Bells and Whistles
So I’ve been thinking a bit about our class at Guru’s in Chicago and how more and more engineers have a lot of options available these days. I recently added a new plugin bundle to my collection opening up a slew of new choices. This got me thinking some more, and I wanted to share some thoughts if you’re adding something like a new digital console with a host of processing options or even if you’re just new to the audio party and feel like you’re drinking from a fire-hose.
A lot has changed since I started out in audio over twenty years ago. The photo here is the same type of console I first started out on, a TOA RXA-212, although I remember ours being in better shape. It was a 12 channel powered mixer, although we didn’t really use the amps in it very often. The 9-band graphic EQ’s at the top could be assigned to either one of the program or FB(foldback) outputs. There were four bands of fixed EQ on each input and no high-pass filters. The foldback busses were basically aux sends that we would use to feed wedges on stage for variety shows and dance shows; sometimes we might have even used them to give the pit band conductor a little more of the actors during musicals. According to the manual I found, there was “Echo” built-in to the console, but I don’t remember it much. This was a very basic mixer. It was all we had, and we figured out how to make the most of it. In fact, I don’t think I even thought much about the fact that there was more gear out there to be had. I think we might have wanted a better sound system, though….and some wireless mics of our own instead of renting them…..but I digress….
As I moved forward and into an audio career, more and more tools ended up in my hands as I progressed. I can’t say there weren’t times when I didn’t have gear lust for bigger, better, and more stuff, but I can look back now and see a huge advantage in my gradual exposure to and acquisition of things. It forced me to really get to know how to work with what I had on hand.
These days a lot of guys are starting out with a much larger palette of tools thanks to the world of digital consoles. Even veteran engineers can be overwhelmed by everything suddenly at their disposal. I think it’s great that we have so much more to work with now than when I started out, but all these options can also put guys at a distinct disadvantage. Manufacturers love to pack gear full of options so you can get the most bang for your buck, however, they aren’t always so good at giving new users a strategy to learn it all.
When I started mixing on the VENUE, I had already been working in the world of Pro Tools for pretty much my entire professional career, and as a result I probably took to using plugins a little quicker since I had a lot of familiarity with the concept. I understood how to work with them and in some cases already had experience with some of the specific plugins that came standard on the desk. But that familiarity didn’t come overnight. It came from years of being exposed to plugins typically one at a time, and even with that exposure I didn’t pile on the plugins on the VENUE at first.
I think it’s natural for audio engineers and tech-lovers in general to want to try out every feature on a new piece of gear. There’s always that itch to play. But I think you can also do yourself a disservice by trying to use everything before you’ve mastered a few components.
Exposing yourself gradually to fancy new gear requires discipline, but I think there can be more benefits from focusing on a few things at a time instead of trying to ring every bell and blow every whistle right out the gate. The reality is, you will probably learn faster if you try to master one or two things rather than try to master everything at once.
I think when we audio folks try and figure out a lot of different processors or pieces of gear at one time, we often dilute our learning ability. While we can be very good at learning multiple things at one time, the number of options available these days often surpasses our capacity for learning. Everyone learns at a different pace, but I still think it’s better to ease in slow. There’s nothing wrong with picking up the pace and moving on to the next thing once you’ve mastered something, but I think patience really can be a virtue in this.
Technology can easily become a mistress. Trying to light up every light can easily draw our focus of what we do to the technology instead of the content we’re creating and supporting. The minute it becomes more about the tech instead of what we’re trying to use the tech to support or create, we’ve lost the game.
The bundle of plugins I just picked up has somewhere between 20-30 plugins. Right now I’m really only using maybe 3 or 4 of them at the most. I plan to dig in more over the coming months, but I’m not in a hurry. If I think I need to use one of them, I’ll do it, but in the meantime they’re not going anywhere. Personally, I’d rather savor the taste of my new gear and benefit from investing in learning a couple things at a time while I stay focused on the mix.