Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor: “As a musician, live sound engineer and film audio editor, I have been in and out of studios for years. Being wise I always left the recording engineering up to the extraordinarily talented engineers, producers and mastering engineers.
“In a studio that uses both hardware and software, how is the patchbay used in relation to the software and hardware? How would one begin to understand the concept of signal flow through the patchbay?”
The reason why analog studios had patchbays was to connect the equipment together in any way the engineer desired, quickly and easily. It would of course be possible to connect the equipment by going round the back and using a wide variety of connector types. Try not to trip over all the cables.
Having a patchbay solves this inconvenience. All of the equipment is connected to the back of a patchbay, which is a panel with hundreds of identical sockets. These can be connected around the front using identical patchcords. It is very practical indeed.
But there's another thing… the patchbay can be 'half normaled'. This means that certain outputs are connected to certain inputs, in the normal studio configuration, without having to insert patchcords. And when you do want something connected differently, plugging in a patchcord will break the half-normaled connection.
An analog patchbay can be used to carry digital signals without modification. So where digital hardware is used, having a patchbay provides the same advantages as in an analog studio.
However, as operations turn more and more towards software, there becomes less need for a physical patchbay. Instead, this is now emulated in software. Although it has to be said sometimes without the simplicity and elegance of the analog original.