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Sunday, June 07, 2009

sabbatical fruit - week 5 - mixing it up

It took most of the week to shake the cold/flu I had last weekend. But, I'm finally back to 95% and just a few sniffles.

Besides some extra rest this week, I did write some new lyrics and worked on a new song of my own. I also went up to Boone, NC, Thursday afternoon and evening to hear my friend, Stephanie, sing at a coffeehouse. A Christian of deep faith, she is fully immersed in the secular arts world of that college town (and soon back to NY) to sing songs full of faith and life from the heart. People are drawn to her honesty and sincerity - it's not "Christian music," but is a Christian singing real music. It was a treat to hear her and see how she's grown musically and spiritually.

Mainly this week I worked on mixing Maddie's CD. Mixing is the task of making recorded music sound right. It involves sound volume, equalization (bass/treble/etc...), spatial placement (near/far/echo), and effects. The more sound sources or "tracks" one is working with, the more complex this becomes. It really is an art form just as much as music performance.

I have some training and experience in mixing recorded sound. I was a studio engineer in Nashville... back in '90-'92 (and have been recording music since I was a young teenager). I realized that was a loooong time ago and I was very rusty. I also don't do it day in and day out like I did when living there. So, I knew the sound I wanted, but with new speakers, new acoustic space, and rusty ears, it took a lot to get the sound I wanted. In some cases, I was mixing as many as 16-20 tracks between vocals, background vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, and a few other surprises.

A three minute song with all those instruments probably takes 8-10 hours to record, if each player knows their part well and can more or less record their part without error. Even then, there are often multiple "takes" to not just play without errors, but to play "in the groove." If there are 16-20 tracks to be mixed it probably takes another 3-4 hours to come up with the right mix of volume, EQ, space, and effects. (And then I have to try out the mix with multiple speakers - what sounds great in the studio must also sound good in the car and on the iPod!)

In some ways, mixing sound is similar to being a pastor. People often expect the pastor to be the "star," but the more biblical view of pastor is as engineer or equipper of others. In the church I see the many different sounds and textures of people's individual gifts and talents. And part of my job is to encourage, exhort, and "mix" these together as I shepherd one part of the body of Christ. It's easy to think a song is all about the vocals or the guitar solo, but each part plays an important part in the overall sound. So it is in the church. It's easy to point to very visible and outgoing contributions as more significant than others, but it takes each member of the body working together to produce the whole "mix" of a healthy church. And when it happens, it is as satisfying and pleasing as a well-mixed song from the heart!

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