Mix Sound Like a Pro, Part Six: The Rest of the Channel Strip

1 08 2012

As originally posted in the Worship Tools Newsletter at www.ccisolutions.com

So far in the last five Worship Tools newsletters we’ve gotten into some of the more critical and complex features on the traditional analog console channel strip. We’ve spent considerable time on EQ and gain, but this week we’re going to pick it up a little bit and cover a number of other buttons and knobs that typically exist on each channel. These all exist on a digital console too, but may not be in the same order as we’ll tackle them here.

PAD
Most of the time you won’t likely need this, but occasionally inputs send a much stronger signal than usual and you run out of room to turn the gain down. Engaging this button will give you a cushion, usually 20 dB, so that you can have room to go up or down with gain without having way too much input.

Phantom Power (48V)
Phantom power is required to operate certain types of microphones and is usually supplied by the mixing console. While we’re not looking to cover all types of microphones in this edition of Worship Tools, we’ll make a distinction between dynamic and condenser mics for the sake of our discussion on phantom power. Dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57 and SM58 are relativel inexpensive, durable, moisture–resistant and less prone to feedback. Condenser microphones tend to produce a higher quality sound (flatter and extended frequency response) and are more sensitive to picking up sound. Condenser microphones are good at picking up more of the detail and nuance of acoustic instruments and vocals. They also require power, and that’s where our 48V button, otherwise known as phantom power, comes in. You might have the gain set correctly and the fader set to a normal level, but if the 48V phantom power switch is not turned on, you won’t get sound out of your condenser mics.

AUX (or mix)
Just as you use your faders to mix your house send, your AUX sends are simply another mix you put together. Working the exact same way your faders do to create a mix, you turn the AUX knobs to increase or decrease the level of input sources into each mix. For most people, your AUX sends will feed monitor wedges, in-ears or your effects. Regardless of where the final send goes, your AUX sends are simply a different way to mix inputs into an output.

PAN
If you are mixing a stereo house, one where you actually hear both the left and right speaker from most seats in the house, the pan knob can help you create a little bit of space in your mix and create a stereo image for those listening.  When operating with a mono system, or a stereo system where each side of the house only hears one of the speakers, it’s best to leave the pan knob at center so everyone gets to hear the entire mix you are creating.

MUTE
Simple enough, this button will eliminate that channel’s audio from its output destination. On some consoles (Yamaha especially), the mute button is replaced with an On button. In that case, turning the On button off will eliminate audio.

PFL / AFL / Solo
Known are Pre-Fader Listen and After Fader Listen, this button is also known as Solo. Pressing this button will give you the opportunity to monitor only that input in your headphones, allowing you to check for anomalies or other specific things you’re hearing. Some mixers have a Solo with the ability to choose whether you hear the solo pre-fader (the input right as it comes into the mixer and after the gain knob) or post-fader (the input with channel strip processing and the channel fader volume applied).

Assign / Subgroups
The assign buttons allow you to route the signal or sound of that channel directly to the master output or to a subgroup. The more technical term for a mixers subgroup is VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) and the digital mixer version is DCA (Digital Control Amplifier).

When mixing 24-48 inputs, it can be tough to keep up with the dynamics of all the live musicians when dealing with each fader individually. Creating relevant groups by assigning multiple channels to a single subgoup allows you to adjust that group of channels with just one fader. For example, let’s say we have 8 inputs for our drums, bass, acoustic, electric, two stereo keyboards, a variety of orchestra instruments, 6 vocalists and a choir. In order to make mixing all of those inputs more manageable, we’ll assign them to the subgroups. One possible break down for grouping could be:

  1. Drums
  2. Guitars
  3. Keyboards
  4. Orchestra
  5. Lead Vocals
  6. Background Vocals
  7. Choir
  8. Playback sources (CD, i-Device, DVD Player, etc.)

While you may prefer a slightly different arrangement (which is fine), right off the bat mixing has been streamlined through the use of subgroups. Find that your background vocals are getting a bit lost, but your blending of them is solid? Just push up the entire group a bit. When you hit that big accapella section of the song with just the drums, you can push just the drums and vocals a bit with two faders instead of grabbing 12. If one song is guitar led and the next one is keyboard led, you can make that adjustment quickly too without changing the overall balance of what is in each group. If you’re going to be an active sound person, and I hope you are, assigning inputs to subgroups will help you make group changes quickly.

Now that we’ve successfully navigated the channel strip of your console, in the next Worship Tools newsletter we’ll jump into what goes into creating an effective mix. As always, if you have questions about this newsletter, ideas for future ones or if our team can serve you in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me at ddejong@ccisolutions.com.

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2 responses

1 08 2012
Jon Pierce (crewNeckTech)

Excellent series of articles on getting up to speed on a sound board!

One slight issue, is that subgroups and VCA’s have some commonality (grouping), they go about it in completely different ways and as a result, behave differently. A great article on it can be found here: http://www.tfwm.com/VCA'sExplained . It gets a bit technical for the audience you’re aiming at, but clearly delineates how the two differ. The difference is quite important though, as an example, multiple VCA’s sum and Subgroups don’t. Having an input assigned to multiple VCA’s means BOTH VCA’s need to be up to hear ANYTHING. A little bit of a surprise to someone upgrading from subgroups to a board with VCA’s expanded capabilities.

1 08 2012
dukedejong

Jon,

You’re absolutely right on multiple accounts. VCA’s do function a bit different than a subgroup does. I was mainly focused on the concept of what they are there to do, not so much the difference between them. You’re also right on the audience for this series, and most of the intended audience will not have consoles with VCA’s as it’s typically the larger, more expensive consoles that have this feature. You’re point is well taken though, and appreciated. And thanks for the link, it’s a great explanation of the differences.

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