A New Year Challenge


I think this is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve tried writing this post. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to issue a challenge to mixers for 2012, but I keep screwing it up so here’s my last shot.

This idea started after I landed in a lot of conversations last year discussing the musical side of mixes, and how it seems to be missing in a lot of church mixes. In those conversations many questions were raised on why that might be:

  • Are we listening to enough music for educational and inspirational purposes outside of mixing?
  • Are we being exposed to a wide breadth of music ranging from classic recordings to current trends?
  • Is musicality something that can be taught or is it an innate talent that can only be refined?
  • Are we more interested in shortcuts than investing in the time it takes to master our craft?
  • Are we too focused on equipment?

    But after all the talking, the one question that I keep coming back to that seems to sum everything up for me is this: Are we just losing sight of what we’re doing?

    I don’t know. I’m still mulling it all over.

    The other night I had the privilege to watch and listen to James Rudder mix Hillsong United at Passion 2012. This was the second time I’ve been able to stand over his shoulder, and the thing that always stands out to me is Rudder never seems to get lost in the gear. Sure, the gear is important which is why certain things get asked for, but when it’s all said and done I just don’t see him lost in it even in spite of any technical challenges. He pushes up the faders and mixes, and the music hits hard. Read that again: The MUSIC hits hard. His mixes never seem to be about the gear. They are about the music.

    Do we all get that? Have we grown more interested in a sound than a song? Are we more interested in pieces of plastic and metal under our hands than the human beings on stage and surrounding us?

    I don’t know. Again, I’m still mulling it all over.

    So here’s my challenge for all of us mixing this year. In 2012, can we push ourselves to talk/think/focus on the MUSIC at least as much, but hopefully more, than we do on the gear? Can we keep the message we’re facilitating in the forefront of our minds this year when we’re sitting behind a console?

    What do you think?

  • David Stagl

    3 Responses to “A New Year Challenge

    • Ed Pohl
      13 years ago

      Insightful! I completely agree with you and can place myself in the Georgia Dome with you as you witnessed Rudder’s mix @ Passion 2012. I’ve always tried to place myself in the music/ spoken word more than the equipment producing it. And to that end, I’ve also found that when I do, the mix is soooooo sweet. Interestingly enough, when I focus on all the tools, knobs, buttons, machinery, etc, Many times, the results of my efforts are just hum drum(not bad, not good; just ordinary ) thanks for getting us to think about it again and realize how priviledged we are to be able to do this really cool stuff.

    • Great questions! I have been pushing myself in this direction for the past few months, wanting to get “beyond” the gear.
      A stumbling block for me is a feeling that I don’t know the gear well enough to stop paying attention to it. We don’t have virtual soundcheck capabilities so it’s a challenge to practice my chops.
      I am reminded of R. Scovill saying every time he hears music he is mentally mixing it.

    • Frank
      13 years ago

      Hi Dave,

      I’ve recently started following your posts and have enjoyed the insight and thoughts behind them. I would absolutely tend to agree with your approach to focusing on the music rather than the gear. I get to mix a room of about 2000 people and am blessed with amazing digital gear(sc48), an average PA and phenomenal musicians that make life easy, but i still love climbing behind a giant analog desk and taking the plunge. I have always tried to be very eclectic with music i listen to outside of mixing, it helps to mold my understanding of different styles of music. It is critical that we train our ears to understand how a mix comes together musically, like you said; the FEEL of the music is so important. You can teach anybody with a technical knowlege how to operate the gear, but it takes someone who has a “picture” of what it should sound like at the controls to create a good, clean, full, interesting mix. I do think there is about 90% gift(talent)/10% teachable qualities with understanding the “picture” in mind, which is why sometimes, a good musician with a reasonable technical knowledge can be a great engineer. I have seen all to often with our typical mainstream Christian concerts; an engineer at the controls who gets the technical side but has no FEEL for the mix. I’ve observed engineers for Jeremy Camp, Hillsong London, David Crowder, 10th Ave, Casting Crowns and many others in our church using our PA; some of which focus on the music, and others not so much. It’s never a good feeling as a church engineer to have a “professional” tour come through, use your PA and the whole time you are thinking “Am i wrong or do i think i would mix this completely different and it would sound better?” So…are we really missing the point with mixing? Maybe so! The better question is, are there enough engineers out there to teach the next generation how to FEEL the music, rather than toy around with endless gear and a digital desk and try to fake a good mix?