Subgroup Fundamentals – Live Sound Basics
In the previous Aux Sends Basics video in the Live Sound Basics series, we looked at some of the differences between aux sends and subgroups and how we use aux sends to accomplish various tasks. We also looked at how in modern digital mixing consoles, both are treated simply as mix buses, with the flexibility to choose between types as needed on the fly. In this video, I wanted to take a basic look at approaching subgroups, and look at some of the different ways we can use them to get a more consistent and controlled mix with less work.
Subgroups are a great place to organize our inputs into similar groups, where we want to have the ability to apply processing prior to our main mix bus. Regardless of what type of event being mixed, from live music to corporate webcasts, the basics of using subgroups remains the same. When we have laid out our inputs in a logical order, we want to decide which ones are similar, and group them into logical sets that will make sense when mixing the show.
Grouping by instrument is an obvious choice, a guitar player with stereo mics on their rig, a keyboard player with multiple similar synths, or a group of background vocalists are all good opportunities to create a group. This allows both overall volume control in the mix, along with a place to apply overall EQ and dynamics processing across all of the inputs.
In spoken word situations, grouping similar inputs can help to allow easier control of high channel count mixes. Sources like lecterns, talent wearing multiple lavalier microphones, groups of talent wearing similar microphones, or grouping by physical location of the source on stage are again all great opportunites to use groups. If you don’t carry a USB battery, you owe it to yourself to add one to your kit. The most popular item purchased so far through the affiliate links, is the Jackery Giant+ USB battery charger that has been featured in previous videos. This battery has been in my bag for a number of years now, and has saved my ass too many times to count.
With the wide variety of digital mixing consoles on the market today, it would be impossible to walk-through setting up the mix buses in every console in one post. In the video, I use the Yamaha mixing consoles as an example, but the process is similar enough in every console I have come across. A quick look on YouTube, or on the manufacturer website, should yield easy to follow instructions for almost every popular console.
What that in mind, the very basics of setting up a subgroup is fairly simple. Once we have a subgroup created and ready to assign channels to, step one is to un-assign the channels to be grouped from the main Left/Right mix bus. Next, assign them to the desired group. After that, go to the group controls and make sure the group is assigned the main Left/Right mix bus. Once this is done, the input channel should be routed to your group, and the group in-turn routed to the main mix.
Once we’ve got our groups up and running, we can now use group EQ and Dynamics processing (compression etc.) to process that group. Being able to mitigate issues like feedback at the group level, allows us to solve problems without affecting the overall main mix EQ, while freeing our channel EQ to deal with tonal adjustments specific to an individual source. Obviously, we also now have the advantage of being able to control the overall volume of that group of inputs in the mix, while preserving the balance we set between inputs at the channel level. This is where the consistency is gained as we need to turn those instruments up and down as we mix the show.
Again, these are just the basics, and I hope that you’ll leave a comment below and share what tips and tricks you have for approaching subgroups in your workflow!
For more subgroup mixing theory, check out Dave Rat’s video below, where he talks about how he approaches mixing bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers.