One thing putting together a physical mixer console has taught me is how capable Reason’s original virtual rack-mounted 14 stereo channel (28 mono channel) mixer, known as the reMIX Virtual Tec MX 28-4-14, was / is. The reMIX has since been replaced by the virtual SSL 9000k mixing console and it, of course, blows the reMIX out of the water in terms of functionality.
But one thing it taught was the power of using what you have wisely. The reason is because you were limited to 14 channels (even if you were using a mono source, such as a subtractor, you still wanted to apply FXs, EQ or panning from the reMIX, which made you use up an entire channel strip). Of course, you could chain multiple reMIXes together without taking up a channel slot (as well as passing on the 4 FX’s to each mixer). But you it still taught you a valuable lesson of doing more with less.
Learning from the old methods
When Reason 2.5 came out, in 2003, the wonderful Spider Audio splitter / merger device was introduced. This allowed us to merge in audio tracks that didn’t need their own, dedicated channel. Before the combinator was introduced in Reason 3, this was an effective way to make multi-instrument sounds but treat them as one single instrument (as they would appear in the mixer as one channel).
Even though we had an unlimited amount of reMIX mixers to put in our rack, you really tried to make your production be about quality-versus-quantity (at least the professionals did).
Then the virtual SSL 9000K came out and, even though we could do unlimited mixers before in Reason, now we could do unlimited channels in one mixing console. The reMIX of Reason is a rack mixer (I find it very visually similar to an Allen & Heath XB-14-2) and the “SSL” (which is not officially associated with SSL for obvious reasons) is much more like a 64 channel 9000K.
So, with the virtual SSL, it can be very easy to simply not worry about how many channels your project has. But, surprisingly, having a physical mixer console throws you right back into the same headspace as you had with the reMIX. You start looking at ways to optimize the number of channels your project has.
Physical mixers dictating virtual mixers
Take mixers that are designed to control virtual mixers, such as the Behringer BCF2000. It has 8 motorized faders. It groups 8 channels into banks, which it can instantly jump between in Reason. So channels 1-8, 9-16, 17-24 and so forth. It seems like it’s a non-issue. But when you’re trying to label your channels with console tape (artists tape), you quickly realize that being careless with how many channels you create definitely has its drawbacks.
I realized this myself. I was already pretty good about not needlessly creating mixer channels, but I had bus channels in most songs . I started taking a look to see if those bus channels were actually useful. When doing parallel processing, such as in the mixer tape photo at the top (the channels labeled “FOGGY KEYS”), using buses are important (especially when each channel uses automation). And, in situations like the photo below, using a bus can be a very useful for separating vocals and the music.
But 90% of the time, bussing was not necessary. Sure, I had some situations where I was applying a bus to two (parallel) channels and had send FXs on the bus itself, but removing the bus and adjusting the levels and applying the same send FXs wasn’t hard.
Removing bus channels reduced the number of mix channels my projects used and forced me to rely on utilizing features of the channels themselves, such as using the gain knob to control the overall level of a channel with automation rather than lazily creating a bus for it.
Efficient channel useage
And this brings us back to the reMIX 14:2. I have a Behringher BCF2000 mixers with 8 motorized faders each, which gives me 8 channels as one single channel bank. Most of my songs, once I removed the lazy busses, are able to fit in under 16 channels.
This is why I have even more respect for the reMIX. It has 14 channels yet I can easily see that being enough channels if someone were really creative enough. I’ve found some of my most naturally melodic songs seem to have the fewest channels. Yet the songs that weren’t naturally melodic seem to have many more channels. I believe this is because, without such a strong melody or a melody that is capable of alternating, more elements are needed at different points throughout the song. Thus, the stronger (more melodic) a song, the fewer channels that are needed.
I think starting out using a virtual rack mixer has been better because, by limiting me, it helped form better habits. For instances, you’ll notice I don’t do BS individual mix channels for each drum (kick, snare, tom, etc). For live recorded drums, it’s needed. But not drum machine or sequencer drums. I make any tonal changes to the drums themselves in either Kong or Redrum (such as the tone and pitch knobs), do individual FXs directly in Kong or FX-chaining with Redrum and the panning is even done in the drum machines. Any extra EQing is fully manageable via the SSL channel strip. And compression is managed via the mastering suite.
The one thing I typically make as a separate channel are cymbal crashes and that’s simply because cymbal crashes have a nasty habit of punching holes through the limit protection of the mastering suite (clipping), requiring “level riding” (aka automation) or special treatment.
Physical organization helping virtual organization
It really is intersting to see a return to the mindset of being conservative about mixer channel use.
Later. – MJ