building a great mix

I remember the first time I had a mix really come together.  I remember the song (“Messiah” by First Call).  I remember the venue (Kensington Middle School Cafetorium).  I remember the soundboard (Yamaha 2404).  This list definitely doesn’t describe what I thought would be the perfect mix.

Looking back, the song wasn’t amazing, the venue definitely was quite awful, and the gear was sub-par.  So what made it so great?  Why do I consider it my finest moment as an audio engineer?

I obviously wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t thought of an answer to this.  Here are a few things that applied to me in this particular situation and can also apply in most others.

1.  Know the music – I knew this song like the back of my hand.  I had been in a traveling singing group in high school that performed this song and I knew every vocal part, every guitar riff, every keyboard bass lick.  Even in a less-than-perfect environment, I knew what that song needed to sound like, and I worked like crazy to get it there.

2.  Trust and Relationship – The music director and I were pretty close and we had worked together for a long time.  I knew that he valued what I brought to the table and he knew that I wanted to accurately translate what was happening on the stage.  I knew he was coming prepared, and he knew I was showing up fully prepared.  We were both on the same page about the goal of what we were doing.  The congregation needed to be able to hear the words to the song and engage with the message of it.

Number 1 is almost laughable.  Of course knowing the music will help you get a better mix…thanks for the advice, Todd.  The second one is way more abstract and infinitely more complicated and difficult to achieve.  Knowing the music is something I can do on my own, and it depends on only me.  Trust is mutual.  It requires give and take.  It requires relationship.  It requires letting go and compromise.  To achieve it, I have to make a move, not just wait around for someone else.

No doubt, building a great mix depends on all kinds of factors, but usually breaks down around lack of trust and relationship.

What am I doing to build these?  What can I do today to take a step closer to the best mix ever?

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