You maybe in a band, play solo or duo gigs or even a a sound engineer for a small stage. There is a size, range of channels that can suit all situations.
We are going to give an overview on the general layout of a basic mixer.
Firstly, each mixer will have a “channel strip”, which consists of all the controls for the particular channel.
On every mixer there will be a a number of inputs to match the channel strip. Most commonly the majority of inputs on your mixing desk will be XLR (microphone input). These inputs will allow you to plug any microphone, D.I box or other sound sources that have a XLR output. On most analogue desks you will also have a Line Input option. These Line Inputs are either TS or TRS depending on desk (read your manual to find what yours is). This can allow you to plug directly to the desk an acoustic guitar, bass or keyboards. Using a DI box is always recommended though.
Other desk inputs can include stereo channels which have a L & R Jack input or RCA inputs which allows you to plug an iPhone/iPod/Laptop into the desk. These options are great cause you have your stereo sound on one fader.
This is usually found at the top of your mixer. The gain is a highly miss understood aspect of the mixing desk by many, especially musicians who deal with their own sound. Think of gain as your input volume. If you have a sound source such as a singer, you want to set the gain so when they are belting, you do not peak your input, but also when they are singing quietly, there is enough signal to amplify their voice. Picture a microphone, if you have very little gain, the mic will only pick up sound in a little area around the capsule, if you apply lots of gain, the mic will pickup sound from a wider area. It will also be quieter with little gain, and louder the more gain you add.
When setting the Gain, always use your PFL (Pre Fade Level), to see how much input you are bring into the desk via your meters. See video for a demonstration. All desks I have used have a form of PFL.
Sound desks have Parametric EQ on the channel, which essentially means you have boost and cut set frequencies that are Low, Mid range or High. Depending on your mixer will depend what frequency control you have. The majority of small analogue desks have sweepable mids, which essentially means you can locate a certain frequency and cut or boot it.
I personally mix by cutting unwanted frequencies first before I boost. One thing I enjoy doing with vocals is adding some top end into them, just boost the High frequencies. This just allows the vocal to cut though the rest of the music and sit on top of the mix.
EQin’ the instruments and vocals can change the way it sounds dramatically, so use your ear and make sure you consider all aspect of the music, including instrumentation and style before changing EQ.
Aux or Auxiliaries can be used for stage Foldback or Monitors. This allows the band, artists or acts on stage to hear themselves through an alternate mix from FOH. The number of foldback sends you have will depend on the desk. Most small analogue desks will have 2 aux sends.
This fader controls your output volume of a particular channel. You want to use these faders to balance each vocal, instrument or sound source to get a nice even mix. You also want to keep an eye of your level meter, ensuring that you do not peak your output.
This is an important part of the mixer, as these outputs allow you to connect to your speakers. The Main Out will always have a Left and Right, so you plug L into Left speaker and R into the Right Speaker. The Main Out also has a fader, which is your Master Volume. This will determine how much signal is send out of the desk to your speakers. The greater the signal, the louder it is. I tend to start with my master at -10dB giving myself heaps of headroom for when the room fills up with punters or party goers. This also allow you to boost volume as a whole without changing each channel which messes up your mix.
There you have it, a basic run layout of a mixing desk. Watch the video to see a visual representation.