I often get questions from podcast listeners about how to treat their mixbuss. The truth is, I can't tell you what's right for you, but I CAN show you what works for me, and maybe it will give you some ideas. Here are the three plugins that I put on my mixbus, and explanations as to what each one does for me.
INSERT #1 - Plugin Alliance / Dangerous Music BAX Master EQ
My first insert is the Dangerous BAX (Master) EQ. I'm not doing a whole lot, but it can make a nice overall difference to the mix. I run it in M/S mode, so that means the top row of knobs is controlling my MID and the bottom row is controlling my SIDE. Notice I'm just doing 1dB of boost at a 7.1kHz shelf, and that's it! On the side, I'm using a 12hz HPF, taking out 0.5dB at a 74hz shelf, boosting 1dB at 7.1kHz again, but then ALSO boosting my output by 1dB. This helps the mix to sound a little bit wider overall. I find that mastering engineers often boost up the sides a little to create some width, so why not just do it in the mix? Really love this plugin and how simple / clean / pristine the signal path is.
INSERT #2 - CYTOMIC "THE GLUE" SSL STYLE BUS COMPRESSOR
I've loved "THE GLUE" for a very long time. It has been on my mixbus for YEARS now, and I can't say I plan on changing it. It's an SSL style compressor, but with a lot more options to tweak, and a bit more of a "hifi" sound. Notice my settings - 1ms attack, 4:1 ratio, Auto release. My Sidechain HPF is set to 60hz, just to prevent low kick/bass hits from triggering the compression too hard. My Wet/Dry Mix is actually about 80-90%, even though the knob doesn't look like it. If you mouse-over the knob, it shows the actual percentage. This varies mix to mix, between 50-100% wet. Also notice I'm only compressing a few dB - usually 2 to 4dB. It'll probably be more like 2dB in a verse or quiet section, and 4dB in the last chorus. This is just a nice, subtle way to glue the mix together and keep it more controlled.
INSERT #3 - SLATE DIGITAL / VIRTUAL TAPE MACHINES
This is another plugin that has been on my mixbuss for a long time: Slate Virtual Tape Machines. I've experimented with a LOT of different settings on this plugin, and as of the last 6 months or so, I'm really liking this setting. I usually set the level to the biggest part of the song, and set it to bounce between 0 and +3 on the VU, but I make sure it doesn't clip / activate the clip light. Bias is normal, Speed is 30ips, Tape Type is FG9, and I actually set the machine to the 2" 16 Track rather than the 1/2" 2 track. I find it sounds a bit tighter and brighter, less fat/dark. If I'm working on a song that needs to be a little darker/fatter, I'll switch to the 1/2" mode, and or the 15ips mode.
So what do these things do for me? A little bit of air, a little bit of width, a little bit of glue, and a little bit of saturation. Overall the effect is modest, but it certainly is an improvement. This chain works across almost any genre, which is great for me because I work on every genre you could imagine. If it doesn't work, I'll just bypass a plugin and or, try something different. I'm always experimenting, and you should be too!
If you're a fan of the show, you probably know that I don't advise using a limiter on your mixbus. If you're sending a mix to a client, sure, pop a limiter on there. I've worked with a lot of mastering engineers and most of them are going to tell you "turn off the master limiter before you send it," and if you were mixing with the limiter and suddenly turn it off, you may find your mix falling apart! Yikes! Again, this is just my opinion. Some guys mix with a master limiter and it works great for them. I find that it colors my perception of the mix and makes me miss certain things; it will make things sound better than they really do. Now you might say - who cares? This is art! And you're right. But it's my opinion that you should know how to control a mix without a limiter squashing your transients. It also makes life a lot easier for your mastering engineer!
What's on your mixbuss? What does it do for you?
Kendal Osborne is the Host of the Recording Lounge Podcast and the Owner / Head Engineer at The Closet Studios