Mixing Monitors for Worship - Part 2

By Leon Sievers
Sound Professional
March 29, 2022

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Having outlined the various equipment and signal routing methods, we begin to look at the technique or process to mixing sound. A good sound check is absolutely necessary to getting a good mix for both the monitors and house systems.

Before performing a sound check, first initialize the mixer controls by setting them to off, flat, or zero. This establishes a frame of reference and eliminates complications later. Make sure the master volume fader is all the way down or set to zero. After powering up your mixer console and other audio equipment you may then turn on the loudspeaker power amps. You always want to power up the main speaker amplifiers last to avoid audio “thumps” when you turn on the mixer. 

Before the worship team arrives, you should test each microphone and label it’s channel position along the bottom of the console. Begin by having someone speak into the main vocal microphone and repeat this process for each microphone on stage. Set the input trim to unity gain. This is the point at which no level is added or subtracted from the nominal signal. Most mixers have a mark, which identifies unity on the fader and input trim controls. Check the owner’s manual for your particular console for the proper settings.

Gradually raise the master fader, and submaster faders, to the mid-center positions, usually marked by shading or lines. This position provides the least mixer noise or distortion. Check that you are receiving signal and have the signal being reproduced by both the monitor and house sound system. By going through this process before the worship team arrives, you will have adequate time to troubleshoot the system.

Schedule the arrival of the musicians so that drums and percussion arrive 15 minutes in advance of the rest of the band. They will benefit from the extra time and space to setup their equipment and others won’t lose focus waiting for the drums to get setup. Once the entire worship team is ready (you will know this because they will begin playing riffs from Stairway to Heaven) it is time to redirect their focus onto the technical elements of sound check. Instruct all the musicians to refrain from playing until each instrument and vocal has been properly checked. 

I recommend checking instruments ahead of vocals. It is often difficult to establish a good vocal mix until the band has set their stage levels. I recommend that you start with the lowest octaves and work towards the upper frequency ranges for both instrument and vocals. Begin with the kick drum and other percussion then add the bass guitar, keyboards, guitar and finally acoustic guitar.

Adjust the level and eq as available in your monitor mix configuration. Make another eq adjustment for the sound being reproduced in the house speaker system. Repeat this process until you have checked and set the proper levels in the monitors and confirmed their presence in the house sound system. 

Once the instruments have been checked, you can begin checking the vocal microphones. Raise their volume fader to a pleasant level and use this as a reference for the rest. Adjust the individual volume of the other singers or musicians to blend together. You can do a quick rough adjustment on each and then go back and fine-tune each fader once the band has played through at least one song. Adjust the level and eq for each instrument and vocal within the monitor mix as directed by the worship leader or appointed stage leader. It is easier to take direction from the most experienced musician or worship leader than to ask people his or her opinion of their monitor mix. Those who have less experience may not have the knowledge or confidence to ask for more bass or “shine” in their mix. Once the band has agreed to the rough mix, ask them to play through a set. Take a walk on stage and listen to the mix of each monitor and ask each performer if they can hear themselves adequately.

Headphones are useful for blending a mix, but remember, the ambient sound will be slightly different than what you hear in the headphones. Your fine-tuning of the mix will need to be performed without headphones, listening to what the congregation hears.This is the only way to gauge the ambient sound properly. Input faders must be adjusted so that the meter level reads approximately zero during the loudest volume. Less than this will allow hiss to be heard in the program sound - more than this (in the red zone) will cause distortion (a ragged, raspy edge to the sound). 

Once the worship team has settled into a comfortable monitor mix, you can turn on the house sound and repeat this process for the house mix. You can usually accomplish this without interrupting the band and adjusting each channel / instrument / vocal while they continue their rehearsal. Check with the worship team to see if the presence of the house sound system requires any adjustment to their monitor mix.

When mics on stage are not being used, it is best that they are muted off, this prevents unwanted feedback and eliminates ambient echo and phase shifting. A “sound gate” will perform this function automatically - it will mute the mic when no one is speaking, and will open instantly when someone speaks (sensitivity is adjustable).

Identify the vocalists who sing best on key, and highlight their volume slightly - not a lot, just slightly! Reduce volume and high frequency gain slightly on those who sing off key. Less high gain tends to take the “edge” off of sour notes. Whenever a normally good singer is consistently off key, it usually means they cannot hear themselves, or cannot distinguish their voice from the music or other singers. Slowly raise their individual mic gain in their monitor speaker and see if this corrects their singing - it usually will. If it doesn’t, slowly return fader to original position so that you don’t mess up the settings for everyone else.

Most worship teams get used to hearing their voice through speakers and learn to gauge their vocal volume and tonal quality by what they hear. They need to have a consistently good monitor volume to feel confident with their voice. Too little volume through the monitor will cause the vocalist to “eat” the microphone to make it louder. It will also cause them to strain their voice from trying to sing louder. Too much volume will cause them to draw the mic too far away and cause them to sing meekly. Watch where they hold their mike - if too far away, lower the monitor volume. If too close, raise the volume. 

I recommend spending the extra time to be part of the worship team’s rehearsal process. This is when you can spend the extra time to eq each member’s vocal or instrument and become familiar with what works best with your worship team. Practice makes perfect. 

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