If a bass guitar, snare drum, or singer is overpowering your mix, your first thought might be to add a compressor to that channel. This will of course turn down those loud moments when the musician gets inspired or blessed or just flat out stops trying to blend with the rest of the group.
A compressor, though, can also be used to increase volume when used correctly. Because a compressor decreases the range between the loudest and softest points (the dynamic range), it will then allow you to turn up the entire channel and increase the average volume for that input. Remember though, that a compressor is working best when you cannot hear it!
Have you ever experienced this? As soon as the band starts playing on some random Sunday morning, a concerned member of the congregation makes a bee-line for the sound booth, and you can tell by the look in their eyes, they are not happy. You quickly critique your mix trying to figure out what they are probably going to say. You think to yourself, “Can I hear the vocals?” and “Are the drums overpowering?” As soon as you start trying to zero in what your mix sounds like, the person arrives and demands your attention be pulled away from the audio! You don’t want to be rude, but you are doing a job and need to devote your attention to the band. 9 times out of 10, the complaint is always the same thing…
I was listening to some classic music today. I don’t mean classical music, but some stuff from the 60′s. I was admiring the sound of the drums, and it got me thinking about most of the drums I see and hear at churches. Drums seem to be the enemy of a lot of church audio volunteers. They try to tame the drums by confining them to cages, putting tape all over the heads, and telling the drummer to use small sticks and play ‘jazz’ style. Let me offer a different approach to the drums.
A common technique I see in churches, especially ones on a tight budget, is the use of a compressor on a subgroup. The thinking is that rather than having to purchase 4, 6, or 8 channels of compression, the user will just get a 2-channel unit, insert it into a subgroup, and then whenever something needs compressed, they will route it through that subgroup instead of straight to the master output of the console.
Ideally, if something needs compressed, you should insert your compressor into that input’s channel directly. By routing everything through a subgroup, the compressor can have some ill affects on your mix, and you may be adding more frustrations than your solving.
Monitors are one of the most common battle grounds where band and engineer face off and play tug of war week after week after week. Too commonly the band needs to hear more of themselves, and the engineer needs to hear less of the stage noise. To the musician who only plays Sunday mornings, the ideal monitor mix sounds much like the worship CD he or she listened to on the way to church. Professional musicians know, however, that a good monitor mix has a specific goal.