3 Tips For Better Mix Buss Processing

 In TSM Studio Blog

In today’s digital age of mixing, engineers and producers have what seems to be a limitless toolbox of analog plug-in emulations at their fingertips. With the ability to process your mix buss without having to reach for dozens of patch cables, it’s enabled ambitious experimentation to take place. Add in the fact that mixing’s climate has grown more competitive against the loudness war and your result is an overabundance of mix buss processing that can drive mastering engineers up the wall. 


Within this article, we’ll be providing three tips that will enable you to approach your mix buss with added clarity and objective criticism. Disclaimer: always err on the side of what serves the record’s best interest. Understand the rules so that you can break them and shape your own new, distinct sound.


  • Make an Early Decision Regarding When You Will Mix Into a Buss Compressor

We’ve all experienced the deafening sound of our mix falling apart when we bypass the mix buss compressor. Nine times out of ten, the reason being is that the compressor was mixed into from the start of the session. When your entire mix is sculpted around how the instruments feed into a certain compressor, disabling it can greatly alter your intended dynamics, leveling, and timbre. Mixing into a trusted compressor is a common practice amongst mixers and is by no means a “wrong” act, however understanding the risks of this in the event you decide to alter your mix buss signal chain towards the end of a mixing session is vital. 

Personally, I don’t recommend mixing into one compressor that’s doing a ton of heavy lifting. This all ties back to gain staging (view our article on gain staging here). In order to optimize our signals tonality and level from as early in the processing chain as possible, it’s likely more advantageous to begin mixing your stems amongst one another before introducing mix buss compression. The deceiving quick fix of loading up a compressor on your two-track mix and slamming it with gain reduction can run you down the rabbit hole of compensating your stem processing for how the buss compressor is interacting with the balance of your mix. If you’re a beginning mixer, you’ll likely find that you’ll receive better results by waiting until the end of a mix to apply your buss compression. That way, if you find that the compressor you audition adds a “color” that doesn’t fit the source material or affects your balance unfavorably, you can always just remove the plug-in and return right back to where you started. As you train your ears and work more consistently, you may find yourself gravitating towards specific mix buss compressors that provide favorable results regarding your dynamic range and tone. It’s at this point that you may be ready to introduce a mix buss compressor at the start of your mixes to expedite your workflow rather than inhibiting it.


  • Serial Processing!

Serial Processing is the act of using multiple signal processors in conjunction with one another to create a desired effect. This can mean using two instances of the same compressor, each applying 1 dB of gain reduction for a total of 2 dB of gain reduction. It can also infer using two instances of the same compressor with completely different settings or perhaps even three entirely different compressors each with their own unique parameters.

More often than not, the term serial processing is used regarding spacing out the workload of your plug-ins. For example, rather than using an SSL Quad Compressor plug-in to apply 4 dB of gain reduction, you can use two SSL Quad Compressor plug-ins, each one doing 2 dB of gain reduction. This sort of processing tends to work best on the mix buss considering your adjustments at this point in the chain should be minor. Serial processing can also lead to a unique blend of different sonic footprints, such as following an API 2500 plug-in with a DBX 160 emulation. The various combinations that you can introduce may ultimately affect your “sound” as a mixer. 


  • Don’t Overthink It

It’s easy to get carried away with incorporating an unnecessary amount of analog emulation plug-ins on the mix buss. We all love certain plug-ins that model our favorite gear, but it’s often not the case that the Bluey 1176 compressor you love on parallel vocals is right for your mix buss. Remain objective and avoid just applying a technique because you can. 

Also, be aware that analog plug-in emulations are sophisticated digital signal processors. It’s not uncommon that years of hard work and tons of money have gone into modeling these plug-ins to react the same way that a hardware compressors’ circuit would. For this reason, you may notice that just engaging an EQ or a compressor on your mix buss may affect the mix, even if there’s been no parameter adjustments! This reaction is often a part of the meticulously thought out construction of plug-ins that are meant to emulate the variable inconsistencies of hardware. So, if you’re looking for that Fairchild sound that magically brings the midrange forward in the mix, inserting a 670 plug-in onto your mix buss might just do the trick without applying any gain-reduction!


In Closing

Getting to the end of a mix can induce self-doubt that can be brought upon by anything from ear fatigue to our own high-reaching standards. Understand that mix buss processing shouldn’t make or break your mix, but if it ends up taking it to the next level, then keep on doing what you’re doing!