Director and musician - can you tell? :-) But I've sat through too many mixes, in my own past churches even, where I've literally lost the beat due to an absence of a solid kick drum and drum mix, and I've lost the tonality of a new song I'm not familiar with going into a modulation from not hearing the harmonic movement of the bass - seriously! In its origin, the pipe organ was enlisted in church worship because it was the loudest instrument known to man at the time in order to lead the congregation in cathedrals. Scripture clearly speaks of instrumental music being very powerful and loud (the "loud crashing of cymbals" and the musicians "playing with all their might." Last, what about the worship leader, many of whom I've heard, especially male leaders with a lower range, who sound better with their voice sitting INSIDE the vocal mix, not always way out in front of it? I've seen that done very effectively where the WL is pulled out for necessary leadership, but then pushed back into the mix for the remainder of a song, allowing the other better vocalists carry the song. In the end I think too, and you allude to this, that a good mix has to start on stage with the band itself and how it is lead. I teach my musicians to serve the song and the lyrics first and foremost. This doesn't always mean playing softer or with less energy. But it does mean they pay attention to their role in the song, what the other musicians are doing, when to lay out, playing simplistic, when to dig in, when to "tighten up" or "widen out" as I call it. I prefer to think of the picture not so much of the mix as a volume pyramid as you describe, but a well-balanced 3D picture with a window in the center for the vocals to shine through. I'm always looking for a way, as great legendary studio music producers describe, to find a way in the arrangement to allow for that "window." Achieving that first on stage with the band is half the battle. Of course, mixing is an ART and a science, and a "good mix" can mean different things to everyone, especially our congregation. But I'm not sure judging it on shear volume alone or what should be out front of everything is the best way to go. Like a fine prepared gourmet dish that is well seasoned, sometimes in the end, what you taste most about the dish may be the least used ingredient.

John Carlson
Instrumental Music Director
Parkview Church, Iowa City
Former Assoc. Music Director - Willow Creek, 10 years.

ratherbflyin said...

Being a bass player and a audio technician, I ALWAYS want mostly bass guitar! :)

Seriously, I don't look at audio in a pyramid shape, I look at it more as a rectangle. I would place each "block" in the same order, with rhythm as the foundation and the worship leader at the top. To me, each section is as equally important as the other. Depending on where we the worship team are in a particular song dictates who might "win" volume wise.

That being said, I actually tend to start a mix the way that David recommends. I start w/the worhsip leader to get a good level. Then I mix the trap in, ensuring a lot of kick and snare drum. Then the bass. Then guitars, sax, & piano. Then I work on the vocal mix. This is just a starting point for me & by the time i'm done, I have lost David's pyramid.

One thing my church has tried to emphasize to me that I question: The worship leader should be the loudest of all the vocalists. I tend to not like this concept. I like an equal mix of all the vocal parts. I can understand that in a new song, that the melodic line needs to be on top, but even then I like to hear all the parts for the richness and depth. How do you guys feel about this?


scooterpastor said...

In some ways I think how one mixes the worship leader would depend on the worship leader. I mean, I am the kind of leader that likes to be tucked into the vocal mix mainly because I DO NOT have a great solo voice.

Now, if you listen to the Passion worship stuff, it is all worship leader driven mixing with very little supporting vocal. Though this is great for recording purposes, it isn't as practical for worship leaders who don't sound like Tomlin, nor it is as practical for the live church environment where we are trying to encourage participation. It's even more of an issue for worship leaders who like to improv throughout a song. If the BGV isn't strong in those cases, the congregation is freaked out trying to know who to follow.

I think both of you are right on with your concerns with the pyramid approach. I am glad this post generated a lot of discussion.