Designing and Optimizing Your Live Sound Monitor Mixing Workflows with Avid S3L

By in Live Sound, Music Creation, Tech Talk

The following is the fifth of a seven-part blog series from Al McKinna, Principal Product Manager, Avid Live Systems & Consoles, that will provide a look inside the design of Avid S3L.

 

In this week’s blog we are going straight to the point. No introductions, no tongue and cheek opening gambit, no setting of the scene. We are going straight to the heart of the action.

This week we are standing by the side of the stage in monitor world. We are talking about managing multiple mixes to multiple destinations across a distributed network of I/O. We are talking about super-fast shortcuts and navigating with speed across an ultra-compact control surface with the grace of a gazelle that your job depends on. This week we are talking monitor mixing workflows with Avid S3L live sound system.

Lets start with system configuration. Avid S3L provides 64 input channels, 24 mix busses, 8 VCAs, 8 matrixes and mains, and the system can be placed in one of three bus configurations:

  1. 8 Auxes and 8 Stereo Groups
  2. 16 Auxes and 8 Mono Groups
  3. 16 Auxes and 8 Variable Groups

Avid S3L provides a choice of three bus configurations in the OPTIONS > System page of the VENUE software.

For the monitor guys out there, there is option #3: 16 auxes and 8 variable groups. Informally, we call this bus configuration Variable Groups Mode that essentially gives you 24 aux busses (a variable group being an aux bus that can be routed to mains).

To place S3L in Variable Groups Mode, navigate to the OPTIONS > System page of the VENUE software, and under “Bus Configuration”, select “16 Auxes and 8 Variable Groups”. For the rest of this blog, we will be working from the assumption that we have placed S3L in Variable Groups Mode to have the system nicely optimized for monitor mixing applications.

These 24 bus masters can be accessed quickly via the fader banks. As the S3 Control Surface has a tiny footprint (relative to its level of control), 7 fader banks are provided to navigate through all channel types. In Variable Groups Mode, S3 will give you the following banks:

  • Banks A-D = Input Channels 1-64
  • Bank E = Aux Masters
  • Bank F = Variable Group Masters
  • User = VCAs 1-8, Mains

 

Fader Banking:

Aux and Group output channels are accessed from the S3 Control Surface on Fader Banks E and F.

The Aux masters will always appear in Bank E and Group masters on Bank F, irrespective of the bus configuration. In addition to using the fader banks, all output channels can be controlled by the Global encoders (the 8 knobs on the very top-right hand side of the control surface)—more on this later.

Output channels can be labeled up in the VENUE software, and labeling an Aux or Variable Group output channel will automatically label the sends to that bus as well, and populate the name throughout the software and control surface.

All output channels are given discrete outputs in the VENUE Patchbay and can be routed to any physical output, ranging from Stage 16 remote I/O boxes to drive your onstage monitors to any local output on the S3 Control Surface and/or E3 Engine (and additionally patched direct to Pro Tools). To put it bluntly, any output channel can be routed anywhere you like in S3L’s fully distributed system of networked I/O.

Aux and Variable Group output channels can be routed to any Stage or Local output in the Patchbay page of the VENUE software.

OK, so that’s how you access your bus masters, but how about actually setting up your monitor mixes? How do you access the sends to the busses and start dialing in the mixes? Well, on the S3 Control Surface, this can be done in two ways:

  1. Using the Channel Control section
  2. Using the Assignable Channel Encoders

The Channel Control section gives you all the parameters associated with the selected channel. Select a channel and the top left-hand set of 8 knobs on the control surface will give you a choice of Input, EQ, Compressor, Gate and Aux Sends to access for that selected channel. Choose Aux 1-8, Aux 9-16 or Variable Groups to spill those sends onto the Channel Control encoders and you are good to send that selected channel to any mix bus (or multiple mix busses) you might be working from.

This is a great workflow when working from the input channel, and setting up which of the 24 mixes to send the channel to. It is not as efficient for the monitor engineer working from the Aux or Variable Group bus, dialing in the sends for multiple input channels to create a specific mix. For the multi-tasking gazelle-like monitor engineer, we have the Assignable Channel Encoders.

