Basic Gain Staging... So basic, ANYONE can do it!

Getting sound out of the console to the mains the way you want it is pretty simple as well, but there is a particular way you want to do it.  Some engineers have different ways, but the basics of “Signal Flow” are the same.  Here’s a quick and easy way on how we do it here:


Not muting the channel can leave the gates open to any signal at ANY level, causing blown speakers, massive feedback and even hearing loss! When in doubt, MUTE IT!

-Select an input to use (Be it a microphone, direct box, line output, etc).  Once you have selected what you want to patch into that channel, run a cable to the “Snake”.  Select what number channel you want to use by plugging the male end of the cable into the snake. Remember the number that you plugged your mic into! This will be important later.

**A Snake is a box much like a power strip, but it has points, or “channels” where you can plug in microphones and speakers. But, instead of electrical power to run appliances, it deals in sound signal.  Our snake is on the stage left side affixed to a pole.  It has space for 16 input signals (or lines going INTO the board, like microphones and insturments) and 4 output signals (or lines coming OUT of the board for speakers or recorders). **

-Once your cable is plugged in, THEN plug in your microphone or instrument using the female end. Once you have your mic or instrument plugged in to the sanke, make sure that all switches are on, all instruments are powered up and everything is ready to send signal to the board

-After you have the mic hooked into the system, head to the sound console and let’s get that signal through the board into the speakers!

1) Go to the number channel that you plugged the mic into, and select the channel to be read by the meter.  Metering is the measurement of signal coming from the input source into the console.  Signal’s first “gatekeeper” is the “gain” or “trim” adjustment. This is the first controller outside of the preamp/line input that allows the raw signal into the console.  On most consoles it is a knob, but some simply have a touchscreen or even a fader! The trick to find it is to look for the first item in the signal chain.  

Once you find the knob, make sure that you have either selected the channel you want to work on or have pressed the “solo” button (on some other consoles) to see the metering of that single channel only. If it is a digital console, the main channel display screen will show metering. On many analog consoles, the meter will be above the main output faders in a series of LED’s.

2) When you locate your meters, now is the time to get signal.  The key here is the more the better!

REMEMBER: Gain is *NOT* volume! It is simply the raw signal coming from the input source.  When making anything from scratch, you want the purest of “stuff” and as much of it as possible! Works for making a cake, sculpting a statue or applying makeup.  If it is too much, it is easy to dial it back.  But, if we start working and all of the sudden need more signal, increasing the gain later can wreck all of your precision adjustments.

The usual rule of thumb to start with is to get your signal as close to “unity” as possible. This is either labled “U” or “0” on the meter.

Why “0”? Well, unity is the point where signal is going through circuitry unaffected. It isn’t artificially boosted or limited. It’s the pure stuff! If it is too much, we can easily back it off later.

3) Now that we know where we are sending that signal, let’s get risky and get some noise going!

Go ahead and make sure your channel fader is all the way out (or down until there is no signal) and that the channel you are working on is routed to the output you want (Either the mains, monitors, effects or whatever output you may desire to send signal to).  Make sure that main output is unmuted, and then unmute the channel. Now, let’s start moving the channel fader up

4) Have the artist or another tech go to the microphone or instrument to sound check the device.  If it is a microphone, just have them speak or sing at the level they will do so during a performance.  If it is an instrument, have them turn on the instrument and start sending signal.

NEVER Blow into or Tap on the mic!!!!  This can damage the diaphragm and the coils within the mic and can cause feedback and power surges into the sound system.  This is a bad thing.

Once you have someone speaking or performing into the mic, *slowly* increase the channel fader. Keep turning it up until you start getting signal.  The goal is to turn it up to as loud as is *comfortably* acceptable without “feeding back” or distorting.  If it does start to distort, back off just a little until it goes away.

Sometimes, reducing the channel level isn’t enough, so you may need to back off on the gain level.  The key is to find an acceptable level with as much control on the fader channel as possible without risk of feedback or distortion. The best rule of thumb is to always aim for “Unity” on your fader channel and your gain.
If you need a signal louder (if you set the gain properly) you can now just bring the subgroup slider up without worry about the sound changing.  If you don’t need that particular mic during a show, all you need to do is bring that channel fader down to bring it out.

 If you don’t want to hear ANYTHING from that mic, just hit the Mute button of whatever channel you don’t want to hear.  That blocks out that mic entirely from producing ANY sound.  (just don’t forget that mute button when you actually need it)


A reel of bloopers and improv from the latest Meet The Cores 3 recording session with Sean Oxspring and Greg Holgate. ;)


Here’s the final part of the Silverhand arc!