This February our church’s worship band, Jon Jenz and Friends, were set to record a live album. We really enjoy our church and these guys are just one of the reasons why. Every week a team of professional quality volunteers come together to practice and lead Grace Community Church in worship. A Thursday night was set on the calendar and all the people and pieces were in place for this live event. The house was packed and the night was fabulous. What a great evening and event.
When we moved to Tyler a couple years ago, I contacted the technical crew to see if they needed any help running sound on Sundays. They were, of course, excited about another possible addition to their volunteer tech crew. Since then, I have been on a steady 2-3 Sundays a month rotation. This has been a bitter sweet gig for me in that I really enjoy helping out with audio but the 7:30am-12:30pm Sunday chunk of time required for this role is prime time for family activities, namely sleeping in and long, drawn out breakfasts. Non-the-less, I am happy to be an extension of this great team of musicians and singers. God has been teaching me to serve Him in this capacity with a selfless, servant’s heart each Sunday I’m at the helm.
When hearing about this upcoming live recording project, I expressed interest in mixing the tracks once they were recorded. I have been blessed to be able to work on a few multitrack projects here in East Texas and plenty of opportunities in the live audio/video field back in Lubbock. Recording is fun but mixing the recording is my favorite. After the night of worship, I received the 30-some-odd tracks and began to pick it apart, one element at a time.
Mixing the the process- where you take each recorded element (ie. bass drum, snare drum, tom 1, tom 2, tom 3, cymbal mics, etcetera, etcetera,) and “mix” them or combine them to a final stereo audio file that gets pressed on a CD or uploaded to for ears to consume. After some edits, general mixing and meeting with Jon, we continued to chip away at the project. Moving houses and therefore studio space was thrown into the set deadline but we “set our face like flint” and pressed on. It’s literally a chipping away with large projects like this. By large I mean: full drum kit, percussion, baby grand piano, keyboard, 2 electric guitars, bass, acoustic guitar, 7 vocalists and 2 audience mics. That many elements with full frequency ranges and dynamics out the wazoo, it is quite a task to chizzle out a little piece of the frequency spectrum for everyone to be heard.
I begin attacking a project like this by labeling, listening, getting a general volume balance, separating the elements in the stereo field based on stage location that night, doing some corrective EQ, some mild compression to help tame the dynamic vocals in particular and then repeat. I spent about 1-2 weeks on this phase. For this project we added in some minor vocal tuning as well which is no easy task phrase by phrase, one vocalist at a time for 12 songs. This took another week or 2. From that point I continued to work on the mix and make some edits to clear up mic bleed and random, useless ambient noise in the tracks and during transitions.
Jon joined me when we were ready to get picky with the mixes. We listened to each song, he took notes, we made changes, adjusted, then proceeded with the next. We had a great time of fellowship doing this and the tracks really started to take shape. It is so valuable to have someone on the project with ears like Jenz and his dedication to the project was greatly appreciated. This fellowship and technical babble is always my favorite part of the process. It also makes me feel more sane knowing that other people are as particular about this as I am!
After we worked on this colaborative mix sessions, I continued to work alone for about a week making it all fit together as best I could. I would make a disc, get it to Jon, he would critique, I would tweak, get him another disc, tweak, and so on for about another week. After that, it was time to work on the master disc.
The mastering process is used to adjust the overall EQ and loudness for the project as a whole. This song order and song transitions are a mastering engineers main responsibilities. Typically on bigger budget projects this is sent off-site to a mastering engineer who specializes in this phase of the project. In effort to save some money and time, I insistently yet sheepishly took on the task. We ended up creating 4 masters, each slightly different than the other. Mostly the differences between them was midrange balance up and down. This is the frequency range where vocals, electric guitars, the snare drum, acoustic guitars, keyboards and piano reside. This is also the range where human ears are most sensitive. Overdriving this range causes ear fatigue. Under driving this causes intelligability and loss of vocal detail. Tricky, very, very tricky.
Anyways, we decided on “master D” and it was off to be duplicated. After 1.5 weeks they arrived. This Thursday night we attended the listening party with the band and those involved with the production of the project. Graphic designers, the audio team and the band were gathered in anticipation for the unveiling of the long awaited release and the cue to press play on the CD player. I was nervous. Every stink’n sound system and room in the world sounds different and therefore every time I hear a project that I am intimate with on a different sound system, I can’t help but critique and question EVERYTHING I DID IN THE MIX!
After I stopped pacing like a rabid dog, I took a chance to take it all in. It was so neat to see the reactions of those gathered there Thursday night. You could see how people were nervous when they knew “their” song was up next, when “their” solo was about to take flight and how “their” album would be received by friends and family. Very neat indeed. Smiles are contagious.
It has been a great blessing for me to work on this project. It has allowed me to accomplish another piece of my new years resolution. Spoken as any mix engineer, sure there are a few things that I would like to change but now it’s over, too late, pressed into 1000 shiny CDs, wrapped in plastic awaiting a new home. All in all, I am confident that it is a great success and a good representaion of how our worship band sounds each Sunday. Great musicianship, quality singers and genuine love for our Creator and Savior. A lot of confident humility is allowed for those involved in this one. It is available on iTunes and is worth a listen. There are some magical moments on this album. Check it out!