In any given worship situation, whether in a church, concert, or small group, the intent of the music is generally decided by the musicians and ministers in charge. Hopefully they have sought the Lord about the group’s intention and how best to glorify Him. The audio mix plays a part in implementing those intentions, but over the years I’ve come to believe that not everyone understands its impact, and may not be thinking deliberately about it’s effect on worship. For the audio mix, I believe there is a big difference between mixing for performance and mixing for worship, but I’m not sure this difference is always considered. In this post, I’d like to compare the two styles and reflect on how the congregation is impacted by them.
With performance, the focus is on the people making the music. Hence the mix emphasizes the performers, and often a single person. That person may be a single performer, or the lead singer in a band. In either case, the mix is generally designed to emphasize their presence and bring their voice out more than the rest. For example, one technique is to balance that one voice with the rest of the voices and instruments together. The result is a blend, but with a single person standing out. While people may sing along with such a performer, I’ve noticed there is often a tendency to simply sit back and enjoy the music, as we do when watching a concert. That’s fine in a concert, where people sit passively to listen, but may not be best in a service, where the goal is to focus on worship.
With corporate worship, I think it’s important that everyone be involved, and the focus needs to be on the Lord. It seems that people are more likely to sing themselves if there is a group singing, and especially if the people around them are singing. This naturally results from using a choir, and can also be accomplished with a standard band, by mixing the voices in a blend that balances all singers. This is done less often in a band, because such a mix does not highlight people who may be the best and strongest singers. That’s a problem if the goal is to give the best performance possible, but less so if the goal is to get others singing. In my experience, it seems that group-focused mixing results in the congregation more likely to sing along than to sit passively and listen.1
Now, group singing does not necessarily lead to more true worship. But if the Lord is to be our focus, then worship of Him may be at odds with performance. For with performance, the focus is on the performer, almost by definition.
Personally, I think both performance and corporate singing have their place in church services. It just seems good to recognize the difference between the two and to be deliberate about which technique is used. If these observations are correct, then services should be planned with a distinction between congregational singing, and listening, so that the sound technician can make an appropriate mix.
1. In the group case, I’ve even wondered if micing the congregation would be useful, to accentuate even more the impression that there’s a large group singing. Perhaps one could even add a very subtle echo to make the sound richer. I’ve seen that done to make a small choir sound more full, so it might help meet the goal of encouraging people to sing as part of a larger group. Never tried either of these, though.