5 Sure-Fire Ways To Muddy Vocals
(If you aren’t immediately aware, the tone here is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.)
You may have heard this old joke.
Q: How many vocalists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: One to hold the bulb, and the rest of the world revolves around him or her.
Singers get too much of the spotlight anyway. It’s time to take them down a peg. There’s no really good reason for the congregation to understand the lyrics being sung or what’s being said or prayed during the worship service. So make sure to follow these five surefire techniques to disable your vocalists’ impact on the congregation.
- Ignore microphone EQ
If you want mush, there’s no reason to roll off the microphone bass frequencies around 100Hz or boosting the warmth a bit around 150 Hz – 200Hz. You wouldn’t narrowly notch down midrange mush around 325Hz – 400Hz. You’d never consider slightly bumping mid-rangy vocalists around 3.5kHz – 4 kHz (or dropping that area for nasally singers). You wouldn’t reduce that range in competing instrument EQ’s to make a pocket for the vocals. You’d never add airiness by slightly bumping around 8kHz – 11kHz or reducing sibilance around 6kHz. And of course, pro-mud audio technicians never, ever re-adjust the EQ on vocalists once the rest of the instruments are incorporated into the overall mix, or listen to the vocal EQ from the congregants’ seats, especially during the actual set. Let’s keep those vocalists humble!
- Overuse effects
Another technique to muddy the vocals is having the audio technician overuse delay and reverb, especially EQ’ed to peak in that mushy middle 325Hz – 400Hz range. And while you’re at it, instead of sparingly using compression to smooth vocals, over-compress them to remove all dynamics. You’ll have awesomely blasé vocals, thick and flat.
- Have the musicians play over the melody range
Of course, as a wise pro-muddian, you would enlist the aid of the keyboardists and guitarists, getting them to add layers of sound right on top of the vocals. You would make sure that the guitarists overemphasize playing lower notes on the A and D strings. You would instruct the keyboardists to play thick pads right in the middle of the keyboard, especially an octave surrounding middle C. You may even get the other background vocalists in on the action by asking them to all sing melody in not-quite unison and to take small liberties with the melody to add flutter and distract the congregation’s ears from the actual melody. And if the vocalist breaks to pray or speak to the congregation during an instrumental, ensure incomprehensibility by having at least one musician continue to play brightly toned melodies in the background to confuse listening ears.
- Teach improper mic technique
Allow the vocalists to sabotage themselves through poor microphone technique. Instruct them to continually eat the mic and always stay in that bass-boosting proximity effect area. Or have them sing off axis by gripping the microphone like an ice cream cone pointed up their sinus passages. Or, for a little variety, teach them to them hold the microphone like the 1970’s television sports announcers about a foot below their mouths with their arm glued to their chests. For added boost, have the vocalists pull out one in-ear monitor to dangle pointed at their microphones so the entire congregation can be delighted by the click’s delightful vocal cue’s “Intro, 2, 3, 4!” exhortation.
- Sing the wrong words
Finally, if your vocalist remains the slightest bit distinguishable, suggest that the words don’t matter. It’s alright, no, spiritual, to modify lyrics on the fly. And if the lyrics are forgotten, just make them up, or, better yet, mumble! (Then have the vocalist give a questioning look at the microphone and wave at the sound tech, another sure-fire tip to build team unity.)
Everyone loves muddy vocals.
Tim Miller has served small, medium, and multi-site congregations for over 30 years in volunteer, part-time, and full-time worship-related roles. He consults for growing church worship programs, and delights in walking with other worship folk who want to better impact worship. Check out his website, Hearts in Tune Worship. He would love to hear from you!