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How to Make Up for Missing Instruments

The drummer called in sick. The bassist’s car broke down. The guitarist had a family emergency. Whatever the reason, you are now missing an instrument in the band. It’s time to adjust your mix to fill in the hole.

There are two ways of treating missing instruments;

  1. Make it obvious in the mix. For example, if the only electric sound in the band was the electric guitar, then mix it as an acoustic set.
  2. Cover up the vacancy with other sounds. It’s here that I’m parking for today.

Methods for filling in the hole:

  • Pretend you never had that instrument. This will require denying knowledge of the musician and their family. This is not a method I recommend. It simply gets too complicated, and if you accidentally mention their name a few years later, then it all falls apart.
  • Look at alternative micing for bringing in the missing frequencies. A djembe is a great percussion instrument with the slap on the top skin. If the drummer calls in sick, add a mic to the bottom of the djembe to bring more low-end frequencies into your mix.
  • Look for areas for boosting. If the pianist couldn’t make it in, look at boosting the upper-mids and highs on the acoustic guitar. No bassist? Boost a bit of the lows in the electric guitar. Your goal isn’t to completely fill in the frequency holes, only to make the holes less obvious.
  • Look for areas for cutting. Any time an instrument is removed from a mix, the overall balance of the instruments and vocals has changed. Bottom line, it’s time to re-evaluate your mix.

I will note that a missing instrument should give rise to arrangement changes by the worship leader, but that’s not always possible, or in some cases, necessary.

The Take Away

The instruments present at your mid-week practice aren’t guaranteed to be there for the church service. That’s part of live audio production — things change. The good news is your mix doesn’t have to come crashing down. Consider how the mix sounds without that instrument and start making changes to close up the gap. You shouldn’t try making a guitar sound like a bass and a guitar, but you can make subtle changes that fill in some of the missing low end.

This article originally appeared on Behind the Mixer. You can see the original post by clicking here.  

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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