Well after starting to write this series I actually got quite excited to put it on paper so I’m back with more! Last week, in this post, we went through what I termed, “stage 1,” which was getting everything patched and functional first, getting gains dialed in, and finished with dropping in some EQ and mild compression. This week we are continuing our short series about putting a decent mix together quickly. In “stage 2” we will spend some time organizing and getting setup to mix efficiently and comfortably, coming back to proper EQs, getting some FX rolling, and some good routing techniques that have always been helpful to me.
Before we get on to stage 2, I did want to include an addendum to last weeks post. I forgot to mention that I’m a big fan of dropping in preset EQs just to get started. They are rarely perfect but they fix the big stuff until you get the time to come back and really fine tune it. Doing that allows me to be more comfortable getting some compression in there a bit faster. We all do things differently but I’ve found that using those presets can be really helpful. Especially if you’ve put in the leg work to know which presets you like so you’re not digging and testing for too long. If it takes you too long to pick a preset you are better off just quickly EQing the channel. Just my two cents. I’m not a huge fan of compression on a time crunch but a little compression on the big stuff can really go a long way in gorilla mixing.
At about this point when I’m starting to hear the mix, before I get too far into making EQ choices I like to do some organizational stuff as I listen to the content and adjust my ears. I’m a firm believer in letting the band show you their style rather than coming in and deciding tonality before you understand what sound the artist is going for. That’s why I do this now. Also, having a console laid out and labelled can go a long way during the show or as the day goes in really refining a mix quickly as you don’t spend time trying to remember what stuff is or where it’s at. If the console has a digital scribble strip take the time and fill in what things are. Taking time to organize your board will help you mix faster so any time you spend labeling/organizing will pay dividends later. Not only does this usually make patching FX easier but you can start to build muscle memory as your brain is connecting what something is with where it is. On that same vein, most digital consoles allow you have a user layer with things laid out however you like. If your patch list was not even close to being how you like it, take the time to put stuff where you’d have it, fader-wise, on your daily driver. Once again, this helps with muscle memory allowing you to react quicker and more efficiently. If you need to re-patch the console to get things laid out better, after everything else is organized ask the band if they want to take a few minutes break so you can do this. Time it appropriately but as I said last week, if you build up some trust and ask nicely, this shouldn’t be an issue.
After you’ve taken the time to get stuff setup the way you are used to, you finally have a setup that you can work with. On top of that, you’ve heard some of the content, your ears are informed, and you already have a baseline to work from that probably isn’t awful (it could be better but you get the gist). Once again we are at a crossroads however with what to do next. Some technicians will want to get the FX going and such but I prefer a different choice. I go back and get the EQs done in order of priority. My theory is that with better sources, you can spend less time tweaking FX because the source material for those FX will be better from the start. I don’t recommend crazy FX anyways in time crunches because there is usually better things to do than tinker with that crazy delay/verb that you love on your daily driver. But we will get to that in a bit. For now, the idea is that now that you’ve been listening to the band while you got situated, you’ve probably identified some issues with mic positioning or EQ that, if they haven’t already driven you crazy, you should take care of now. Definitely any channel you loaded a preset EQ into go back, listen, adjust. I would never recommend setting a preset and not at least listening to it again. If you have trouble dialing something in go up to the stage and check the mic position. Sometimes in our haste or by mistake we don’t get that mic right where it needs to be or the source sounds a bit different than expected. Get it adjusted. This is a great time to check direct boxes as well. If I’m getting lots of hum (sometimes it’s impossible because of the circuit layout to fix it completely) I’ll lift some grounds and see if that helps. While on stage I like to take a minute when they aren’t playing and check in with the band so they can ask me something without me yelling from the back if they need or if I need to make a change to their monitors. This just helps to build that rapport with the band that I think is important to a successful event.
This is my favorite part. I love FX so much. I think a few good verbs can do more for a mix than compression in some instances and there are so very few instances when it’s not even a little helpful. If possible I’ll run 3 verbs: drums, instruments, and vocals. If I’m in a pinch I’ll just do two and put the drums and instruments together. I also setup a tap delay if I can just to give the option for that extra little touch on a mix. You know someone is prepared when you hear a well done tap delay. These are relatively easy to setup. Just find a built-in verb or pull up a preset you like if you have waves going than spend a few minutes making it disappear a bit. Sounds a bit weird but I believe that reverbs are best utilized when you aren’t sure they are there but you can hear them in the space between notes. I dont use them as an effect but rather as an enhancement of the tonality and sustain of each input. I do however use tap delays, slap delays, and chorus FX to add something so those I’m not too concerned with dialing them in perfect right away. If all you have time for is the verbs than leave it at that. At this point we are still just getting everything in place as fast as possible. If you can get the tap setup during the show than put it off if you can.
The last thing I like to do at this point is get some board routing in place so that I can more easily adjust things at macro level. This means getting groups setup for inputs to feed through before they hit the main (to allow for bus compression if needed) and setting up VCAs. I don’t use VCAs a ton but if they are available I dial them up for things I like to adjust together. I love VCAs because unlike groups there is no summing, it’s as if I am moving all the faders in line with each other. If the drums sound great but are just a bit too hot, easy to move the VCA fader rather than try to move each fader down perfectly together. The groups however, I use to setup some bus compression. I don’t often need to adjust the faders but from time to time I’ll compress the summary of a group of faders (most often drums) just to lock stuff in with each other. Be gentle though, it’s easy to kill the dynamics of a mix as fast as you built it with too much bus compression. The biggest thing with groups is mostly an organizational level. These aren’t required but in certain circumstances can make life a lot eaiser.
That does it for this week folks. Once again, just like last week, in some cases this is all you’ll get to do before the event. That’s OK, this is a lot and you can keep improving during the event. If you have any questions about this process or about something you believe I’ve missed, comment below or on facebook or shoot me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week we will go over what you do if you somehow still have time left; basically the icing on the cake. Things like advanced compression, work with outboard gear, automation, and having enough time to check everything before it all gets going. If you want to be sure to be notified when that post goes live, sign up at this link and you’ll get an email when it’s up. See you all on the flipside!