Mixing sound is as much an art as it is a craft. And like any art or craft, it requires a commitment to learning and practice in order to stay proficient and mix with excellence on a regular basis.
That’s all well and good to say, but what does it really mean to “practice sound?”
How can church sound techs practice and get better?
Are there tools that can help measure that advancement in knowledge and skill?
I hate to break it to you like this, but if you want to get better at mixing sound then you’ll need to do more than just show up at mid-week worship rehearsal, shadow the lead mix engineer on Sunday, and “think about running sound.”
Fortunately, there are some great resources to help you get started (if you’re an audio rookie), and tools to help you continue your education (even if you’re a live sound veteran).
If you don’t know where to start…
I always recommend getting your live sound education started with volunteering for any live sound or production opportunities available to you. Yes, this can include being part of the mid-week worship rehearsal and shadowing the lead mix engineer. It can also include being a stagehand in special church productions. And make yourself available before or after services to help setup and tear down any equipment as needed.
By starting with this, you’ll get a hands-on feel for how the physical components and workflow of live sound at your church work together. And ask questions. Soak up all the details and tips you can during this time.
Then, add to your hands-on learning by discovering the fundamentals of audio and why things work the way they do. Mixing sound is part art, part science. The science doesn’t have to get super deep, but you’ll want to know a few of the basics – things like: what actually causes a feedback loop and what do EQ and Compression actually do to an audio signal?
Tools for beginners: the book and mobile app Great Church Sound – a guide for the volunteer and the audio blog at BehindTheMixer.com
Now that you’re ready to start mixing…
You need to train your ears and learn how to listen. Then you need to apply that information (what you hear + what you know) to the mix. This is the part that takes a lot of practice (just being honest).
It can take some time to learn how to really listen and “tune your ears” for what to listen for. But I can guarantee you that if you put in some practice, you’ll be able to pinpoint various frequencies and know just where to go on your EQ to find that “sonic sweet spot” or eliminate that annoying tone that’s throwing off the mix.
This part can take the most practice, but it can also be the most fun. You’ll get to actually hear the amazing results of your training and practice – in real time! It’s hard to beat that feeling of efficiently getting a great mix dialed in and sounding awesome.
Tools for practicing your mix and training your ears: online video training from ChurchMix.com and listening exercise apps like HearEQ and QuizTones.
Once you feel like you’ve mastered your sound…
One of the best parts of learning and mastering a craft is that you have the opportunity to pass on that valuable information to someone else. And really, it is your responsibility as a steward of these talents and gifts to share with your congregation and fellow volunteers.
Even if you feel like you’ve “been there and done that,” you’ll be surprised how much you’ll continue to learn by simply teaching someone else what you know and show them how to do what you do.
If you’re in a leadership position or have reached a high level of proficiency with your craft, then I encourage you to take the next step and take an active role in sharing your experience and knowledge with your team – or maybe you need to start building a team if you don’t already have one.
Tools for the team leader and experienced tech: attend leadership conferences like WFX or challenge yourself on the science of sound with the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook.
The mixing console is your instrument, and you need to practice to remain proficient.