Tools or Toys?: MIX POSITION

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

There he is standing in the church kitchen, preaching with all his heart. All the people are in the sanctuary. Why is he preaching in the kitchen? Makes no sense.

There he is sitting in the corner of the balcony mixing with all his heart. All the people are in the sanctuary. Why is he mixing up in the balcony? Makes no sense either.

You may think this is a poor analogy because the job of the audio engineer doesn’t really compare to that of the pastor. Well, how important do you think your pastor is? Ahh…that got the feathers flying, but that is exactly my point!

If you believe your pastor has a message to bring that is worth hearing, why would you handicap the audio engineer whose responsibility it is to make sure it is heard? If you have invested time and resources into a praise and worship program at your church designed to enable, encourage and inspire authentic worship through great sounding music, why would you stick the person that can bring all of those elements together against the back wall or in the balcony? (I don’t even want to talk about the poor souls that are trying to do this job from behind a wall sticking their heads through a little sliding window…)

Here is a fundamental and profound truth that all audio touring companies understand. If you want the sound of your program to sound right in the audience, you have to mix it from in the audience. Many of our large contemporary churches also grasp this concept with high quality, high production worship that they want to sound good in the sanctuary… so they mix from in the sanctuary. Otherwise it is nothing but a morning of guesswork and compromise with your audio crew.

Sound reflecting from nearby walls and from under the balcony can really distort what your audio team hears compared to what the majority of your congregation hears. We would never put the lighting guys in a room where they can’t see. Why do we put our audio crews in places where they can’t hear correctly? It is interesting (and sometimes sad) to ask sound engineers in churches where their mix position is. Unfortunately, it is pretty rare to find anyone mixing from where they should be, with the exception of the larger churches I mentioned previously. It seems a lot of churches design their mix position as an afterthought— just sticking it in some convenient corner rather than taking into consideration how important correct placement can be to their congregation’s overall worship experience.

I am aware that there are some real world obstacles to face when considering the placement of your mixing console. It is sometimes hard to get people to accept that audio should be mixed from in their midst. Even the building layout can be a factor, and contemporary worship is very different from the worship that many churches were designed for. Simpler instrumentation required much less of an audio engineer— if there even was an engineer— and the audio could be done from almost anywhere. It is interesting to note that sanctuaries used to be designed around the organs they housed. Today’s sound system design should be approached with the same mentality. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

The fact is, there is little difference between a church producing a contemporary worship service and a popular music act doing concert events. The production values are the same. But you still have to mix from where the people are, if you want it to sound good where the people are.

So what are some of these arguments that keep our audio crews from these prime territories? Are you so crowded on Sunday morning that you can’t free up those seven or eight seats? With digital mixers providing more channels in a smaller footprint than analog boards, it is easier to fit your audio crew in a fairly small space. Sometimes people feel it is distracting to have the mix position in the midst of the people. One approach that is finding more and more favor in the theatre and church world is the Hollywood Bowl approach…to actually sink the mix position so that the audio staff is sitting at the same level as the rest of the congregation.

Churches that have their mix position in the sanctuary will typically place it at the rear of one of their pew or seating sections on an aisle. It doesn’t need to be literally in the middle of the room. You do however want to get your crew into a position where what they hear is as close as possible to what the rest of the congregation is hearing.

Do not underestimate the value of high quality audio in your church service. It is a critically important bridge between your message, your music and your congregation.