My finger hurts. Todays in the box mixing is vastly different than the hay days of giant analog mixing consoles analog. This is Spencer Miles the owner of Spencer Studios in Lancaster Pa one of the best recording studios in the area and today we are talking about control surfaces.
Once upon a time every adjustment you wanted to make had a corresponding button, knob, slider, dohikcy or thingmabob and this was because boards were analog. Each device technically known as a potentiometer actually physically adjusted some part of a circuit that then has an electronic impact on music as it travelled through the circuitry of your analog equipment. Now, fast forward a decade or two and now we work “in the box” which is the term given to using a digital audio workstation to manipulate your music instead analog devices. No longer do we have massive consoles with twisty knobs and push buttons instead we really just have a mouse and some keyboard shortcuts. The mouse controls digital parameters which use code to accomplish the same things that these physical circuits used to.
Using a mouse and keyboard for music production has its limitations especially if like many of us you are working on a laptop. Using small buttons all day and just one finger to do the majority of your work can get physically tiresome. On top of this issue the keyboard does not lend itself well to the controllers the audio world is used to. The result is an unintuitive, uncomfortable, and slow workstation. This is where the control surface comes in.
Using code to alter music has many technical advantages. Control surfaces are made to harness this capability but in a way that is easier and faster to use and understand. These control surfaces often resemble components of analog consoles and gear that we once used. Let’s get something straight though, control surfaces are not actually analog gear no matter what they look like. These dohickys rather connect to your computer, often via usb and act like mouse to control computer code.
I happen to have two control surfaces in my studio. One of them is by a British cottage company called Rock Solid Audio. This controls surface resembles what you might think of as a channel strip and the primary job of this item is to control plugins. The device has input output controls, an eq side and a compression side. The software that accompanies it allows you to select what each button on the control surface channel strip does. The main advantage being that I can control two or more plugin parameters at once without using automation. While automation is cool many external DSP plugins can be automated. Having this control surface overcomes this issue. The second control surface I own is made by Presonus and is called the faderport. The primary use for this device is mixing. The controller has multiple motorized faderstrips which you can adjust all at the same time to aid in the speed of your mix.
Control surfaces are a must for most studios. The make you day more comfortable, faster, and more intuitive allowing you to focus on your music.
-Spencer Miles, Spencer Studios 313 w liberty st Lancaster PA 17603