 

Encoder Assign:

Aux and Variable Group sends are accessed from the bottom row of encoders (Channel Encoders) using the Encoder Assign section.

The Assignable Channel Encoders (or just “Channel Encoders” if you prefer) are the bottom row of 16 knobs that stretch right across the S3 Control Surface. Each Channel Encoder is part of each channel strip—every channel strip has one, providing one type of parameter for every channel banked to the surface. If one Channel Encoder is controlling input gain, they are all controlling input gain.

Every Avid Live Sound console has this row of knobs, and they all work in pretty much the same way. On S3, the section of 6 buttons to the left-hand side of the Channel Encoders, allow us to target a range of functions. This section of buttons we call Encoder Assign. Encoder Assign allows us to access Gain, HPF, Pan, Compressor Threshold, and any of the 24 sends via the Channel Encoders. Pressing one of the Encoder Assign buttons targets that parameter to the Channel Encoders.

Here’s how you access the sends. Press the Aux button in the Encoder Assign section. This will bring up Aux Selection Mode. The Aux button will flash and each channel display will show a different aux send. Press the encoder associated with the send you want to access, lets say its Aux Send 4, now each Channel Encoder will give you Aux Send 4 for every channel banked to the surface. Press the Flip to Faders button and you can use the faders to dial in the mix rather than using knobs.

If you want to access another mix, press the Page Left or Page Right buttons above the Encoder Assign section. This will page through all the adjacent Aux Sends—so if Aux Send 4 is targeted to the encoders, pressing Page Right will target Aux Send 5 and so on. This will continue to work even if the console is in Flip to Faders, so you navigate across your mixes and use the faders to control the send levels.

If for example, you are operating from Aux 1 and you need to get to Aux 15, perhaps you don’t want to have to press Page Right 15 times to get there—neither do I. Instead, press the Aux button in Encoder Assign one more time to bring up Aux Selection Mode once again. From here, you can access any of the 24 sends by pressing the associated encoder. Bear in mind that when you are in Variable Groups Mode, you will need to page right to access the Variable Group Sends in Aux Selection Mode.

OK, so before we deep dive into more advanced workflows, let’s have a little recap…

Steps to dial in an aux mix from the S3 Control Surface:

  1. Press the Input Bank (A-D) you want to work from
  2. Press the Aux button in Encoder Assign to enter Aux Selection Mode
  3. Press the encoder for the Aux mix you would like to access (encoder #3 for Aux Send 3)
  4. Press Flip to Faders to dial in the mix on the faders rather than the knobs
  5. Press Page Left or Page Right to access an adjacent mix or press the Aux button to re-enter Aux Selection Mode and target another mix

As mentioned earlier in the blog, all the output channels can be controlled via the Global Encoders as well as the faders. These 8 knobs in the top right-hand section of the console provide access to Aux and Group masters, Matrix masters, VCAs, Monitors and Mains.

Aux and Variable Group masters can be accessed via the Global Encoders freeing up the faders to control input channels and sends to the busses.

To target the Aux masters, just press the encoder displaying “Aux/Group”. This will spill Aux masters 1-8 to across these top right-hand 8 encoders. To AFL an output, double press the SELECT switch next to the encoder. To bank the encoders to Aux 9-16 and Variable Group masters, press the Page Right button.

Being able to control the Aux masters using the encoders enables the 16-fader S3 Control Surface to behave like a 24-fader console, freeing up the faders to navigate around the input channels. This is really powerful when the S3 Control Surface is in Flip to Faders mode, allowing you to navigate through your mixes and keep the aux master (and 7 other aux masters) up on the surface at all times. If at some point during the show you need quick access to any of the 24 mix outputs, you can press Fader Bank E to get all 16 Aux masters on the faders and bring up the 8 Variable Groups on the Global encoders.

Now stay with me, lets go deep.

