Audio Console Layout

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes

Photo courtesy of Chris Costes

Based on some of the consoles I’ve seen lately, audio console layout is something that doesn’t seem get a lot of thought. However, a properly laid out console not only makes mixing more fun, it can keep us from making big mistakes during a service. 

Legend has it that in the early days of mixing, as analog consoles got larger, engineers noticed that channels farther from the master had more noise in them. So it made sense to put the money channels—the vocals—nearest to the master. As the master was typically on the right, that meant the left-most channels became home of the drums—who would notice noise in the drum channels? 

Somewhere along the line, a somewhat common layout emerged: drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. As consoles and input count continued to grow, we started seeing the master section land in the middle of the console instead of on the right. In that case, usually the band fell to the left while vocals and effects fell to the right.

Back then, where channels showed up on the console was completely dependent on what inputs they were plugged into. Today, with digital consoles, it’s easy put any channel on any fader. But before we do any patching—digitally or analog—it’s important to spend some time thinking about why channels go where they do. 

Why You Do Is More Important Than What You Do

I’ve seen all sorts of…shall we say, interesting channel layouts on consoles. Drums spread all over the place, the lead guitar next to the pastor’s mic, vocal effects in the middle of the keyboards. It’s as if someone just patched inputs into the first open channel or floor pocket without any thought at all.

And while there are all sorts of ways you can lay out your console, the first consideration is to make sure you do it on purpose. Don’t just shove inputs into any old channel. Take some time to think about it and patch it in a way that makes sense. Keep all the drum channels together, and then keep the band together. Having all the vocals next to each other makes it a lot easier to find them. Put the channels you adjust all the time closest to you, so you’re not reaching all the way to the end every time. Think about how you mix, then organize the channels in a way that supports what you do.

For Example…

There is no “right” way to organize a console. But here are some ideas of how to do it. Personally, I like to start with drums (kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads), then bass, guitars, keys, vocals and finally effects. Other channels like speaking mic’s, music playback, video and other utility channels are either to the right or left of effects depending on the console. 

When I was at Coast Hills, I had my current console set up with my VCAs on the right, which put my vocals right in the middle in front of me. My preference is to mix more on channel faders than VCAs, but I know others who prefer the opposite.

I also know guys who put the bass right next to the kick because they like to work those two together. I keep my bass in my guitars VCA; others put in with the drums or dedicate a VCA to just kick and bass. 

Stay Consistent

When I mix on analog consoles, I still follow the same basic layout. The advantage of a consistent layout is that I can mix almost any band on any console and without looking know where the faders are. In contrast, I’ve watched other guys mix and spend half their time searching the board for the guitar fader, only to miss the solo. 

Regardless of how you choose to layout the console, once you come up with a plan, stick with it. Adapt and change as needed, but maintain as much consistency as you can.

Small Digital Consoles are Tricky

The current trend toward smaller mixers (i.e. fewer faders) with higher channel counts makes smart layout absolutely critical. If you only have 16 handles to deal with, you simply must be intentional about what you put where. In that case, I would most likely not use up the first 8 faders on the top layer for the drums. 

In that case, it might be more prudent to put a drums VCA on channel one and treat it as one instrument (which, arguably, you should do anyway). As you fill up your fader bank and channels spill into another layer, it is often a smart idea to duplicate a few channels on every layer. For example, you might want to have the worship leader’s mic on the same fader of every layer so you can get to it quickly regardless of the layer you’re on. 

The fewer faders you have, the more strategic you need to be with grouping channels into VCAs. How  you group the channels will be dependent on your band and your workflow. 

I once mixed a 28-input CD release party on 12 faders. I built multiple layers that were very similar, but expanded various sections. For example, layer one had the drums as a single VCA. But layer two gave me all 8 drum channels. Layer three split out all my effects, which were a single VCA on layer one. Things that didn’t get used often were down on layers four and five, but the lead singer’s vocal and guitar were always in the same place on every layer. 

