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Use an “Anchor Fader” When Mixing Sound

12:49 pm Home Recording, Live Sound

Here’s a mixing tip that applies to both home recording and live sound. With both types of mixing, your mission is to establish and maintain a balance of levels for the various instruments and vocals, while keeping the mixer controls set somewhere close to their “normal” positions. Specifically, the volume faders should never end up all toward the bottom or all toward the top of their range, as this indicates a problem with gain structure, which can result in noise and/or distortion in your final output.

Why would this happen? In a typical scenario, you start out with all the mixer faders at the default “0″ point, i.e. about 3/4 of the way up. (This is accomplished by adjusting the mixer’s Input Trim controls for each channel so that each input produces a “0″ peak reading on the output meter with its channel fader set to the “0″ point.) Then you set the mixer’s Master Volume control to produce a suitable sound level through the onstage speakers (or through your home-studio monitors). Everything looks great. Then the music starts.

The Chase Begins

“Oops, I can’t hear the lead vocal, better turn it up a bit… Whoa, now where’s the guitar, better bring that up too… There’s not enough bass, where’s the bottom end? Better bring it up a tad… Wow, now it’s too loud in the room, gotta turn down the Master Volume just a bit… Agh, now I can’t hear the keyboard!”

Silly, but it’s true. You can easily end up with all the instruments and vocals cranked up to +10 (or 11) and the Master Volume control barely cracked open. (For some reason this scenario is much more common than one in which you find yourself turning the faders down and down and down and bringing the Master Volume up. Maybe this has happened to someone, but I don’t think it’s me.)

So what can be done? Well, the method I use to avoid chasing the various volume controllers up and down is to establish one of the channel faders as an immovable “anchor” that sits on the “0″ setting as if it were glued in place (actual glue not recommended). The designated anchor fader should be the one that is providing the “backbone” of the music. In my home studio I usually use the drums as my anchor part. When I run live sound for Rusty Strings, it’s the rhythm guitar.

Make it your rule that you are not allowed to change the anchor fader’s setting. If something else is too loud compared to the anchor, turn it down. If it’s too quiet, turn it up. If the overall room level is too loud or soft with the anchor fader set to “0″, make the necessary adjustments to the Master Volume control. But leave the anchor fader alone. End the chase!

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2 Responses
  1. Paul :

    Date: December 13, 2011 @ 6:27 am

    Great tip!! thnx!

  2. Robert Fox :

    Date: January 10, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

    The anchor fader is an excellent suggetion. In fact, I would like to say that all of the suggestions I’ve read on this site are useful and easy to comprehend. Thanx for ’splainin’ things so well!

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