If you’re not using at least a little bit of processing on your Mix Bus/Master Fader, you’re missing out on one of the easiest ways to solidify your mix in a professional, polished way.
Some of the pros like to use just a hint of compression, with the SSL bus compressor finding itself at home on nearly every mix run through those boards. The problem is, unless you’re a seasoned vet that’s been mixing since before “in-the-box” was even a thing, you’re not going to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars on a recording console for it’s bus compressor.
Instead, we’re going to focus on the “salt and pepper” that can be added to your Mix Bus regardless of your gear collection. This type of seasoning will hold your mix together: providing a cohesive and exciting mix capable of competing with any mixer that’s swimming in debt for the sake of “authenticity”.
When To Process Your Mix Bus
While some bus processing almost always makes its way into each mix, it’s important to understand how any why you’re doing it. Your final mix should sound punchy and open.
For example: if you threw a reverb or delay on your master bus, things would quickly become muddy and unintelligible. Simply put, it’s not going to sound good.
On the opposite side of that spectrum, applying dynamic processing can help tame some of your transients, simultaneously tightening up your mix and making it punchier.
There are multiple ways to achieve your goal for a dynamic mix, but nothing is more effective than the classic “glue”.
The Secret Sauce
The glue comes from two processors every engineer should have - a compressor for light processing or a limiter for heavy lifting.
Both should act to enhance your mix – smoothing over your sound to effectively make everything sit better.
Many engineers will mix into a compressor for this effect & turn it off before sending it to mastering, just to get an idea of what the final mix will sound like once the mastering engineer puts their magic into the song. Others will use it as part of their overall sound, adding the compression before they ever touch a fader:
See hoe Fluff incorporated mix bus compression using Finalty:
As you can see, it’s not about slamming your song through the limiter or compressor; it’s about finding a sound that fits the song.
Don't Overcook It
It’s easy to get carried away with your mix bus compression, and unfortunately too much of a good thing will kill your mix. What happens when you compress your mix bus too heavily?
For starters, your dynamics disappear. Your vocals will start to get buried. But it goes further than that…
When a listener hears an overly compressed mix, it can start to come across as boring. If you’re working with a mastering engineer, they may find the resulting track unusable if there’s too much compression.
You get the picture – it’s not pretty. Keep an eye on your meters when compressing your mix bus, and don’t be afraid to go back to specific elements of your mix to compress/tweak them at an earlier stage if they need it.
What Are You Using on Your Mix Bus?