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Mix Bus Strategies: The Definitive Guide For Producers

A huge number of us (including me) now tend to mix with one or more plug-ins permanently across the main stereo mix bus of our DAWs, so we can hear a living, breathing mix with some built-in ‘glue’, to more closely match the final sound we’re aiming for. However, this is certainly the first time I’ve been able to delve more deeply and systematically into all the options, courtesy of SOS Contributor Eddie Bazil’s latest release.

Mix Bus Strategies: The Definitive Guide For Producers by Eddie Bazil.It’s obvious from the start that this e-book is a real labour of love, as the neatly-zipped 893MB download file expands to nearly 1GB of data, comprising the 185-page e-book itself (which includes 187 explanatory images), 130 audio files (mainly in high-quality 320kbps MP3 format for demo purposes, but also including a clutch of 24-bit WAV files where maximum resolution makes more sense), and 17 associated MP4 video tutorials that in themselves provide a total of 3.5 hours of viewing.

As Eddie explains from the outset, this isn’t a tome for beginners, but a reference work he expects people to jump into at various points depending on their previous experience. Nevertheless, I found his initial discussions of headroom, metering, LUFS and K metering, and even project track colouring, very helpful, adopting several of his suggestions immediately for my own projects — he really has thought everything through in great detail. So many musicians slap a compressor onto their mix bus before considering the gain structure of their project, but Eddie passes on vital advice right from the start when he rightly maintains that “you cannot have a transparent and spacious mix if you do not have ample headroom to explore”.

Then we get onto mix bus effects and dynamics, and it was a revelation to me that rather than simply boosting EQ, you can liven up a mix more successfully by instead using an exciter to add extra harmonic richness, followed by compensatory post-processing (to roll off any frequencies we don’t need, and then apply some subtle dynamic control and tweaks to stereo imaging). The before/after audio examples of this approach are astonishing, adding air and space without any harshness, mainly because we are adding more zing to low and mid frequencies, rather than simply lifting the top end. Essentially, you’re working on the harmonics rather than the fundamental, and Eddie returns to this approach via various examples.

Other nuggets of wisdom include avoiding ‘vintage shelving EQ’ curves on the mix bus in favour of linear-phase types, to refine and correct the mix without smearing or phase issues. Adding blanket reverb, phasing/flanging, re-amping or distortion is generally out, whereas low-level delays can add interesting rhythmic elements — yes, even on the entire mix bus! It’s a whole new way of thinking from using effects during the mixing stage. As you might expect, mix-bus dynamic processes get discussed a lot, but not always using standard compressors. Naturally, the practical differences between different compressor types such as optical, VCA, FET, and vari-mu are all explained in context, once again with copious audio examples so you can hear the differences between them. However, more sophisticated setups — for example, adding dynamics using parallel compression, exciters, and even small amounts of odd/even harmonics via valve and tape saturation — are all explored too.

Eddie is also a strong advocate of audio tools that help you visualise as well as hear what’s happening, to more easily home in what needs to be tweaked. There are great discussions on how to keep your transients intact rather than rounded off, lots of different ways to add energy at the mix bus, how best to balance the wet/dry components of parallel compression, and post-EQ settings that remove clutter, balance the low end, and add air.

There’s a very helpful chapter — with a host of audio examples — detailing things that can trip you up, including poorly chosen settings for compression, stereo widening, and EQ slopes. It’s really instructive to hear what not to do for a change! Another set of six chapters guide you through the use of various plug-in treatment chains on otherwise finished tracks, listening via numerous audio examples to the step-by-step improvements you can achieve en route. These chapters are for when you’re aiming for a mix that’s transparent, or silky smooth, or airy, to fit hip-pop or EDM genres, or even using more adventurous sound-design techniques such as rhythm-based side-chain triggering, and they typically utilise six or seven separate plug-in stages to perform some remarkable transformations.

I devoted far more time to writing this e-book review than expected, simply because I so enjoyed working my way methodically through all 185 pages and 3.5 hours of videos (as well as side-tracking a lot to explore the new techniques on my own mix bus using my own plug-ins). In the process, I learned so much more about a subject that I thought I knew a fair amount about already. You’ll find cheaper e-books, but this is far more than a typical e-book and Mix Bus Strategies is thus remarkable value for money — you’d shell out more to buy a single commercial plug-in, yet this publication will help you use every plug-in in your collection more effectively on your mix bus. Highly recommended!