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Vocalists Vs. the Sound Mixer

Blake Engel, All Church Sound


Who does the blending?

This is part of a discussion that occurred on the Church Soundcheck List early November of this year. We asked a few of the participants if we could use their words of advice--all were happy to let us do so. This part of the discussion dealt with the question "Do sound mixers make a vocal group blend, or does the vocal group need to work together to blend?" The final answer--BOTH! The vocal group needs to work well together and individually, and the sound mixer needs to know what they should sound like and how to get it to sound that way. Let's jump into the discussion: "By way of explaining my perspective, I'm a member of a 16-voice mixed choral group that sings popular and religious music with a minimum of instrumental support (generally just keyboard, drums and string bass)--sometimes none at all. There have been several important points made during this discussion. Among them: (1) There is more to blending than just hitting the right notes at the right time with the right volume (although that in itself would be a pretty good start!). Word pronunciation, diction, tone shaping, interpreting the lyrics and probably a dozen more things come into play. (2) The most important element of blending is careful listening, both to your own sound and to the sounds of the rest of the group. (3) Singers must hear the raw sounds they are producing to blend properly--reflection from FOH may intrude, but getting used to listening to the monitors and filtering out the extraneous is a learned skill. (4) A group must work hard at blending without reinforcement before it can sound even passable through a sound system. (5) The sound tech should listen to the group up close without reinforcement so he/she knows what the sound should be and can try to tweak the system to reproduce that sound out front." (Richard Snyder, moneysaver@iname.com, The Bernie Schmidt Singers, http://www.homestead.com/bernieschmidtsingers/home.html) "This assumes that there IS a vocal sound out front that is not buried in an over loud band. You are correct however as to the importance of listening to the acoustic sound before you try to amplify or record it. The MOM [minister of music] should also get out front and listen. Too often we get into the mentality of "creating" a sound rather than "reinforcing" it. While there are a few musical styles that can't/don't exist acoustically, they are not often seen in church circles, or even at that Mecca of wild and loud sounds called the Cornerstone Festival. People on this list have systems ranging from a 4 input Radio Shack system to some 6-figure sound systems. The operators of all of them would greatly benefit from careful listening to what they are trying to amplify." (Ray Rayburn, Audio@Technologist.com) "(6) None of this is possible if the singers can't sing or won't listen-right back to that sow's ear thing--and if the sound tech can't hear what the group is trying to do. As I look these points over, it all hinges on listening--whether you're a singer or a sound person. The most important body part involved in group singing is not the voice, it's the ears. It must be--God gave two ears and only one mouth!" (RS) "Before people get discouraged however, there is hope! Listening can be taught! Listening also improves with practice! So don't give up on either yourself or that over loud singer. You both can improve. One very useful tool to help is a simple cassette recorder. Put a recorder out in front of the group as they are practicing (ideally without a sound system). Give the tape to the person who is sticking out and ask them to listen to it at home. Encourage them to try to improve, and I bet they will. In the same way put a recorder in the middle of the congregation during a service, and listen to it later at home. Make notes while listening to it. Don't just listen to a tape made from the sound board, but made with an independent recorder in the middle of the congregation. With some careful listening and a lot of effort huge changes can be made. Scott Ross who covers music and arts for CBN came to this country as a boy from Scotland. He got his nickname "Scott" because of his heavy accent. He was determined to change however. A local radio station let him use their production studio when it was not otherwise in use. He recorded his voice, LISTENED to it, and totally got rid of his accent. Now this did not happen overnight, but it serves as an example of the sort of improvements we can make with careful listening and effort over time." (RR) "We've auditioned several great soloists over the years that wanted to join our group but they'd never trained that part of their singing anatomy and so weren't able to blend. On the other side of that, most of us aren't comfortable (or very good at) doing solos because we're so attuned to blending as a group. We've also worked with several sound people who just had no idea what kind of sound we were trying to produce. Each of us has a role to play in the ensemble. Sometimes it might not be the one we'd prefer, but it's the one where we can make the greatest contribution. Putting aside our egos can help us find that role. Knowing your weaknesses helps you develop your strengths." (RS) "I know I have made this point before in other posts but no matter how good your technical skills, no matter how good your mixing skills, the greatest resource and talent a mixer designer can have is people skills. Some of the wealthiest mixers and designers in the world are not the most talented technically but have the best people skills. As mixers and members of worship teams the greatest skill we can build is the one of interacting with people. Most of us realize that we work in a field that has more than its share of fragile egos. It is not our job from a technical or spiritual perspective to shatter those egos. We are literally the un-sung heros. That is the nature of our business. We are not in the lime-lite. We do our job so that others can be praised. Our job is to build confidence, encourage, and serve. Too many times we are critical of others work, design, mixing etc... because we forget our place and our role as audio technicians. We deep down in our hearts want some praise that we see the people we work with get. Envy? To be honest, yeah, a little bit. We as end users see designers design systems that we have to work on but who have never considered the person running the system. I'm sure many of the designers out there understand that their role also is to serve. They have to consider people , unrealistic desires, budgets, dreams yet they have to devise a system that meets the needs of the client and keep them pleased with in their budget. That takes people skills. I have to keep reminding myself that I do my work as unto the Lord and that to God the people are more important than the equipment, or the art. God is the greatest artist, musician, poet of them all. It's not my job to second guess what or how God is going to move or what he is going to use to touch people. It's my job to serve the people the best I can with what I have and let God use it however He sees fit." (Nathan Boone (Ken) Corlew nbcaudio@juno.com)