eli5 : What the hell are all those knobs and buttons that you see in professional music studios?

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Like seriously there’s hundreds, do artists know exactly what each one of those function as?

I’ve never been inside one but there are of course images online of music artists in these studios etc

In: Technology

7 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

They can be assigned to modulate or turn on any number of functions and mapped to different equipment in the studio. Eg, volume, tone, gain, for different instruments, effects, microphones, etc. Typically these are labeled to indicate what they do but often they are managed and used by professionals like the studio engineer or music producer.

Anonymous 0 Comments

If you’re talking about the [mixing board](https://media.sweetwater.com/m/products/image/89763ef42a8Xck6Alq13xgiMKQ2Ud9wwmnPZWgSW.jpg), then it helps to understand that an multichannel mixer has duplicate controls for each channel. (Each instrument and each microphone has its own channel.)

So in a single column for a specific channel there might be a control for gain, another few for tone, some for effects in and out, some for pan (adjusting between the left and right channel) and so on. At the bottom of the column is usually a fader for relative volume. So all that can be fine-tuned for that particular instrument or microphone.

If you look cross the rows of 18 channels or 32 channels or 128 channels or what have you, each control in the same row does the same thing. Getting familiar with all of this controls is much easier than it might seem.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Are you talking about the [mixing console](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixing_console)? Basically the reason that there’s so many knobs and faders is because that console has dozens (sometimes even hundreds) of different inputs, and those controls are duplicated for each input.

So if you’re recording a song, you’ll probably have at least one input for each vocalist, a couple for a keyboard, a couple for each electric guitar, a whole bunch for your drum set (many drums are miced individually and some like the snares may have multiple mics), and then there may be other inputs that you’re feeding in like recorded samples.

So each one of those inputs goes to a channel, each of which is represented by a vertical strip of controls on that mixing console. Those controls will adjust things like volume (the big sliding lever at the bottom called a fader), mute, EQ (how much low/mid/high end you hear), gain (basically how much volume is coming into a channel as opposed to how much is going out of it), compression (how much difference in volume there is between the quiet parts and the loud parts), sends (which are used to add effects like reverb or autotuning), and others.

So yes, each one of those controls has a function, but it’s not like they’re all doing completely different things. It just looks overwhelming because there are so many different inputs and those controls are duplicated for each one.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Many professional mixing desks have many channels (usually between 8 and 72 in banks of 8). A channel controls 1 input source (microphone or guitar etc). Each channel will have at least an input gain (turn up the input volume), and a fader (turn up or down the output volume). In between may be equalisation (low, mid, high), multiple send and return (push some of the signal to another channel or outboard device and the modified signal back to the channel). Then you have mute (turn off the whole channel), and solo (turn off or reducebthe volume of all the other channels). There will generally be one big dial that controls the master volume too.

Multiply that by 72 channels (big pro mixing desk) and you have hundreds of knobs and sliders.

Why 72?

When recording drums you may have between 12 and 20 microphones. Then 2 or 3 for each guitar (1 direct plus 1 or 2 microphones on the speaker). 2 for bass (direct plus speaker). 1 for main vocal. Plus others for other instruments. This is for a live or tracking recording. Then overdubs (adding solos or backing voxals) need separate channels for both playback and recording.

Then effects (delay, echo, reverb etc) may be separate to the channel send return.

Anonymous 0 Comments

As to the second question, the mixers and producers definitely know what all these knobs and buttons do. The artists? Far fewer know them or need to know them as part of their craft.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It looks like a ton, but much of what you’re seeing is the same thing over and over. Each channel strip runs vertically and contains the same knobs for adjustments for the most part. These will usually be noise gates, EQ, compression, sends to other channels or busses, mute and solo switches, faders for overall volume, etc.

Other than the channel strip section there will be some other stuff like master volume, effects and inserts, mix grouping, etc.

Once you learn even a little bit about it it’s really not that complicated.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The reason for all those controls (duplication of all of them for each channel, and a channel for each microphone, instrument and other input means, say 10 controls x 72 channels equals 720 knobs, switches or sliders) has been explained in great detail.

What about the musicians sitting there? Do they know what all those control do? Most often they’re just sitting in the “sweet spot” for the mixing console monitors speakers to hear what the engineer hears and provide their verbal input. Sometimes, after multiple times in the studio, they start to contribute not just by commenting, but by adjusting things themselves. But the overall mix and the basics to ensure good sound quality is still the engineer’s responsibility. More rarely, the musician becomes a fully-fledged engineer themselves and goes deep into that side of the recording process.

With the recent rise in professional-quality home studio equipment and software, many younger musicians automatically include studio recording engineering techniques as parts of the creative process, and don’t see singing or playing an instrument as a separate task from engineering, in which sampling, layering and editing micro-takes together are an integrated part of building the whole track. Interestingly, it was the Beatles (especially Paul) who really started to break the wall between the musicians and the technicians, and who used the studio gear in creative ways with tape looping and so on. (Yes, of course there was earlier work done like slap-back echo etc., although that was usually the engineer playing around, not the musician.)