Avoiding A "Wall Of Sound" When Mixing Your Worship Team.
Many have found mixing a full worship team presents a difficult challenge. In many cases the end result is what we call a “wall of sound”, where one instrument can’t be distinguished from another.
A comprehensive examination of Mixing Techniques is covered in our Sound Operator's Handbook and Course.
The wall of sound occurs when the operator uses volume as the only tool to mix the band. When mixing, you have several tools available to help blend the sound, however many inexperienced operators are not aware of these tools.
The tools that you have are:
By using a combination of these tools we can create a mix where we can hear each instrument independently but still have them blend together.
Placing Instruments In The Mix Using Equalization
Start by listening to the individual instruments and adjusting the Equalization controls. Each instrument can have it’s own space in the mix with regards to frequency. You could adjust the EQ controls differently for each instrument. If you boost the piano at 2Khz, boost the electric or acoustic guitar at a different frequency.
Also compare instruments by listening to two or three at the same time. Try to listen to see if you can hear each instrument stand out from the mix. Don’t worry too much if the instrument sounds a little thin on its own. You want to keep it in context of the full mix, not to make each instrument sound wonderful as a solo instrument.
This is known as “placing in the mix”. The best is example is the bass guitar. The bass guitar should take up the bottom end or low frequency so we should not boost the low frequency control on the acoustic guitar. Why? Because if we do then the piano overlaps the bass guitar’s frequency range and contributes to the “wall of sound”.
Making Elements Stand Out Using Separation
This next step only works if you are using a stereo system. Use the pan controls on your mixer to pan instruments more to the left or right instead of leaving everything dead center. This technique helps to make it sound as if there is physical space to your mix.
Some people worry that by panning an instrument more to the left or right that only the people on that side of the room will hear that instrument. However you can still hear that instrument quite well on the other side of the room.
Use the same principle that we learned for equalization. If you pan one guitar slightly left then pan the other guitar slightly right. This provides more of a physical space separation.
Adjust The Levels Between Instruments
Now that we have effectively used Equalization to place each instrument in the mix and used panning to provide more of a physical separation, we can set volume levels for each instrument and vocal. A good technique is to look at each instrument and singer one at a time, and listen to make sure you can hear them.
Make sure the vocals are above the instruments. If you have sub groups on your mixing console you can group the instruments to sub groups 1 and 2 and the vocals to sub groups 3 and 4. This will give you greater control by allowing you to control all of the instruments with 2 faders and all the vocals with 2 faders.
Getting a great mix from a worship team doesn't have to be a daunting, impossible task. In fact it can be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences as a sound operator.
By understanding and using the mixing tools at your disposal, you can avoid the "wall of sound" syndrome and create a better mix of your worship.