So what started off as a mystery object has turned into a pretty impressive tool for mixing your show. We’ve spoken about what VCAs are, where to use them and also how they have evolved into GCM’s… but there’s more! The VCA has entered greater heights in recent times, improving not only the ability to mix tons of channels in FOH… but also aid the braver and far more under pressure monitor engineer (in my opinion!). Let’s talk about using VCAs for monitor mixing and ‘Aux VCAs’ in particular.
As the client gains popularity and their pockets get deeper… so does the size of their live production.
For you monitor engineers a part of this journey, you enter the realm of in-ear monitoring and bigger, more complex channel counts than you could ever imagine. This is only made more difficult by the fact that any musician could want a specific channel at a specific level for a specific moment of a specific song. It sounds a bit OTT, but you can’t exactly say ‘NO’ to Chris Martin – the man paying your bills.
To help combat this need for constantly adjusting the contributing levels to each monitor mix, our VCA controllers can take on a new guise when we are mixing to a monitor bus. Imagine you’re on something like a Soundcraft Vi7000; you have your 8 VCA masters in the master bay and you have input faders to the left and right. If you flipped the faders to mix into Aux 1, your input faders would flip (and display a new faderglow colour) but so would your VCA controllers. That’s because, when you are within a mix, you can use the VCA masters to adjust the levels of that VCA group within that selected aux. If your musician wants less drums in their in-ears, simply reach for the drum VCA whilst you’re in their mix and adjust the level. The VCA controller is not affecting the FOH bus or any other monitor bus, just the aux bus you are currently mixing to.
In Soundcraft’s case, they call these ‘Aux VCAs’ and the faderglow colour changes from Blue in FOH to White in Aux modes. Other manufacturers call it different things (MCA) and some have the functionality just on by default.
On higher end consoles, each VCA can have the ‘Aux VCA’ mode enabled or disabled by default. There are occasions where you would always want access to a standard VCA regardless of what mix you are in. Lead Vocals perhaps, or maybe FX returns so that you can turn those down in-between songs. In the monitor world, the mixture between standard and Aux VCAs is vital to running the show.
Remember when we spoke about how a VCA can adjust the FOH level as well as any post-fade channel send contributions to mix busses? Well, In large shows where the musicians are using in ear monitors, the production requires the monitor engineer to send audience and venue ambience mic signals into each monitor mix. This signal would then be faded up into each monitor mix in-between songs so that the musicians feel connected with the audience and receive all of the lovely praise that they feed on to perform their set.
It would be pretty hard work for the monitor engineer to adjust the levels of the ambience mics individually as there could be 8+ of them in some instances; also, it is very likely that the engineer might need to get to these ambience controls whilst they are knee-deep in a monitor mix; a few button presses away from the FOH layer.
A very common fix is to send these ambience mics to each monitor mix POST FADE and assign them to a VCA. Once this VCA has the ‘Aux mode’ turned OFF, then you can simply reach for the VCA master no matter what bus you are mixing to.
This also means that the engineer can ride the ambience levels to all of the musicians monitors for any ‘call and response’ during or between songs, being careful not to confuse the musicians with loud, out-of-time ambient signals.