The Magic Sauce… What Makes A Good Pre-Service Mix Great

For a typical Sunday morning, we meticulously pour over our plans for our worship experience.  We spend hours practicing, talking over transitions, and walking through cues in order to make that hour as effective as possible.  With all that effort we can easily overlook a huge chunk of time that is actually tremendously important.  That time we forget about is the period before and after our weekly experience.  What we place there can set the emotional tone for the entire day.  I have learned some things that have totally transformed my planning and execution of pre/post-service mix.  Follow along and let me pass on some tricks and tips…

The key to planning pre-service media is deciding, first and foremost, what energy or emotional state you want folks to enter your experience with.  I will address the typical week at my church.  We always shoot to kick our experience off with humor, energy, or some type of broad hook.  To prep our atmosphere, we try to keep the energy light and fun and the beat consistent.

So, if I am trying to create an atmosphere of energy and enthusiasm, what should my pre-service mix sound like?

There are a few key tips to help ensure the atmosphere stays light and fun…

Tip 1a:  Song Selection… Keep It Energetic and Fun!

To create energy, we have to pick energetic tunes. It is really easy to just get in the rut of putting songs in there that are popular worship tracks.  There are two possible negatives here.  The first negative is that most worship songs are mid to low-tempo and lose the energy that we are shooting for.

“Secular” songs work really well here.  I know some people have a major stigma when it comes to playing anything from the secular world.  I spend hours screening lyrics and contemplating each choice, but it is worth the effort… a non-christian can identify with these tracks and not feel like they are in a foreign land.  I typically have one christian or upbeat worship tune for every two secular tunes.

I also spend a lot of time looking at what is popular.  I recommend the use of iTunes, blogs, and Spotify.  If people see that you are going the extra mile to identify with them, even through something as seemingly trivial as this, the barrier of trust is that much easier to break through.

Tip 1b: Don’t Use Tunes That You Will Use In Your Experience…

You never want to have someone hear a song in a mix, performed with the highest level of audio mixing and musical precision, when they are about to hear it played by a band, live, that pretty much has no prayer of reaching that level of quality.  I try to keep the songs I put in my mix far away from the tunes I play with my band.  That way my band is setting the quality standard for the song and exceeding most expectations, rather than lacking in comparison.  That perceived excellence and quality may seem kinda pointless to some, but I have found it really helps maintain enthusiasm and perception of a very high worship standard.  I obviously aim to pull songs off as close to the standard set by the artist, but in a small church, that isn’t always realistic.

Tip 2: Never Let The Energy Die…

Keeping that beat going is pretty key.  In a typical iTunes playlist, you will experience at least one lull during the transition of each song.  Some songs also have lengthy intros or breaks where the energy simply dies.  In the context of the pre-service, this doesn’t seem so bad, but if you use this mix during transitional moments or after you release folks, you never want the music to fade in with a down moment.

The way I get around these problems is that I actually edit each track and create one big audio file that I loop on an iPod.  I personally use Ableton Live, but you can also use Garage Band or many other software solutions.  The key is to create fades in each transition.  As one track fades to applause or ends, the next is fading in or simply starting.  You don’t want them to seem like one huge song, just trim that down time, keeping it at a tasteful minimum.

This tip also demands that you really screen your songs.  It could mean that you leave out an incredible track that happens to have a really long break where the energy just stops.  That is perfectly okay.  Editing long intros is perfectly okay as well.  I edited down the intro of Hillsong United’s Relentless by nearly 40 seconds, simply because it took forever to actually get to the song!

Tip 3: Play It Plenty Loud, But Not Too Loud

Once you have your mix set up and ready to roll, its important that you find a nice volume balance for any area where you are pumping your music.  We have found a lobby is a place the mix should be clearly heard, but low enough so people can communicate easily.  We have our mix, as well as our services, pumped everywhere aside from our children’s area, so no-one has to miss out.

In the auditorium, we play it a bit louder, but still not as loudly as our band mix.  We show that we can pump up the subs a bit and let folks feel the energy more.

Tip 3: Keep It Playing All Morning

When I came on board here, we would task our tech team, on an exit cue, to turn on the mix, unmute that channel on the board, and fade the music in… all on a verbal “have a great week” cue from our pastor.  The same rang true for our meet and greet time (we stopped doing that altogether).  This was always an awkward and delayed cue.  So we tightened it up.

If you keep the music playing, and have a mix of constant energy, you can fade it in at any moment and still get that same energetic effect.  Just keep that iPod charged and let it loop!

Tip 4: Rinse and Repeat…

Keep it fresh.  I usually set up a new mix every 6-8 weeks, depending on several factors.  Its important we don’t let it get too stale.  Stale music makes energy begin to wane.

So that basically does it for my premix tips, in very broad strokes.  If you are wanting to see an example of one of our premixes, just check out my previous post here.  Feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions or feedback.

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