Intentional Board Layout

Last time, we introduced the concept of intentionality—knowing the why behind the what we do. As promised, today we’ll start the first of a short series of practical examples of what this looks like. In fact, this is the post that inspired this series; board layout. 

Based on some of the consoles I’ve seen, console layout is something that doesn’t seem get a lot of thought. Proper console layout makes mixing more fun, and can keep us from making big mistakes during a service. 

In the early days of mixing, engineers noticed on larger consoles that channels farther from the master had more noise in them. So it made sense to put the money channels—usually the vocals—nearest to the master. As the master was on the right, that meant the left-most channels became home of the drums. After all, 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, the master section began 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, you plugged a mic into a channel and that's the fader it was on.  Today, with digital consoles, it’s easy put any channel on any fader. But before we do any patching—digital or analog—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, um, 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. I like to start with drums (kick, snare, hat, toms, overheads), then bass, guitars, keys, vocals and finally effects. Other channels—speaking mic’s, music playback, video and other utility channels—are either to the right or left of effects. 

I have my current console set up with my VCAs on the right, which puts 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. 

I base my layout on my band, my preferences and my equipment. Change one of those elements and the layout is likely to change. But the intentionality that goes along with developing the layout won’t change. It’s all very much on purpose.

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.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our board layout. Our current layout is the result of hundreds of hours of mixing, and careful consideration of what is going to be easiest for my other engineers. Think about your layout and adjust it until it makes sense and works for you.

Next up: Intentional Video

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