We regularly hear talk of people transitioning into the wonderful world of digital mixing, but it seems we rarely hear of what happens after they make the transition.
Old habits must be broken, a new way of thinking about workflow has to occur, and digital mixing doesn’t mean one can finally perfect a vocalist’s mix – at least not for two weekends in a row. Here are what I’ve found to be the three traps in transitioning from analog to digital mixing.
1. Don’t assume last week’s settings are perfect for this week. Digital mixers offer a massive amount of EQ control over each input. While I’m grateful for EQs, it’s easy to set them “perfectly” for each musician one weekend and think the next week those settings will still be “perfect.”
A lot of factors change week to week. Guitarists use different guitars, different pedals, and different effects all according to the song arrangement. Oh yeah, and then what works for one arrangement doesn’t work for another. I’m not against using the previous week’s EQ settings as a basis for the mix, but don’t assume it doesn’t have to change.
2, Before setting gains and faders, check group levels. This one still gets me from time to time. Coming from an analog world, it’s easy to look at a console and know exactly where the group volumes are set; these could be groups, DCAs, buses, whatever the specific console model uses and calls them.
In the digital world, some mixers work as a “surface” where the faders represent whatever channels we’ve selected. We might not see the group level fader settings until we tell the mixer’s surface to show them. (Yamaha M7CL users know what I mean with the DCA button.)
3. What you see is not always what you get. With analog, we can look down at the mixer and see all our settings (rack-unit settings excluded.) But with digital, what we see in front of us is only a small percentage of what’s actually set for a channel. And in some cases, the digital screen before us might not be the same as the channel on which we’re focused.
For instance, on the M7CL, there’s a bank of faders and controls on the mixer that are tied to the bank of channels displayed on the screen. If you change the view to a different bank, say channels 1-8, but think you are on channels 10-16, then you’re changing the wrong channel. I saw this happen to a tech when he thought he had un-muted a microphone but was working with a different bank of channels.
Additionally, when a problem occurs during a service, such as with a mic channel, using an analog board, we can scan over the whole board and spot an incorrect knob setting. Digital mixers don’t provide this ability. The approach: look to the channel you believe to be the problem and be sure to select that channel so the display settings are for that precise channel.
With great mixing power comes great mixing responsibility. Digital mixers supply a lot of control, but to be used effectively we must know how to use them – and never assume that what worked last week will work this week.