I’d like to say that I learned life’s greatest lessons in my Bible college years. Well, I’d like to say that. The truth is I’ve spent a lot more time sitting behind a mixing console than in a Bible college classroom. So it should come as no surprise that many of life’s most profound principles revealed themselves to me as I attempted to learn the art of mixing sound. One lesson I’ve learned is this: like painting, mixing by the numbers doesn’t create real art.
A few years ago a local Christian bookstore hosted a special appearance by a popular Christian duet. I supplied a sound system, making sure it was set up and tested before the singers arrived, guitars in hand. Though neither artist had ever been in the room, nor had ever used the loudspeakers, mixer or microphone models I had brought, one of the fellows stepped directly to the mixer and, with no signal passing through it, turned up both the high and low frequency controls, explaining so that I could understand, “We’ve always found it works best for us if we set the EQ like this.”
This duo had it all figured out. They had reduced mixing to a few simple rules, freeing them to focus on playing and singing. The only problem: their rules were created for a whole different set of circumstances. Their legalism limited their ability to creatively make the most of their talents. They were trying to mix by the numbers.
Have you ever placed marks alongside your mixer’s faders and rotary controls—little colored dots to indicate the “proper” position for each? Mixing by the numbers. What could be simpler?
We’d all like mixing live sound to be simple. And, accordingly, some well-meaning churches place unreasonable restrictions on what their system operators are allowed to do, thinking they are making mixing easier. I’ve been to churches, for example, that allow their sound operators to touch only the channel faders.
But good mixing requires thoughtful responses to changing conditions. Sound source levels and miking distances are both variables, affecting house and monitor mixes. Changes in audience size and even humidity affect room acoustics. Ambient noise levels vary. Operating levels and EQ must be adjusted at the discretion of the attentive operator, not to settings that worked at one time.
While there are important principles to follow in mixing, establishing rules that bar flexibility or creativity is an exercise in legalism. It’s mixing by the numbers and nowhere near art. Mixing sound is so much more than allowing people to hear, or even preventing feedback. With the freedom to be creative, the skills born of knowledge and experience, and the discernment to use that freedom wisely, mixing truly becomes art.
The life lesson? As individuals and as congregations, we are sometimes guilty of living by the seven last words of the Church: “We never did it that way before.” Afraid to touch certain controls because we never touched them before, we try to communicate the love and mercy of an eternal, always-relevant God to the contemporary culture around us through the narrow filters of 50 or 450-year-old traditions. Worship…evangelism by the numbers.
When we exercise the freedom and creativity that is ours by the wonderful grace of Jesus, our daily walk, our testimony and our worship truly become a work of art – and worthy adoration.
© 2004 Christian Sound & Song. All rights reserved. Churches are encouraged to reproduce for use in their ministries. For any other use, permission must be obtained from the publisher.