I spent about 30 minutes initially setting up the board, then tweaked my layout during rehearsal based on how the set unfolded. Of course, this is easier with a digital board than analog, but the principles remain. Think about your layout and adjust it until it makes sense and works for you.

Next week, we’re going to revisit the concept of input sheets. I’ve written about them before, but I think the topic bears repeating. Plus, I have some new stuff to share. Have a great weekend!

“Gear

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Introverted Leaders

Photo courtesy of Andy Roberts

Photo courtesy of Andy Roberts

Introverted leaders. Does that sound like an oxymoron? One of the biggest challenges technical leaders face is that most of us are introverts in culture that favors extroverts. As more churches call on their technicians move from being doers to leaders and developers of teams, we have a big, steep hill to climb. But there is good news; we are in good company. In fact, I would suggest (and I’m not the only one to do so) that Moses himself was an introvert. 

Consider this; he spent most of his adult life wandering around the desert. By himself. He seemed perfectly content to not interact with anyone but his flocks. Of animals. Who didn’t talk back or ask him questions. Sounds like a dream come true, right? OK, maybe not, but my guess is many of you (and I) would much rather spend our days in a quiet, empty tech booth wiring, programming, mixing or editing than surrounded by a large group of people. 

When God called Moses out to lead His people, Moses’ first response was, “I am slow of speech…” (Exodus 4:10). Moses wasn’t stupid; he was introverted. He didn’t think out loud; he processed his thoughts internally then spoke purposefully. Again, sound familiar? Extroverts tend to think introverts are either slow or aloof because we’re spending more time thinking than talking, but I know so many of you, and it’s not true. You’re smart and caring; you just display it differently.

So how do we, fellow introverts, survive and perhaps even thrive as leaders in an extroverted church culture? Well, I have a few ideas. Much of this comes from a book I read last year, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh. I highly recommend it. There is treasure trove of content in that book, but I’ll pull out a few principles that have already helped reshape my thinking. 

Know Who You Are in Christ

McHugh writes, “We cannot find freedom in our introversion until we embrace our primary identities as sons and daughters of God.” Regardless of our introversion or extroversion, our Myer’s-Briggs profile, our SHAPE or our strengths, we are children of God and therefore significant, important and most importantly, called. We are called to do what we’re doing, and when God calls someone into a task, He equips them. Therefore, you have everything you need to lead your team successfully; you simply need to lean on Christ as the source of your strength. Trust Him to lead your leadership.

Re-Think Leadership

Many tend to picture leaders as the loud, outspoken, charismatic ones that people naturally follow. And sometimes that’s true. But perhaps that’s just the loudest voice getting all the attention at the moment. McHugh says this about leadership: “Leaders give people a lens and a language for understanding their work and experiences in light of larger purposes.” You don’t have to be a charismatic public speaker to lead people if that is your definition. Giving people a lens is something that you can do every weekend when the volunteers show up to do their jobs. You don’t have to do it in big groups, nor do you have to lead a thousand people to make a difference. 

Re-Imagine Your Impact

At times, we introverts can feel inferior to the extroverts around us because our circles of influence are smaller. But instead of feeling like our introversion is a liability to leading others, perhaps we should consider it an asset. Again, to quote McHugh: “At times I have compared myself negatively with my extroverted counterparts who have more widespread influence. But I have come to see this ‘limitation’ as an opportunity to have a deeper impact on the people I do influence.”

Generally speaking, technical teams tend to be smaller, which favors our strength. While we may not influence hundreds or thousands, those we do influence will get much more from us. We have an amazing opportunity to make a lasting impact on those on our teams. Our natural ability to listen, get to know people and speak wisely will have a radical effect on our volunteers. 

As introverts, we have a great opportunity in front of us. What some perceive as a weakness is actually a significant strength that has potential to be a transformative force in people’s lives. But we can’t allow our natural tendency to prefer alone times to isolate us from community. While we may not count dozens of “close” friends, we should have a few, and we should be intentional about investing in a small group of people. Pray about who those people should be, then begin pouring into their lives. Your impact will be profound!

“Gear

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