Avid S3L provides a number of functions to dramatically speed up your monitor mixing workflows. They are as follows:

  1. Aux Follows AFL
  2. AFL Follows Aux
  3. Bottom Row Flip to Faders

 

Aux Follows AFL:

To select this option, navigate to OPTIONS > Busses page in the VENUE software. When Aux Follows AFL is active, every time you AFL an aux bus, the sends to that aux bus are automatically targeted to the Channel Encoders. So, if you AFL Aux 3, Aux Sends 3 will appear on your bottom row of knobs. This workflow is particularly powerful when you have the aux masters up on your Global Encoders.

Here’s why this is cool…

Target Aux 1-8 onto the Global Encoders. Now double press a SEL switch to AFL an Aux master. The Aux master will solo to your headphones and immediately you have the sends to that same Aux bus on your encoders, or when in Flip to Faders mode, to the faders themselves. Now, Global Encoders will retain this AFL state, allowing you to AFL any Aux master by pressing the SEL switch for the next bus just once, meaning you can navigate through all your mixes very fast, soloing each one in turn and having the console follow your every move.

Now you’re looking hot.

'AFL Follows Aux' and 'Aux Follows AFL' modes are selected in the OPTIONS > Busses page of the VENUE software.

AFL Follows Aux:

What can I say, it’s like it says on the tin. It’s the opposite of Aux Follows AFL. Easy right? When this option is engaged, choosing an Aux Send to target to the Channel Encoders will instantly AFL the associated Aux bus. So, if you are paging between the Aux sends on the bottom row of knobs using the Page Left and Right buttons, S3L will solo the master for the Aux sends you have selected.

To use Aux Follows AFL, navigate to OPTIONS > Busses and select the Aux Follows AFL option.

 

Bottom Row Flip to Faders:

Bottom Row Flip to Faders adds that little bit of extra spice and efficiency to the Aux Follows AFL workflow. Bottom Row Flip to Faders is activated via an Event. It is an event action that engages Flip to Faders. This means we can use operations on the console other than actually pressing the Flip to Faders button to engage Flip to Faders mode.

Still with me? You already know what I am going to say right? What function should we use to engage Flip to Faders? How about Aux or Variable Group AFL? Now we are talking.

Navigate to OPTIONS > Events. Create a new event with “Solo Any Output” as the trigger and “Bottom Row Flip to Faders” as the action. Every time you AFL an output channel the console will engage Flip to Faders.

Engaging Flip to Faders mode whenever an output channel is soloed is achieved in the OPTIONS > Events page of the VENUE software.

Using the 3 advanced functions outlined above unlocks a fantastically efficient workflow of accessing, navigating, and creating your monitor mixes.

Let’s put this all together—here’s another example for you:

You are doing a show. The lead singer signals to you, she needs more lead singer in her wedge.  She’s on Aux 3. As always you are prepared. You already have your Aux masters on the encoders. You double-tap SELECT and AFL Aux 3. Automatically the sends to Aux 3 are targeted to the Channel Encoders and thrown down onto faders—the console following your every move. You turn up the send on the vocal channel. You page left and right between your other mixes if you need to, or just AFL the next Aux master and again, the console follows you. You have super-quick access to all your mixes without the need for the arms of an octopus; you’re playing that console like it’s a piano. Forget the aux master, you are the master.

Now you are looking very hot.

Avid S3L is immensely powerful, provides a versatile distributed system of networked I/O and is the perfect size for sitting by the side of stage. The S3 Control Surface is heavily optimized for monitor mixing workflows and purposefully designed to empower the live monitor engineer to effortlessly navigate through extensive parameters and mixes like a true virtuoso.

But don’t take my word for it, try it out for yourself. Avid S3L is now shipping and available worldwide. Call your Avid dealer and organize a demo, and as always, let us know what you think.

In the upcoming blog, we will take a look at advanced workflows of the Media, Snapshots and Events systems, Pro Tools interoperability and how Avid S3L is optimized to be the central point of control of your complete live sound production system.

As Principal Product Manager for Live Systems and Consoles at Avid, I am one of the luckiest guys I know. Every day I wake up, go to work and design live sound consoles for the most talented, creative and driven people in the world.