I've been busy the past few weeks mixing the new season of UK comedy drama, "Doc Martin", at William (The Farm) in Soho, London.
We're in a lovely studio running Pro Tools 12HD, with a 24 fader Avid D-Command control surface. I started to premix the first episode on my 8 Fader D-Command back in Shoreditch and quickly found that in order to work most efficiently, I needed more faders. When I moved to William, the dialogue premix went far quicker and I found myself going to the AFU section first to control plugins. This had the added benefit that I worked by ear, not by sight. I adjusted the EQ until it sounded right, not until it looked right. As we're now mixing "Doc Martin" in 5.1, there's an extensive sound edit, so I've been using custom faders and VCAs to full effect!
Using Your Knobs
My experience returning to a larger format control surface wasn't what inspired me to write this though. What did, was on episode 3, I had the pleasure of the company of the dialogue editor, an industry giant, who when I scooted over to the faders and transport controls on the control surface commented, "Wow, you're actually mixing using faders! You don't see that often these days! It's generally just a series of mouse clicks."
This got me thinking. One of the things I find myself doing a lot is undoing clip gain dips and replacing them with more natural sounding fader moves. I find myself a bit lost without feeling something physical under my fingers. In my temporary setup (before I move to Bristol) I have a Pro Tools Control app running on my iPad. It's much better than nothing as I really have an issue using a mouse to control fader moves. I also have an issue with touchscreen mixing, I find that touch screens need you to look at them, which can be an issue when you're using the Edit screen or even looking at the playback screen for your cues.
Do You Still Use Your Control Surface?
Avid and many other control surface manufacturers have spent an awful lot of time and money bringing us hardware with an unprecedented amount of surface feedback and control, allowing you to stay in the sweet spot and mix using your hands and ears. They've also brought in VCA masters, allowing us to easily wrangle large track counts.
Another important effect is the client "Wow" factor. They want to see something for their money and believe me, they'd far rather see you using it. From a mixers point of view, there's a certain "performance" aspect to it. You're demonstrating that it still requires a human to interface with and tame, to deliver the clients' bidding.
So let's get back to basics. Let's bring a more human feel back to our productions. If you've got it, use it. And if you haven't got it, get it. There's a wide variety of control surfaces to suit all budgets. Even the iPad app or something like V-Control or TouchDAW. I don't know about you, but I trust my ears way more than my eyes...
Tell Us What You Think (And Do)
Do you find your attitude to a mix and efficiency changing when you sit in front of a larger control surface than you're used to? Tell us what you think (and do) in the comments section below.