Home Worship & Creative Leaders Articles for Worship & Creative 4 Signs of a Mediocre Audio Mix—and How to Fix It

4 Signs of a Mediocre Audio Mix—and How to Fix It

Does your mix suffer from these four common mix maladies?  If it does, that’s OK because there is a remedy for each one. The next worship service could be your best sounding mix.

There are different mixes a sound tech must create depending on the congregational preferences and pastoral requirements. Using an example with a very wide mix difference, a mix for a “hip” youth group will be much different than a mix for a church with an older congregation and traditional music. This is simply part of the job. It doesn’t mean one mix is better or worse as they each meet the existing needs.

Regardless of the mix requirements, there are four signs your mix is suffering. The biggest problem in recognizing these signs is getting over your own bias for your mix. It’s your mix, so it’s perfect, right? I thought I used to get a great snare drum sound until another sound tech showed me what I was missing. Before you ignore these signs, try the fixes during your next sound check and listen to the difference.

The Four Signs of a Mediocre Audio Mix

1. Mix lacks low-end emphasis and energy

The bass, the lower-end drum toms and the kick drum play a huge role in filling in the low-end sound while also giving the music the right amount of energy. A mix that doesn’t have these properly pulled in will get you an overall sound that lacks energy and feeling. Or, as I like to call it, vibe.

Start by adding “too much” of the kick drum into the mix. Once you find it overpowering the overall mix, start cutting back the volume. If you have an electric drum kit all on one channel, use the low-end EQ to control the kick’s presence in the mix. Listen for a spot where the kick drum gets you the right vibe. I was at a church where I could set the kick volume by my ability to feel it in the floor of the sound booth.

Use the above for all the low-end instruments. Traditionally, you bring up the volume until it’s where you want. However, you’ll find you can often find a better volume spot by pushing the channel much hotter and then pulling back.

2. All channels have the same volume level in the mix

A mediocre mix is easy to spot when all the instruments and the vocals sound like they are at the same volume level. The mix lacks depth. There is no subtlety to any part of the mix. There is no leading instrument or vocal.

Honestly, I’m not sure why this problem is so prevalent, but I have an idea. During the process of setting the gain structure, most of us get the volumes in the same range on the mixer meter. As this point, you should then set all the volumes in the right relationships to each other. It seems, the problem occurs when that last part isn’t done.

Start your next sound check by bringing in the drums to the level that fits the room, then bring in each instrument that’s higher in frequency. Then bring in the vocals until you end with the lead vocalist, which should be on top of the mix. You can check out these articles for more information on volume balancing:

3. Instruments and vocals lack clarity and distinction

Each instrument and each vocal needs to fit in the mix so the best qualities of each are present in the mix. It’s like my grandmother’s cooking: She had all the right ingredients, but she couldn’t season a dish to save her life. The EQ process is the seasoning. I’ll be honest: I used to sneak in a bottle of hot sauce on the days she made her chili.

Let’s say you have two singers, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a bass and a drum kit. The default “noon” position on the channel EQ’s isn’t going to help your mix. Decide what you want your mix to sound like, and then start making EQ changes. For instance, if you want the acoustic guitar to have a bright feel, then cut a bit of the lows, boost a bit of the highs and then work out the mid-range frequencies to give you the right amount of presence and body from the guitar.

Creating clarity in any one instrument is more than this article could cover so consider these articles:

4. Music doesn’t fill the frequency range

I hear this when a mix is lacking in the higher and lower frequencies. The first sign mentioned was surrounding the low frequencies. Let’s look at how a mix might not have enough high frequencies.

High frequencies can come through high vocals, bright sounds like high strings on a guitar and cymbals, just to name a few. This isn’t to say you have to push high frequencies just for the sake of filling in frequencies in the high end. Consider it like this: Mute the cymbals in your mix. How does that sound? Turn them up to the right volume. How does that sound? If you have a lively energetic song, you’ll likely want a nice, bright-sounding mix. Push the highs up a little on the cymbals. Now, how does the whole mix sound?

Listen to your whole mix, and listen for frequency holes where you can fill in the frequency. It’s like an example I’ve used before: You are painting a picture with music. You need to fill the whole canvas with color. You can use pastels, earth tones, whatever color selections you like. But you can’t paint a picture with all red tones or all blue tones. A picture painted with many similar colors gets you a picture that’s hard to interpret. It’s a cow, no, it’s a house, no, it’s a VW microbus. By using a wide range of colors (frequencies), you can create a variety of beautiful musical paintings with depth and feel and emotion.

The Takeaway

The best way for quickly improving your mix is listening to it objectively and comparing it to the above four signs. Mixing is a wonderful creative process, but it’s also a process that takes time, skill, patience and evaluation.  

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chrishuff@churchleaders.com'
Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. He also teaches all aspects of live audio production, from the technical fundamentals to creative music mixing to keeping your sanity. Find out more at www.behindthemixer.com