The Importance Of Routing Effects To Bus Channels

 In Mixing And Mastering

When I first started out as a producer, I tended to take a lot of shortcuts when mixing. I rarely used EQ, very seldom used compression, and I would usually just throw a mastering preset onto my mix at the end to “magically” make it sound “better”.It’s not that I didn’t care to do these things. I would still spend countless hours trying to get my beats to sound as good as I could at the time. It was more so that I simply did not even know about certain techniques, much less how to apply them.

One of the main mixing techniques that I had no clue about as a young producer was routing certain effects, specifically reverbs and delays, to their own bus channels. I’ve seen so many new producers who do make that same mistake I made, and slap their reverbs right onto the same channel as the instrument.

Though the info in this article will be extremely helpful to those who wish to use it, there is no “wrong” way to mix. A great mix can be achieved without routing effects to their own bus channels, but when mixing I find it is always most beneficial to have full control over everything possible.

In case you are totally unfamiliar with this process, let me briefly explain. Routing (in this case, effects), basically means creating a brand new channel, called an Auxiliary Bus, which will control the wet signal of your instrument. The wet signal is the altered, processed signal of the original sound after an effect such as reverb is added.

In terms of mixing functions, he aux bus will generally have the same basic characteristics of any other channel on your DAW’s mixer. There is a volume fader, FX inserts, pan pots, and so on.

How To Create An Effects Bus

While the specific steps about how to set up an aux bus depend on which DAW you are using, the concept is generally the same.

For the sake of example, let’s say you’ve recorded some vocals onto an audio track in your DAW, or you recorded a piano piece onto an instrument track. Depending on your software, there will be an option (usually on the track’s mixer controls) where you can add a bus. Once added, the bus channel will appear on your mixer. At first, you may notice that you do not hear any sound coming from the bus. If this is the case, it means that the Send volume on your original track is defaulted to be set at zero. The Send volume is a knob on each channel which controls the amount of signal which is sent to the bus.

Once you turn the Send volume up to 100%, you should hear that your original sound is duplicated at exactly the same level through the bus. So basically, at its core, the bus is a duplication of the track which it is routed from, with a level control to adjust the amount of signal duplicated to the bus.

Routing Effects Through Your Bus

Okay, so now we have our original audio track, and a bus channel doubling the same signal. Let’s say we want to use this bus signal as the reverb channel for our track. Simply insert your favorite reverb onto the bus, and adjust the dry and wet signals on your reverb plugin to be 100% wet, and 0% dry. The reason we want to use these levels is because we already have the full dry signal coming from our original track, and the bus will be used to mix the reverb only.

Now we have our original track, along with its reverb on the bus, as two separate tracks, giving us full creative control over each separately.

The Benefits Of Bussing Effects

Routing your effects is a quick, simple way to have total control over your mix. When mixing, creating spaces for each sound to live in is one of the main focuses. Using our reverb example from above, we can now process our reverb separately from our original dry signal. The reverb can be EQ’d, panned, imaged, compressed, etcetera. Any mixing techniques that we would normally use on a dry track can be used on our effects as well.

One common example is that many engineers will want to filter out a lot of the lower frequencies of a reverb so that it doesn’t clash and created muddiness with other instruments. At the same time, they do not want to remove these frequencies from the dry track, as they may be crucial to the mix. Having a separate channel for reverb would allow the engineer to achieve this very easily.

Another benefit of bussing effects is that it will allow you to control your reverb levels through your faders. This makes things very convenient for those who appreciate easy access to levels during different stages of mixing.

Applications Of Effects Bussing

We’ve talked about bussing reverbs and delays, but there are some other effects and techniques which benefit greatly from having their own channel. Here are a few others:

Parallel Compression: Parallel compression is basically the duplication of a track (often times used for drums), which is then compressed vigorously to accent only the peak transients of the original signal. When combined with the original track, you are left with some beefed up dynamics. This technique is great with drums, specifically in the hip hop genre, as it makes their attack hit harder without using up too much head room. The compressed track is bussed from the original, and is a great use for bussing.

Harmonics: Another excellent application for bus tracks is adding harmonics to a track by methods such as distortion. Many times, we may want to make a bass track sound fuller. A great way to do this is by creating a bus from the original track, and applying a harmonic exciter or some distortion to it. The reason bussing is the way to go is because you can then filter out all of the unwanted frequencies from the harmonic channel, and are left with a brighter, or fuller bass minus the mud.

Transient Designing: Bussing is also a great way to have more control over specific dynamics of a track. If you want to bring out some of the body of a sound without compromising the attack, you can set up a bus channel with a transient designer on it. Use this plugin to reduce the attack, and then you can use EQ or any other effects needed to bring out the desired frequency. The attack will be kept intact from the original track, and the bussed channel will add the body, leaving you with the best of both worlds.

Conclusion

Summing up, routing your effects through a bus is the easiest way to give yourself more control over your mix. If you haven’t been doing this, I highly suggest you start incorporating it into your mixes. Once you do, you will wonder why you hadn’t started earlier!

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