New Zealander Lorde recently made history by being the first female and first solo artist to win the best rock video award at the VMAs. In her short time on stage, somewhat bewildered by it all, she asked the question: “Is there, like, a specific place I’m supposed to be looking?”
This is a telling question. If we don’t want people to be bewildered on Sunday morning, we need to have an answer to this question. The visual “melody” of the song if you will, must be clear. Lights can help create this focal point, but at a minimum, the worship leader must be visible. More than once, I’ve seen a worship leader sitting at a piano on the ground level with an unidentified voice coming from the sound system. If that worship leader needs to play a grand, get that piano on stage, or get them playing a big sample-playback keyboard on the stage. We have to get this right.
Let’s talk about sound for a moment.
Reality is generally coherent. For example when a twig snaps in the forest behind you, that means something is behind you. With artificial environments, sight and sound can be decoupled (become incoherent), to the detriment of the experience and the bewilderment of the observer.
Certainly, at a bare minimum, have your speakers up front where things are happening. Similarly, more than once I’ve actually seen speakers in the middle or even back of the church. The point is not just to make sound louder, it’s to make it all make sense. Disembodied voices are disorienting.
Now if you have a nice stereo setup, it makes sense to align the audio with your visuals. If backing vocals are slightly to the left, it may improve coherence to mix them that way. But if your drum kit is off to one side, I would still recommend panning it to the center of your mix (same with the bass), or if panning something off to one side means you will hear a different mix depending on where you sit in the house, then keep everything centered.
The goal is to make it easy for people to understand what is going on and minimize the artificiality of technology.