How to Ruin Your Mix (Pt. 1)
Here’s the prevailing thought on my mind this weekend as I’m spending a great deal of time behind the mixing console: It’s relatively easy (simple, even!) to completely ruin your mix. This isn’t a new revelation for me or anything, just one of those simple thoughts flittering around the edge of my consciousness as I work this weekend to NOT ruin my own mix.
So, fellow ruiners, allow me to present this thought: What are your multitude of inputs accomplishing? Are they enhancing what’s happening on stage and complimentary to the vibe of your event OR are they assaulting the senses of your audience and making it confusing to listen to? A lot of live mixes I hear in some churches these days are cluttered with tons and tons of textures and layers. What’s notable here is that most of these never sounded very good in the first place and are extremely frustrating to listen to in the actual mix. Sorry to break the news to some of you, but this cluttered mess is all it took to ruin what might have been a beautiful mix.
Allow me to confess, I know how to COMPLETELY ruin a mix. How many of you have used triple-mic’d toms and snares in a live mix? Oh yes, I ruined that mix to the extreme. It was lame though that I was the only one in the history of audio to get the memo that mic’ing the top head, bottom head, and the shell of every individual drum was the only way to accurately capture the perfect tonality of a live drum kit. Perhaps it was just that I was way ahead of my time?
I’ve also been quite a pioneer in my liberal use of chaining together multiple analogue sub-mixers. I mean, who wouldn’t kill for all the extra headroom from having multiple gain stages from different brands of consoles all working in concert with one another? Bet you didn’t know about THAT awesome pro trick! Well, neither did anyone else, it turns out. I ruined those mixes in short order.
While I’m having some fun here to prove a point, here’s the reality: sometimes, amidst all these worthless inputs and all this gear patched everywhere, the heart of the actual song gets lost. Simplify it! Ask yourself: Can one keyboard part suffice live even if it took 7 parts on the record? Can a lead guitar line mixed over a good rhythm guitar rock for a live mix or are you just duplicating what you saw some band do in a controlled studio environment because it looked cool?
The human ear can only handle so much crap before it begins to internally dampen the barrage. Simplify your mix and make every single element count. Ever wonder why some of the most singable songs were created by 3 and 4-piece bands? No matter what you think of bands like Coldplay, U2, Keane, or even AC/DC, none of them have very complex input arrangements when it comes to their live mixes. And the crazy thing is that their basic combination of inputs usually results in an extremely simple and effective mix where every element can be heard cleanly and distinctly. DEFINITELY something I’d rather listen to.
Say ‘no’ to a ruined mix today. Lighten up on the potential of another auditory onslaught by simplifying what elements you are using to bring your mix to life. The listeners will thank you.