The best way to label a mixing deskMark Ellis
Not every job on the sound engineer’s to-do list revolves around making noise. It’s a shame, but an unavoidable aspect of the job.
Unless you’re extremely lucky, you’ll have to carry heavy kit through venues; you’ll have to meet with difficult bands and reiterate how feedback is generated; if you’re a freelancer, you’ll probably have to ‘do the accounts’, too.
Some jobs in this business are, unfortunately, incredibly dull.
It would be easy to assume the same is true when it comes to labelling the mixing desk. After all, running a length of tape across the board and painstakingly labelling each channel isn’t going to be at the top of any engineer’s list of exciting stuff, is it?
It’s time to realign the thinking on this one. Mixing desk labelling may be dull on the face of it, but it results in a tool that will save the engineer’s bacon more than once during the event.
Who wants to fumble for the kick drum fader when desperately trying to reduce boom? What could be worse than being unable to locate the third backing singer’s mic channel when you realise they’re drowning out the lead vocalist?
The following tips will make your night, every time. We promise. Don’t leave home without them.
1. Never forget the tape (and felt tip)
Of all the gear you don’t want to forget come the big night, the humble white tape and felt tip pen rank pretty highly.
Set aside a special, dedicated place in a kit bag or flight case for these vital items and double up on both.
2. Abbreviate each instrument category
If you’re mixing a band, you’ll most likely have several instruments and vocalists to deal with, so it pays to keep things simple when it comes to naming conventions.
Before you label up, write down each instrument category with an abbreviation in brackets, and against them the initials of the performers if there are more than one of any instrument.
You’ll end up with something like this:
- Vocals (vox): BS, ME, JJ, MK
- Guitars (gtr): BS, JM
- Bass (‘bass’ will do!)
- Drums (dr): SN (snare), BD (bass drum), HH (hi-hat)
- Brass (‘brass’ will do!): JP, RW, CV
This will enable you to label the channels with simple, quick-fire text such as ‘Vox JJ’, ‘GTR JM’, ‘dr HH’, ’Brass CV’. Easy!
3. Organise faders into banks
You’ve gone to the trouble of abbreviating your labels, therefore the worst thing you could do now is spread them haphazardly across the desk.
So, instead, organise your faders into banks. Drums in one section, vocals in another, bass and guitar next to one another, and so on. Familiarise yourself with the banks, and you’ll instantly know where to turn whenever you need to grab a particular fader.
4. Use colours
This isn’t strictly necessary, but if you respond well to colours when it comes to categorisation, make sure you add some coloured highlighters to your kit bag, too. Pick a colour for vocals, one for drums and do the same for every other bank of inputs.
5. Don’t forget the master and aux channels!
OK, so the master channel is pretty obvious, but it still pays to label it up to avoid any potential confusion on the night. Also, don’t forget the aux strips – you may need to find the compression or FX channels quickly and if they’re lying there unmarked against a sea of nicely-organised channels, you could run into trouble – quickly.
Not rocket science, eh?
Keep this list by your side for each gig – just in case you need to refer back to it. Not every job will have you making noise, but this one will at least ensure any noise you do make isn’t full of expletives!