In part one we went over the process of setting everything up to start mixing live with the X/M32 Mixer. In part two we will be talking about Unity Mixing, Channel Strip Processing and adding Effects. I am not a big fan of Unity Mixing with digital mixers as you really have no advantage like you maybe would have on a analog mixer.
There is also a third type of mixing that is sometimes referred to as Unity Mixing, “Gain Mixing”, where after you get all of your inputs set correctly, you would adjust the gain for each channel to blend your mix, while having your faders set to unity. This method is mostly seen when people running the sound board are inexperienced or misled by other inexperienced members that were trying to teach others, due to a shortage of volunteers. This is something that you should never do and I can assure you, is not practiced by professional sound engineers.
There are several reasons to avoid this type of mixing and to be honest, I debated on even discussing this type of mixing but I get so many emails concerning this issue, I decided to take some time and write it out, so I can simply direct them to this article instead of having to respond to them over and over again.
The first disadvantage you have is a much higher possibility of clipping. If you decide that after the event has started and you need to do some mixing due to more people coming in, or the performers are playing louder/softer then they did during the sound check. If you adjust your channel gains, you have now changed the signal strength through the entire signal path.
So if we follow the signal path, we know that it is going to go through the pre-amp and then into the channel strip processing first. This change in gain structure will now effect the Gate, EQ and Compressor if they are active. It has no choice as these three processes all depend on how much signal strength, (gain), is coming into one process and then going out to the other.
So after you have changed the gain input level, you must now go back and check the gate, eq and compressor to make sure they are set correctly, regardless of how big or small, the change was concerning the gain. Now this is where some may take offense to this article, as I often get this reply. “Well that will not affect me, I don’t use channel strip processing”.
When I read or hear that response, I cringe. If you don’t know how to use your channel strip processing, then you simply will never increase your skills for mixing. PERIOD! By making this type of statement, I instantly know you don’t have one single clue about mixing audio and there is not really a nice way for me to tell you that. If this offends you, then maybe you should look into how sound is heard by the human ear and go back and learn the basics of audio 101 concerning eq, gates and compression.
Up to this point, we really have not covered anything that most advanced or semi-professional sound techs would not already know. Please keep in mind that these articles are not meant to insult your audio skills or discourage you from running mixers, they are simply being written to help you cut through the myths and misinformation that is everywhere on the internet in 2022 concerning mixing digital audio.
Just this week someone made a post in our Facebook Community that just made me shutter. I have no doubt that this person believes that their question would be a simple one to answer, but in reality, it would take a response that would be longer then this article, to explain it to them properly. Therefore, that is where their training needs to start. Audio Basics 101.
As much as I truly love being a part of online communities that deal with audio, it seems that more and more people are asking questions for specific situations, without knowing anything about audio to begin with. It’s kinda hard to learn “trig” if you never took “basic math”. Please don’t get me wrong, I understand that many people are jumping into audio on a volunteer base because they answered a call from their Church, or their Church now has to take their message online.
That is the targeted audience for these articles as I can just about promise you, that if you walk into a club or get hired to run sound for a event using this type of mixing, you will probably be asked to leave 20 minuets into the show or never be asked to come back. Now you may understand why I debated even covering this type of mixing. I really have no polite way of telling you, “don’t quit your day job” or even worse, “stop volunteering”, if this is how you are going to mix. Believe it or not, we have not even covered the worst affect this type of mixing creates.
Monitors. Yep, love em or hate em, it does not matter what you think as the sound tech, but you most definitely will need to know how to properly mix them. In the last few years, “In Ear Monitors” have really come down in price to the point where most people/groups are now using them. The price drop combined with more usage, has also spurred a demand for Monitor Mixing Engineers. While wedge monitors are still used and many events will have them setup for backup if their IEM systems fails, this type of mixing will affect these as well. Simply put, this type of mixing affects everything in your signal chain.
If we go back to where we set everything up at the very beginning, when we are doing our sound check, we will also be creating the monitor mixes. So when you are halfway through the first song and your drummer lets you know that they need more lead guitar in their left ear, no problem, you simply go to their mix and make the increase.
So now you are just starting your second song and you decide you need to raise or lower the lead guitar to make it blend in better with that particular song. If you use the gain control to do this, you have now affected the signal strength through the channel strip processing, every monitor mix and the volume coming out of the mains!
So now that you have raised the gain for the lead guitar, you now notice that the lead vocal needs to be raised and the bass lowered. Now, as any good sound engineer would do, you have set the gate on the vocal, bass and guitar channels to keep the mics closed when it is not being used, the gate threshold is now set to high and because you lowered the bass mic gain, it starts cutting in and out and you have lost most of your compression and the makeup gain is now nonexistent.
So now we have a problem with the lead guitar, the bass and the lead vocals. Now we have to check nine channel strip processors, our FOH mix and little did we know because we were so busy trying to correct everything else, we are now clipping the mains. No problem, we just pull the main faders down, right? WRONG!
But wait, now the bass player needs you to adjust his/her channel because it is cutting in and out in their ear, the drummer is pointing to the lead guitar because now they can’t hear their ride cymbal and keyboard player has just simply ripped their IEMs out because they can’t hear anything, and figure they are better off trying to hear their band mates on stage without using anything. Now everyone is looking at you, wondering why you just didn’t leave everything like it was, when your did your initial sound check and monitor mix setup.
So now you are in full panic mode! All your faders are set to Unity (0), so you have no visualization of how your channels are setting in the mix and you move the wrong fader. Now you have created instant feedback and everyone on stage has now ripped their IEMs out and the crowd has instantly covered their ears. If you are reading this and thinking, “man, what an idiot”, I would like to mention two things.
I have seen this happen more time then I can recall in my career and this same situation I just described to you, happened last month at a Church with around 145 members sitting in the Sanctuary. I was invited to review their service for live as well as streaming audio. After everything was said and done, the person simply stated that was the way they were trained.
Make no mistake about it, you should never fault anyone who has a desire to serve, nor the way they were trained, if you are not willing to step in and help correct the issues in a calm and passionate manner. This situation was very easy to correct without demeaning anyone during the process. The person who trained the above mentioned volunteer, was taught the same way by the volunteer before them who had moved away. He simply had a better understanding of how audio works then the person they trained, but they were still trying to understand why they never could get their mix sounding right, getting occasional feedback and why their stream was so weak.
Folks, it all boils down to having the proper input gain set and then leaving it alone. I have no doubt that someone who uses the above mentioned system for mixing is going to disagree with me. That’s OK. I also have no doubt that if you use this style of mixing, you will never be able to quit your day job and your mixing skills will never get to the point to bring you into a professional level!
For part three of these articles, I think I am going to do a video which shows all three ways of mixing and what is involved. I will try and represent them as close as I can using professionally recorded tracks and why I mix the way I do. As always, take what you want and leave the rest. Sincerely, Dana Tucker. YBIC.