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Understanding mix bus compression

From: Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing

Video: Understanding mix bus compression

Mix bus or simply bus compression is the practice of using a compressor on a group of tracks sub-mixed together, as opposed to only compressing each track individually. For example, I may use a compressor on my kick, snare, toms, and overhead individually, but I might also use a compressor on the entire drum sub mix to achieve an effect that's not possible through adjusting the individual compressors in isolation. Bus compressors are generally associated with the phrase "gluing the mix together" and the pedigree has a fairly interesting history, dating back to the first bus compressors installed in large analog consoles.

Understanding mix bus compression

Mix bus or simply bus compression is the practice of using a compressor on a group of tracks sub-mixed together, as opposed to only compressing each track individually. For example, I may use a compressor on my kick, snare, toms, and overhead individually, but I might also use a compressor on the entire drum sub mix to achieve an effect that's not possible through adjusting the individual compressors in isolation. Bus compressors are generally associated with the phrase "gluing the mix together" and the pedigree has a fairly interesting history, dating back to the first bus compressors installed in large analog consoles.

The A&R executives used to call the bus compressor insert button the record button because it instantly glued the entire mix together and made the mix sound like a record. Take a listen to this mix before and after bus compression through a plug-in version of the famous SSL bus compressor. Here is the mix before adding the SSL bus compression. (music playing) And here is the mix with the SSL bus compression active.

(music playing) The change is very subtle but significant nonetheless. The overall goal with bus compression is very similar to any other type of dynamics control: by taming the peaks or the or the transients, I can reduce my overall dynamic range and pull up some of the lower-level material to inflate the body of the track and give it a little extra push in average loudness.

The bus compressor also grabs hold of any straggling transients that might jump out of the mix too far, gluing the elements of the mix together better. Many engineers like to mix through their bus compression, placing it on the master bus before starting their mix. This can help them mix quicker by influencing their processing decisions as everything passes through the compressor. Because everything is getting compressed at the master bus, you tend to use less compression on individual tracks. This technique can work well if you're an experienced mixer and know what to listen for and how to tweak the mixed-bus compression to changes in your individual track processing.

This can also work against you if the volume levels of your mix change radically over the course of the mixing process. If you don't update your bus compressor's threshold, you may end up hitting it too hard, which in turn may cause you to make less-than-ideal decisions about the processing of individual tracks. Personally, I like to use a slow attack and a fast release setting, and never higher than a two-to-one or four-to-one ratio. Most times the idea is not to compress the entire mix very hard, just to control the dynamics gently in a transparent way.

So my advice is, if you're going use a master bus compressor over your entire mix, use a light touch.

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  1. 4m 56s
    1. Welcome
      1m 49s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      32s
    3. Using the exercise files
      53s
    4. Using the "Get in the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      1m 42s
  2. 13m 47s
    1. What is amplitude?
      1m 51s
    2. Measuring amplitude
      1m 57s
    3. What is dynamic range?
      4m 8s
    4. What are dynamics processors?
      3m 36s
    5. Hardware and software dynamics processors
      2m 15s
  3. 38m 40s
    1. Introducing compressors
      1m 45s
    2. Understanding threshold
      1m 29s
    3. Utilizing compression ratios
      3m 0s
    4. Understanding makeup gain and gain reduction
      3m 13s
    5. Understanding attack and release
      2m 12s
    6. Applying attack and release
      5m 22s
    7. Demystifying compression controls: soft knee vs. hard knee
      2m 43s
    8. Get in the Mix: Using compression to even out a vocal performance
      4m 55s
    9. Get in the Mix: Using compression to add punch and sustain to drums
      4m 39s
    10. Intelligently using compression presets
      3m 6s
    11. Recording with compression: Why or why not?
      2m 53s
    12. Recording with compression: How to do it
      3m 23s
  4. 18m 50s
    1. Introducing limiters
      1m 59s
    2. Types of limiters
      4m 17s
    3. Get in the Mix: Maximizing mix loudness with brickwall limiters
      5m 58s
    4. Solving common mix problems with limiters
      2m 58s
    5. Using layered dynamics processing
      3m 38s
  5. 26m 49s
    1. Understanding and using de-essers
      3m 46s
    2. Get in the Mix: De-essing a vocal track
      3m 30s
    3. Understanding and using gates
      4m 41s
    4. Understanding and using expanders
      1m 35s
    5. Get in the Mix: Gating a drum track
      3m 18s
    6. Understanding and using multi-band compressors/limiters
      3m 31s
    7. Controlling frequency content with multi-band compressors
      3m 3s
    8. Understanding and using transient shapers
      3m 25s
  6. 36m 38s
    1. Effectively using side-chain inputs
      2m 6s
    2. Using side chains creatively
      5m 4s
    3. Keying gates and compressors (and/or ducking)
      4m 12s
    4. Managing gain staging and headroom and fixing over-compressed tracks
      3m 20s
    5. Compression first or EQ first?
      2m 56s
    6. Understanding mix bus compression
      3m 26s
    7. Get in the Mix: Using mix bus compression
      2m 47s
    8. Get in the Mix: Working with parallel compression
      3m 46s
    9. Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins
      5m 57s
    10. Building healthy compression/limiting habits
      3m 4s
  7. 14s
    1. Goodbye
      14s
  8. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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