Setting Up Channel Assignments for Better Workflow: A New Method

Setting Up Channel Assignments for Better Workflow: A New Method

Using a strategy, you are setting yourself up for success.Photo provided by derekgavey

A famous quote goes, “he who hesitates is lost.”  Expanding on that; he who hesitates misses a mic cue.  The number one place where I see techs hesitating is when they are looking for right mixer channel.  Let’s put a stop to this hesitation.

Benefits of a standard channel assignment plan

Laying out your channels, in a logical manner, is about more than putting an end to hesitation. Here are four ways you’ll benefit from a channel assignment plan (CAP);

  • Everything is easy to find.  Using a CAP, you’ll have the same instrument or vocal assigned to the same channel.  No more looking for channels.
  • Logical arrangement leads to easier mixing.  Using a CAP, you’ll have similar sounds grouped together.  For you analog users, you can easily see the differences between similar sounds and make EQ changes accordingly.  For digital users, you may or may not get this immediate benefit depending on your mixer and your setup.
  • Easy for the next tech using the board.  Using a CAP, every tech knows the channels will be assigned in the same locations each week.
  • Cuts down on mistakes.  Run live sound long enough and you’ll find yourself turning a knob without any changes to the sound of that channel…because you grabbed the wrong knob.  [Maybe I’m the only person who’s done that….nah.] Using a CAP, you know where to find what you need and grab the right knob or button when you need it.

Two common channel assignment strategies

The first one is the strategy that most techs are likely to adopt but it’s not necessarily the best.  This strategy assigns channels to the mixer, from left to right, just as the band is located on the stage, from left to right.  It would be like drawing a picture of the stage and assigning the channel numbers starting on the left side of the page.  I’m not opposed to this strategy, as it places the channels in a logical order in relation to the stage however, it doesn’t group sounds together.

The second strategy revolves around grouping.  Instead of using the stage order as the basis, you use the frequency range of the sound, and the type of sound as a basis.  For example, starting on the left side of the mixer would be the drum kit (kick, toms, snare, cymbals, and high-hat) then you’ve have the bass, electric guitars, acoustic guitars and so on until you got to your vocals.  Then you’d group your vocals into lead and backing vocals.  An important part of using a CAP is using the same assignment locations each week.  The problem with this strategy is you don’t have any room for changes.  The moment the band adds in a new singer or musician, you’ve got to either re-do a lot of the assignments or add the new assignment to the end, which kinda defeats the purpose of the CAP.

A new channel assignment strategy

I’m not introducing a revolutionary new strategy.  It’s nothing complicated.  In fact, it came to me in one of those “AH HA!” moments.

Channel setup in the M7CL.

I was talking with a fellow tech about how he assigned channels on his M7CL.  The M7 has channels laid out in their own groups based on how the mixer surface was designed.  As you can see in the photo, the channels are grouped in eights.  That is to say, every eight channels, there is extra space on the mixer.  My friend explained the first eight were drums, the next eight were instruments, the next eight were vocals and the next eight were the pastor/speaker mic channels.

This new CAP is a blend of the second strategy where everything is logically ordered, along with the inclusion of empty channels for expansion.  Honestly, I know how simple this strategy sounds but it’s these sorts of “little things” that add up for really improving your skills.

How to implement it

Using spreadsheet software, create a list of all of your normal inputs.  This includes EVERYTHING!  Each drum kit mic, each vocal mic, each podium mic, whatever your input sources.  Next, list them in a logical order based on frequency usage, as I mentioned above, wherein the drums start on the left side, then the bass, then the electric guitar and so on.

Now that you have the ordered list, count how many inputs you have listed and compare that to the number of channels you have available for those inputs.  For example, if you have a 24 channel mixer and 4 inputs are for playback devices like a computer and a CD player, then you have 20 available channels.  Let’s say you have 12 inputs on the stage.  This means you have 8 free channels.  Use these channels as your expansion channels.  Therefore, you might have the drum kit, then an empty channel, then the bass and the electric guitars and then another open channel.  Add those into the spreadsheet.  You now have your new channel assignments in a logical order, that doesn’t need to change, and gives you room to grow.  Plus, you get a buffer between channel groups.

Tip: If you have a different worship bands, use the same CAP for all of them.  Just make sure to create the CAP with the largest band in mind.  This way, sounds, like the electric guitar, are always in the same location even if it’s a different musician.

The Take Away

Being in charge of audio production, you have a lot of responsibilities and you have to keep your ears and eyes open all the time.  You shouldn’t be hesitating when you reach for a channel.  You should know where the instrument is routed each week.  Using a channel assignment strategy, you’ll have all of your sound inputs routed to the same channels each week.  You can now put an end to your hesitation and get on with your mixing.

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  1. says

    We have an A&H iLive which is divided into 1 group of 12 and 2 groups of 8 faders, with 3 layers of each. Our band changes every week, so we needed a flexible system. I set up the drum kit on one of the 12 lower layers and grouped them together. I put that group and the rest of the instruments (in pretty much the order you listed above) in the top layer of 12. On the right top layer are all the vocal mics. The lead vocal changes on every song, so those are set up from L to R as they are on stage. In the center is the main mix and the other external inputs. I also grouped the band and vocals in separate DCAs so we could quickly adjust that mix. It has worked out well so far.

  2. Anonymous says

    Michael, I would suggest that if you are needing an upgrade, since you have 4 bands (that sound like they are relatively consistent), I would definitely be pushing for a digital board since then you can save the bands as scenes/snapshots…this way each band can have there own settings and you don’t need to turn a million knobs to reset things for the next band….much easier….its whether or not you can get the funds for it though….

    As for my style, I like going by frequencies….Kit, Strings, Keys, Vocals, Speaking, Computers/ipods/CD’s….and anywhere I’ve mixed (eg. camp), has been the same setup….

  3. Alec Patrick says

    You’ll probably get a kick out of the radical “stereoization” that can be imparted on the instrument via the pan pots for these two channels. But if your quest is for realism you’ll want to tame those wanton urges and keep the panning pretty tight.

  4. Mark says

    I actually use the first system so that as you look at the stage you have the desk assigned. I am rather fortunate that week to week there is not a lot that changes but I do have faders gap between certain things so that I know I have capacity for a change if I need to make one. I am probably doing sound on a smaller scale that a whole lot of the rest of you, only mix about 10 channels at any one time. Thanks for the advice though

  5. Michæl says

    We’re trying to standardize this at our church, but I think it’s time we upgraded to a 24-channel mixer as there’s no way we can allocate expansion space for even the inputs that we use consistently. We have four rotating bands, each playing once a month—the usual CAP would include…

    Band A: 1x vocal, 2x guitars, bass, and full rock kit
    Band B: 2x vocals, 2x guitars, keys, acoustic gtr, bass, and full rock kit
    Band C: 2x vocals, guitar, keys, acoustic gtr, bass, violin, cello, and full rock kit
    Band D: 4x vocals, acoustic gtr, mandolin, banjo, accordion, hand drums, and auxiliary percussion

    … and of course all this doesn’t include speaking mics or playback devices. Oy vey.

  6. says


    One additional benefit to doing it this way especially with mixers that have DCA or VCA groups is that you can assign one group to each grouping of 8 channels. For instance you’d have all the drums assigned to VCA group 1 so that all the faders are grouped together in that bank and are controlled by the one VCA. Makes it easier to adjust 1 channel if needed.