Mixing with EQ, Panning & Reverb
Mixing live sound is a lot more involved than simply raising or lowering the volume level of various audio sources.
You’ll want to use a few simple tools to help create a mix that has depth, texture, clarity, and focus. Fortunately most consoles have these simple tools built in (yes, even analog consoles).
EQ – the most powerful mixing tool
EQ can do more for your sound than just about any other gadget in your audio toolbox.
Use EQ to clean up your mix, separate instruments that may be competing with each other, and shape the overall tone of your soundscape. Use high pass (also called low cut) filters to reduce low frequency rumble in channels that don’t need the low end, like vocals. Dial in the pastor’s mic by using the sweepable mid EQ or parametric EQ, cutting the frequencies that sound tinny or harsh.
Panning for a new dimension
If you have a stereo or left-center-right (LCR) sound system, you can use panning to provide some great texture and separation in your mix. Panning can quickly clear up a cluttered mix by distributing the various instruments between the left and right loudspeakers.
Of course, you probably don’t want to get too drastic with your panning, putting one instrument only in the left or right channel (this is called “hard panning”), unless you’re trying to create a specific effect.
Experiment with placing your main rhythm instrument like a guitar or piano front and center, while panning lead guitars, strings, or other melody/harmony instruments across the left/right stereo range.
Reverb effects in space and time
Reverb can do wonders for gluing your mix together in just the right way. Adding reverb for lead or background vocals can provide a nice ambiance and space. You can use a darker or longer reverb time to push a background vocal back in the mix.
Using reverb on your drums can liven up the sound of the snare or kick if it is sounding too dry or sterile. And practice inserting reverb or delay on certain instruments or vocals during special parts of a song like a lead or solo part. This can help that audio source shimmer in the mix during its featured moment.
Just be careful with reverb. A little bit goes a long way, and too much reverb can start to clutter a mix. The rule of thumb to follow is that if you can hear the reverb standing out by itself, you might have too much.
Other mixing tools like compression can play an important role in your mix as well, but EQ, Panning and Reverb are three elements that can make significant, yet subtle difference in your mix.
Experiment with different settings. Practice using various mixing techniques during soundcheck or with a virtual multi-track soundcheck. Listen and adjust, listen and adjust, listen and… You get the point.
So get your finger off the fader and start twisting some knobs already!
Author / Audio Engineer
Great Church Sound | Missoula, MT
James Wasem has been fascinated by sound and electricity from an early age. His love of music and technical gear made sound engineering and systems integration a natural pursuit. James has spent the last 20 years performing and touring in bands as a drummer, mixing live sound for churches, schools and theatres, and working as an audio systems installer and designer.
Though involved in highly technical fields, James has a passion for making things simple to understand and easy to use. It was from this passion that the book Great Church Sound – a guide for the volunteer was born. James believes that technical ministry volunteers provide a critical service for their congregations and should be well equipped with quality tools to help them grow in craft, skill, and spirit.
James and his wife Kate (who also provided the illustrations for Great Church Sound) live in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Missoula, Montana.