Last time I wrote about the SD11, what it can do and how it sounded. In this post, I’m going to give you a behind the scenes look at how I mixed it. As with many things in life, there is more than one way to get at the same result. What worked for me might not work for you, and this is certainly not a prescription of how you should build your shows. But it is an example of how you could build your show if you are ever faced with mixing on a small-format digital console.
The first thing I did (and I always start this way) was to build an input list. My input list for this show looked like this:
As you can see, I had 21 actual inputs (actually 23, as we added an iPad for walk-in music at the last minute). When the stereo channels are taken into account, I had 16 channels, plus one Aux that I sent back down a MADI channel to the M-48s. The astute reader will recall that the SD11 only has 12 faders, and some quick math tells us that 16 is more than 12. What’s an engineer to do?
First of all, I took advantage of the great layout flexibility of the SD11 and built several similar-looking fader banks. Here is what my main fader bank looked like.
As you can see, I collapsed my 3 drum mics into a VCA. That saved me faders. You’ll also notice that I have a group on the right side labeled Tracks. In the version of the software that I had when I mixed the show, the SD11 could only do 8 stereo channels. They just updated it so all channels can be mono or stereo. But for that night, I was out of stereo inputs. So I put the Tracks L&R input faders on another page, ganged them together, and then routed them to that stereo group. That group then fed the Main L&R. Since groups have full processing on them, I was able to do all my EQ and dynamics right on my main fader page. Clever, huh?
I also condensed all my vocal effects into a VCA. Those individual faders were available a few pages away, so I could adjust them if needed. What I’ve found is that I’ll get my effects set up during rehearsal, save them in the snapshot, then not really touch them except to tweak levels; and for that the VCA works perfectly. Right below this bank, I have another bank called, “Band Expanded.”
The main difference here is that the drums are broken out of the VCA. I did this so I could quickly adjust the relative levels of the three drum channels on the fly. In practice, I didn’t drop down to this page often, but I did tweak the levels a few times during the show. I also had one more page that got some use that night.
I often use an effect that I affectionately call “Monster Guitar.” It’s a double-patched version of my worship leader’s guitar with the Audio Enhancer effect inserted into it. I use this channel to really fatten up guitar solos and the like. On this page, Monster Guitar swaps out with Vocal Effects. I had another page that I used more during rehearsal as well.
On this page reside many of the individual channels I was remotely controlling on other pages: vocal effects, the monster guitar and tracks. I also dropped my audience mics in here (these only went to the M-48s) so I could reach them quickly.
I built a few macros to quickly get me to a “sends on fader” mode for both monitor mixes, as well as creating and updating snapshots.
One of the things I love about the SD series is that you can quickly re-arrange the order of entire banks with a few touch-screen presses. I swapped banks around about 3-4 times during rehearsal as I figured out what I needed where and when. By quickly changing the order around, it was easy to make the desk work hard for me, instead of me working harder.
When the lights when down and the sound came up, I found the SD11 very fast to mix on. Despite the limited number of dedicated controls (at least compared to my SD8), thinking through a few set up issues made it quick to navigate. If the band was bigger than it was, I would probably have done more work on VCAs and built pages that were dedicated to the channels contained in each VCA (sort of like VCA Spill on a Venue, or POP Groups on a Midas).
The point of this exercise is not to say one method is better than the other, but to encourage you to think through the unique traits of your console and how it can work better for you. Even analog consoles can be set up efficiently so you’re not moving all over the place to get to critical channels. A little planning will go a long way toward making a perfect mix easier to achieve.