Do you use busses/aux tracks when mixing? Busses are a great way to group elements of your mix before the master fader, and can make it easy to turn elements of your mix up or down after you’ve already applied processing to individual tracks. The most common bus use in modern mixing is for drums, but most engineers aren’t taking full advantage of the most powerful tool available in every major DAW…
You’re Only Using Busses for Grouping
While grouping is one basic function of aux tracks, it’s like ordering a hamburger with nothing on it. Just like a burger can be improved greatly with cheese, ketchup & bacon – your drum bus can be flavored with compression, EQ and time-based effects.
While there’s not always a clear use for each form of post-processing on the aux track versus adding it to the individual tracks, the starting point for many engineers is balance.
Take, for example, a drum kit that sounds too dark in the final mix. Rather than going back and remixing your drums which sounded full and dynamic when you first mixed them, why not EQ in a bit of air of the bus you’ve made? Wide brush strokes are most effective on the drum bus, while more surgical editing should happen on an individual track level.
You’re Giving Up Control
Aside from the retaining a peak meter and fader, you’re likely making sacrifices to the level of control you have over a bus vs. a standard track. Using a frequency analyzer becomes messy, since you’ve got all elements feeding into the bus interacting with each other. Any processing you add will be applied to everything routed to that bus.
So how do you take back some of that control without giving up your busses?
You find plugins that give you more focused processing – things like Transify that let you enable specific frequency bands, leaving other bands completely unaffected. This can be extremely effective if you want to cut some of the low-end out of a drum mix evenly (as opposed to taking it out on the kick by itself).
Other uses could be boosting the midrange punch of your snare, kick & toms all at the same time. Even your cymbals can gain a bit more sustain by adjusting the treble frequencies only.
You’ve Got Too Many Busses
This one happens to all of us. You start off with a sub-group drum bus. Then you add one for parallel compression. After that comes a delay, and another for the reverb. Then you decide the kick and snare need their own busses to be treated differently.
Before your mix is done, you find you’ve eaten up too much of your computer's processing power, and you can’t finish until some elements are committed or consolidated.
The easiest way to get around this is to plan your bussing to be efficient. Use plugins like Finality that give you a mix option within the plugin – minimizing your dependence on busses for parallel processing.
Similarly, plugins that let you control multiple frequency bands in a single environment can reduce your need for 3 or more aux tracks to split out bands for processing.
Unlock the Power of Your Drum Bus
The next time you find yourself going back to fix something in an almost finished mix, ask yourself if it’s something that could be better addressed at a group level than an individual track level. There’s no reason to potentially risk your kick drum’s balance with the rest of the kit if it’s something that can be fixed by treating the drums as a single instrument.
We have some amazing flexibility when mixing in-the-box. By taking advantage of the tools available and maximizing our processing efficiency, we’re able to build some of the best mixes without spending hours upon hours of revisions like mixers have struggled with for years.
Have Your Own Trick to Getting Your Busses Sounding Right?
If you’re using a JST plugin in a unique way, share it over on the Joey Sturgis Forum for your chance to be featured in a future blog. We’ve seen guys stacking Transify on their drum & mix busses, and others that take Sidewidener to it’s limits on a guitar bus – there is no wrong way to experiment creatively with these tools!