Common Mix Bus Myths An Engineer Should Never Fall For
As audio engineers, we’re bombarded with must-do’s and how-to’s all the time. We like to shell out the mix tricks and tips as much as the next guy or girl, but there are certain things that are just flat out wrong.
For starters: don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do something a specific way. You don’t have to do anything. Record an album with a subkick for all I care. I might not agree with the techniques and approaches engineers use at times, but it’s their process, not mine.
Which brings me to the rest of what I want to talk about today – the biggest myths being spread by engineers about your mix bus. While there are no hard and fast rules, there are a few things engineers continue to claim about mixing with a mix bus that are flat out wrong.
The worst part is, new engineers and seasoned vets alike continue to fall for them.
Mix Busses Are Only For Compression
Have you heard this one before? While bus compressors like BG-Mix find their way onto the majority of mix busses, they’re not the only things you should be using your mix bus for.
Mix busses act as an organizational tool, first and foremost. They give you a way to say “I want my drums, guitars, and vocals to all have their own grouping, and I want to be able to process them as a group.” Your mix bus should make mixing your song easier, not more complicated.
Once you’ve got your busses set up in a manner you prefer, you get to do whatever you want with them. Add whatever plugins you think will help your mix. Mess with the panning and fader level. The mix decisions are yours, but there’s so much more to a mix bus than just a place to put your compressor.
Time-Based Effects Need Their Own Aux Tracks
This is another matter of preference, but using delays and reverbs directly on your busses is 100% fine. In some workflows, it’s easier to create a new aux track/bus dedicated to these tools, but if you’re looking for a quick and dirty way to add some reverb to all of your vocals, doing it right on your vocal bus is fine.
Dedicated reverb and delay aux tracks do have their benefits; mainly that you can route various instruments and busses to them using sends without needing multiple instances of the plugin eating away at your CPU.
Know that you’re only going to use the plugin once in the session? Great. Save yourself the headache of configuring a new bus and put it directly in-line with the track you want it on. There’s nothing saying you can’t reroute it if you change your mind later.
Parallel Processing Is Necessary (Or Unnecessary)
I’ve heard both sides of the argument on this one, but it continues to be a hot topic. There are two camps to this narrative:
- Those who don’t use parallel processing on anything
- Those who use parallel processing on everything
And then there are the rest of us realists sitting right here in the middle. Both sides of the table sound ridiculous if you keep our “there are no rules to mixing” mantra in mind.
On one hand, you’ve got the engineers that like to call parallel compression a lazy-man’s fix to other mix issues. These are the guys that have decided to take the hard road: mixing things in a way that nobody else is going to care about. They do crazy amounts of automation and duplication to achieve the same sound as a parallel bus compressor. These are the guys that refuse to accept that because something is easy, doesn’t mean it’s wrong to use.
On the other hand, you have the guys that think parallel compression is something you must use because it is easy. What to add more energy and punch to your song? Add some parallel compression. Want to push your mix to its limits? Add some parallel compression. The problem with these guys is that they’re using the plugins as a crutch.
Fall in the middle: use parallel compression on your mix bus when the mix calls for it, but don’t do it because it’s a default requirement of a good mix. Too much of a good thing burns out. You’ll get burned out from following the same process over and over, and your listeners will tire of hearing the same “effect” on everything you put out.
Ready To Make Your Own Mix Bus Decisions?
If you’re ready to break through the noise of have-to’s and rules, start experimenting with your mix approach.
Find techniques that work for you. If you want to use a bus compressor on a single track, do it; I’m not going to stop you. If your ear keeps telling you to use the same plugins, trust that instinct too – just don’t get complacent.
Looking to break the cycle with some new workflow ideas? Come see what others are doing in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum. It’s a great place to find inspiration, and filled with other creative, motivated mixers like you.