One of my favorite sayings: “Audio is an art that everyone thinks is a science, and audio is a science that everyone thinks is an art.”
There’s no doubt that delivering an accurate (not to mention good-sounding) mix without missed cues is the right blend of both art and science.
Knowing the science helps in setting up the mix and making sure that everything is routed properly and the right things plugged in to the right parts of the system.
Knowing the art helps to creatively bring all of the various sounds from the instruments and singers together to deliver a pleasing sound without any distractions.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast…
I love the title of the book written by audio’s beloved patriarchs, Don and Carolyn Davis, “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be The Leading Cause Of Death.”
If that title were true, I would not be here writing this, and the unfortunate thing is that I would be dead from self-inflicted wounds! Over the years I’ve found that I can usually attribute the reason for the bad sound that I’ve mixed to one word: anticipation.
On the science side, anticipation means:
1) Being generally prepared, having the right tools, and being aware of what is going on at the event.
2) Check over the system to make sure everything is working.
3) Check all the inputs to make sure they are working and patched correctly.
4) Visually reviewing the board, making sure things are routed were they are supposed to be, the channel EQs are on and aren’t set too crazy, etc.
5) Having a backup emergency microphone on stage that everyone knows to go to if his/her particular mic fails.
And on the art side of things:
1) Thinking ahead, planning to boost the levels for solos.
2) Keeping my eyes on the stage to make sure mics are turned on ahead of people speaking.
3) Having my headphones handy so I can pfl channels to check anything, and quickly.
4) Being in tune with that is going on so I can react quickly to any changes that occur.
5) Having my cue sheet or order of service right next to me and then read ahead and mentally prepare for the next event on the sheet.
6) Listening to the worship songs ahead of time to hear what the original recordings sound like.
7) Knowing where the backup emergency mic is patched and being prepared to use it for any surprise events (unplanned testimony) or mic failures.
Obviously anticipation alone doesn’t guarantee a great mix – you still need to have the fundamentals down. But it does greatly increase the potential of having an error-free service or event.
So there you have it. The real art of audio, or, I mean the real science of audio, is… well, in both cases, it’s anticipation.