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More Approachable: Strategies In Streamlining A Console Showfile

Finding a way to pack numerous sonic improvements into a simplified version of a showfile to make it more approachable for a fill-in operator.
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The band’s console set up for a recent show at a club in Vernon, NY.

Over the last 18 months or so, in a couple of previous articles (here and here), I’ve shared my process of exploring improvements to the showfile for a local rock group I mix. About a year ago, the band upgraded their console to an Allen & Heath SQ-6, which we found was the right balance of footprint, IO and capability for the requirements of their show.

Over the course of a series of showfile iterations, I used an increased number of double-patched channels and more complex routing in an attempt to improve certain aspects of the mix. Overall, I was pleased with the results and found them to be helpful; however as more live events return and my schedule fills up, I came to realize that the overly complex showfile would be a hindrance to anyone else who had to step in and mix the group at an event.

So the challenge became finding a way to pack all the sonic improvements into a streamlined version of the showfile that would be more approachable to a fill-in operator.

Addressing Vocals

The biggest source of potential confusion was the number of double- and triple-patched inputs, routing differently processed versions of vocals and instruments to different in-ear monitor mixes. In the past, most band members had a non-EQ’d and non-compressed version of their own vocal mic in their ears, along with the more traditionally processed version of every other member’s vocal, although one mix had all-unprocessed vocals.

I started to simplify this by making sure the vocal inputs sends to the IEM mixes were all taken pre-dynamics, so compression out front wouldn’t make it into the IEMs. The EQ cut common to all vocal inputs (a scoop around 500 Hz) was moved to the vocal subgroup level, and any remaining EQ filters on the vocal inputs were subtle enough so as not to disrupt the vocal tonality that the band was used to in their IEMs.

There are only two double-patched inputs left in the file: the kick drum, split into Kick Low and Kick High (simulating an In/Out mic configuration) which allows tonal changes as fader moves rather than EQ changes – also a benefit for IEM mixing; and a double-patch of the rhythm guitar that is panned to the opposite side of the mix and delayed – this input is not routed into any IEM mixes and so doesn’t contribute to any complications in that sense.

Another challenge is managing the placement and balance of the vocals – the band has five vocal inputs, and four different people take turns singing lead vocals depending on the song. That means a lot of looking after different panning and effects routing depending on the song. Short of making a console snapshot for each song in the setlist, how could this be managed?

My solution is a handful of snapshots that can be triggered based on who is singing lead on a given song. The snapshot routes that person’s mic to the Lead Vocal subgroup and the requisite reverb and delay effects, and routes all the other singers to the Background Vocal subgroup, plus the BGV verb and a chorus, and pans them out a bit.

These snapshots are labeled accordingly and assigned to clearly labeled softkeys on the console surface. A guest engineer will be able to simply follow the set list, pressing the appropriate button for each song. There are two more buttons on the surface for the end of each song: one that pans all vocals back to the center in case the band members talk to the audience, and one that mutes the vocal effects.

The overall console configuration boils down the mix to a “top level” structure of six subgroups, with only minor adjustment to the individual inputs required throughout the show, so I’ve taken advantage of the SQ-6’s fader real estate by assigning the same series of subgroup faders to the rightmost faders on each bank and using the rest of the faders for the various input strips needed for the show.

This mimics a “euro-style” console layout, with the inputs to the operator’s left and the outputs to the operator’s right, which is a format I’m very comfortable with – but more importantly, affords the benefit of always keeping those subgroup faders on the surface. In this way, any required adjustments can be made without banking away from the “bulk” of the show control faders.

Making It Clear

Effects are similarly straightforward – the snare and drum kit effects returns are assigned to the surface in a logical way (snare verb directly adjacent to the snare fader, drum kit verb immediately following the last of the drum inputs) which saves a guest operator hunting around the various layers to find the returns. The bottom layer of faders serves as a “running layer” – with the inputs that most commonly need adjustment during the show, plus effects returns, and of course the main subgroups.

Combined with a healthy dose of clear labeling on the surface itself (a combination of color-coding and naming on the strips, and good ol’ fashioned tape and Sharpie) the structure is clearly laid out and approachable for anyone who has at least a passing familiarity with the console itself. The stagebox is also clearly labeled, which helps both the band members and the guest engineer quickly get inputs patched and checked, and the self-contained system (stage box, IEM rack, and console) means a basically plug-and-play solution with whatever PA system is available that day.

As evidenced by the quick load in and check process at the last event, I’m confident that the streamlined approach is the way to go if there’s a possibility that someone else may have to operate the system – and an important takeaway: if a presumed improvement comes at the cost of complexity or the possibility of confusing someone in a show-critical situation, it might not be an improvement after all.

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