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Signal Flow

Late Night Thoughts: Signal Flow

Deceitful headline alert. I should really call these "Early Morning Thoughts: Blah Blah Blah." Either way, buckle up, because this one is some next level OCD meets nitpicking grandpa sh*t. I've long been a gear geek. For as long as I can remember. When I was a child, while I did have music in all forms of access, having received my first guitar at 2 (adorably nicknamed "Bamba"... do the math.), I was obsessed with the way things worked. In the 80's, it seemed to have been commonplace for families to naively purchase vacuum cleaners from door-to-door salespeople. For all you young-bloods out there - that was a thing. Anyways, I was around 4 when my mother and grandmother made the ill-fated decision to purchase this chrome monstrosity made by Kirby. I don't know what model it was. All I know is that it was absurdly expensive and gave an aircraft engine a run for its money in decibel level. You could rock your Walkman while screaming Hammer Time at the top of your lungs with this thing running, and no one would hear anything but the Kirby.

On to what made that purchase ill-fated. It wasn't long before I got a hold of a very large screw driver and made use of my continuing impulsivity. I gutted that thing. It quickly became a jet pack to match my once-was-travel TV-Flux Capacitor. Because why the hell not. Mom was pissed. Not half as pissed as grandma (she wielded switches. If you don't know what that is - ask your parents.) But after a few short days of quiet chaos and a trip to Target, I still had a jet pack, and my family moved on to brighter futures with the Dirt Devil.

Fast-Forward 30 years, and here we are. With every bit the fascination with the inner-workings of everything. While Wikipedia is a surefire way to piss most professors off, its been enough to keep my interest in everything from pool pumps to quantum physics at 3AM. It's that bad. But in a way, a blessing. Because that same fascination has directly translated to what I now do for a living. I have meticulously designed my signal flow throughout my primary rig. From template architecture within the box, to everything that leaves and returns to that template. I know precisely where everything is, and where everything is going. How long it takes to get to where it’s going, and how long it takes to get back. I'm a stickler for ergonomics, and above all else - color coding, labeling, naming conventions, and order. All of which I'll cover at some point. Likely sooner than later - however, this entry is exclusively about signal flow.

For those of you early in this never-ending journey, much of your workflow is likely in the box. Meaning, it all happens with a computer and possibly a controller of sorts. But what most fail to consider is that when you do get to the point building your template - which there is conceivably no end to - signal flow is of paramount concern when it comes to your program level of constant creativity. If you don't have the foggiest of where your sends or going - or worse, why they're going wherever - it's a quick and easy devastating blow to not only efficiency, but peace of mind in the quality of your work. Case in point - it wasn't that long ago that I worked with an individual on a piece that began with his session. He had easily 12 FX sends. Not having any idea where they were going, or what was on them. It was a case of "let's pick one of the unnamed sends and hope it's the verb I'm looking for." That process in and of itself added an additional hour to a project that didn't have that kind of f*** off margin.

Regardless of whether or not you have numerous pieces of outboard equipment, print feeds, monitor sends, or whathaveyou - know your setup. Label your tracks, busses, sends, groups, masters, and everything else that has a purpose. If it doesn't have a purpose - get rid of it. Clean house. Know where your signal is going, at all times. Because while your workflow of anarchy may work for your purposes, one of these days you're going to be asked to collaborate. And you may just meet a guy like me. And when that happens, that person may or may not politely ask to transfer assets to their template for the sake of getting the work done. There is a point in time where efficiency in work is expected WITH a high degree of quality. I say this with the utmost humility and gratitude - I promise you that there is someone out there, that while they may not be better than you at whatever it is that you do - they are organized, they're likely different in a positive and welcomed way, and they can GET IT DONE QUICKER. We're all replaceable. That sentiment is the one guarantee and constant in this whole thing. To assume otherwise is a level of arrogance that will get you fired before you even have an opportunity to drop the ball with mismanagement of your rig.

About the Author


Brett James is a film composer and sound designer based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Having been brought up within The Bay Area’s legendary music scene, Brett's craft has evolved into scoring to picture and other visual mediums, drawing inspiration and influence from his roots as a touring and studio rock guitarist, along with his childhood favorites in some of films greatest themes. Also a self-proclaimed Gear-Geek, he strives to share his adventures and gained insight in this industry, as it pertains to other working composers and those that aspire to be apart of such a wonderful and rewarding career.


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