Board Layout: My Take—Part 1

The last few posts over at my friend Dave Stagl’s blog, Going to 11, have been really good. I encourage you to read both Part 1 and Part 2, both dealing with board layout and Dave’s approach to using groups and VCAs. The purpose of this post is not to argue or suggest that I’m right and he’s wrong, but rather to give you a different view on how to lay out your mixing desk. My way is not better, it’s just more suited to our set up and the way I mix. I’m writing this to give you ideas; which is how I arrived at what I do—by studying various models and synthesizing my system.

So here we go. First off, I mix on a DiGiCo SD8, which gives me a few advantages. First, I can layout my faders any way I chose; I’m not limited to inputs here, groups there, outputs over there. Second, the SD8 has a flexible bus structure, so I can decide on how many Auxes and Groups I have, either of which can be mono or stereo. Third, each channel can be mono or stereo, which saves me a lot of faders. Finally, I have 36 faders on the surface, a feature that’s proven to be very helpful. Keep these things in mind as we go.

Dave does a great job of explaining Groups and VCAs in his posts, and I’ve written about them here, here and here. Whereas Dave runs most of his channels through groups on the way to the main L&R bus, I take a different tack. Most of my inputs go straight to the L&R bus without passing Go or collecting $200. Rather than use my groups for mixing the house mix, I use groups to feed my matrix to build customized mixes for video, recording and the lobby. The exception is the drum channels. But we’ll get to that in a moment. 

The above picture shows my standard group layout. The first four on the left are my “Groups to Matrix” sends. I’ve broken down all my inputs into four categories; Speaking Mics, Vocal Mics, Band, Playback. Each input gets routed into it’s own group, which is processed and mixed appropriately in the matrix for it’s intended target. I wrote about this technique in this post. The Speaking Mic group is a mono, while the rest are stereo. On the right, I have my FOH Monitor group, which I use for monitoring at FOH, and my Main L&R group. The Subs channel is actually an aux that we’ve ganged together with the Main so a level adjustment at the main fader also adjusts the subs (one of the cool things about the SD8; ganging unlike faders). 

For the drums, I double bus them into my main Drum group and my Drum Spank group (that is, each channel is routed to two groups, or busses, that then feed the main L&R mix). The Drum Spank group is my parallel compressed group that I use to add some extra “bam!” to my drum mix. It’s compressed with a multi-band compressor so I can treat the various instruments in the group with different levels of compression. The reason I double bus them is to keep everything in time; were I to route all the drum inputs straight to the main mix, and have a second group that’s compressed joining in, that ever-so-slight timing delay would cause some phase issues. 

On a normal weekend, 99% of the time, my group faders remain right at unity. The only one that really changes is the Drum Spank, which I have on the top layer next to my drum input channels. When I need some more “oomph” from my drums, I push up the Drum Spank. 

That’s my take on groups. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the rest of the board and see how it lays out.

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