- Audio Engineer's Toolkit
- When to use DCA's
When to use DCA's
More efficient control over multiple channels without complication
Today, I'm going to explain to you how to effectively use DCA's in live audio mixing.
Learning how to use DCA's (Digitally Controlled Amplifiers) is essential for any live sound engineer. It allows for more efficient control over multiple channels, and significantly reduces the time and effort spent on managing individual levels. The outcome? A smoother, more professional live sound experience that both you and your audience will appreciate.
Unfortunately, many audio engineers avoid using DCAs due to a lack of understanding or the misconception that they complicate the mixing process.
Every show I mix, I use DCA's.
To master DCAs, you just need to follow these steps:
Step #1: Group Similar Channels
Step #2: Assign and Label DCAs
Step #3: Practice DCA Muting
Step #4: Balance Levels Within DCAs
Before we jump into how to use a DCA, I wanted to give a full explanation of what it is. A DCA, or Digitally Controlled Amplifier, is essentially the digital equivalent of a VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) from the analog days.
It functions as a remote control for the inputs associated with it.
You can group any number of channels under a DCA and control their volume collectively.
For example, if you associate two channels with a DCA, adjusting the DCA level will simultaneously turn up or down the volume of these channels.
Step 1: Group Similar Channels
Start by grouping similar channels under one DCA. For instance, combine all drum microphones under a single DCA.
This is crucial, because it allows you to control the overall sound of the drum kit with one fader. By doing this, you can easily manage a 12-mic drum setup with ease during a live concert, all just on that one fader.
Step 2: Assign and Label DCAs
Assign each group to a DCA and label/color them clearly. This might seem trivial, but it's where many people go wrong.
Incorrect or unclear labeling leads to confusion and mistakes during live mixing. To avoid this, label each DCA with clear, descriptive names like 'Drum DCA', 'Vocal DCA', 'GTR DCA', etc. This will help you quickly identify and adjust the right group in real-time.
Step 3: Practice DCA Muting
Utilize the mute function on your DCAs.
By muting and unmuting DCAs, you can smoothly bring in or remove groups of instruments or vocals from the mix, essential for dynamic live performances.
Step 4: Balance Levels With and Within DCAs
When you start rehearsal, put all of the DCA's to +0 dB to start out with. then build up your mix.
Focus on balancing the levels within each DCA. Balanced levels within each group ensure that no single instrument or voice overpowers the others, leading to a your mix. Remember, the goal is to achieve an even, cohesive sound across all groups.
If you find while you are mixing, the drums in total are getting a little too loud, reach for the Drum DCA. If you notice that the Kick Drum isn't loud enough but the rest of the drums are perfect, reach for the Kick Drum fader, not the Drum DCA.
Give it a try!
By understanding and implementing these four steps - grouping similar channels, assigning and labeling DCAs, practicing DCA muting, and balancing levels with the DCAs - you'll unlock a better level of control.
This approach not only simplifies your workflow but also elevates the overall quality of your live sound.
Give it a try this week during rehearsal!
Until next time,
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