QuickTip: Layered Thinking

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I want to talk a bit about layers in terms of digital consoles. As digital consoles have become more and more ubiquitous, I’ve heard a chorus of groans when it comes to layers. But layers don’t need to be a burden. I actually find them freeing.

One of the things I’ve talked about at conferences is how important it is to lay out your console in a deliberate fashion. Here’s how I see it:

If I’m going to approach mixing musically, then the console is my instrument. Like a seasoned performer, I should instinctively know where every note on my console is whether it’s a fader or a pot or a button or an encoder. I shouldn’t have to think or search to find stuff just like a professional musician doesn’t have to stare at their instrument to find the proper note.

The trick to using console layers isn’t to think of them as something new. In a way layers are really something we’ve had to deal with for years on large format consoles. On large desks, we had inputs spread across a large, wide surface and to get at anything we would have to take a few steps in either direction to get at those inputs. So we’d put the important stuff closer to the middle and the stuff we didn’t need to touch on the outsides of the console.

I approach layers the same way. A layer on a digital console is the modern equivalent of taking a step or two to the outsides of an analog console. My top layer is all the important stuff I want immediate control of like lead vocals and lead instruments. I might also put things here I need to get instant access to. The next layer down is my left side of the big desk. It’s things like drums and bass that I’m probably not going to micro-manage or will have control of on a VCA. The next two layers are the right side of the big desk which holds everything else like lav mics or instruments in use for a single song.

When I’m mixing, I live on the top layer much like I would live near the center section of an analog console. I know where everything is so I can get to it fast and intuitively. If I need to get at something on the far sides of the desk, I simply jump to that layer and still have everything close at hand. When I mix, you probably won’t see me move much because I have everything set up so I don’t have to, and I can live in the center of the console.

If you find yourself struggling with layers, try and think beyond simply putting all your inputs in a traditional order the next time you setup your console. Instead, place things where you want to reach for them intuitively. Then use your lower layers the less important stuff the same way you would place things farther away on a big desk where you couldn’t reach everything.

David Stagl

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QuickTip: Layered Thinking