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Knowing how to set up an effects loop is a key mixing technique, often used for adding reverb or delay to a mix. An effects loop enables multiple tracks to access one effects processor or plug-in. This saves a lot of computer processing power. It also gives you a lot of control over the sound of the mix and can unify the overall sound of a mix. Let's talk about the components used in an effects loop. First we have the send. A send makes a copy of the track and routes it to an output or a bus.
Let's go create one. On this particular track, I am going to go to Send A, and if you don't see the sends on your track, you can go to View > Mix Window Views, Sends A-E. There is also Sends F-J, so we have a total of ten sends per track. So I am going to go down here to send A, click, and choose Bus 1-2, and that opens up the Sends control. In this Send control we've got a lot of options.
I am just going to adjust a couple of them really quick. First, I am going to adjust the panning. I am going to pan this exactly the same as what the track is over here, all the way to the left, and I am going to boost the level. We will go up to about 8.9. As you can see here, I have got sends on both the acoustic guitar tracks, both routed to Bus 1-2. Now what's a bus? A bus carries a signal somewhere, usually to another track. I like to think of a bus as a pipeline, or a path to get a signal somewhere else.
When you choose your bus, you can actually choose mono or stereo, and we can look at that here, bus. So if we choose Bus 1, that's just a mono bus, but we have Bus 1 and 2 and that gives us panning controls right here. The third component of creating an effects loop is called a return. A return receives the signal that's on the bus, and then it affects that signal and routes the signal somewhere else, usually to the main outputs.
I am going to close this really quick. And we can look over here at the aux track, and this is our return. Notice how these sends are routed to Bus 1-2. Well, this aux track, the input is receiving Bus 1 and 2, so the signal is returning into the mix on Bus 1 and 2, and this Aux track is routed to Analog 1 and 2, so it's going to the main outputs. So to recap, these tracks, the acoustic guitar tracks, a copy of their signal is being routed out to Bus 1 and 2.
That signal is received here at the aux track, and because we have up here a D-Verb plug-in, we are getting reverb onto the copies. So this is a copy of both of the acoustic guitar tracks coming through here, sent through the reverb. And let's hear what this sounds like. I am going to solo the acoustic guitars first, and then I'll add in the effect. (Music Playing) As you could hear when I was playing this back, the auxiliary track fader brought in and out the level of reverb.
And we can also adjust how much signal from the acoustic guitar tracks gets sent here, and that's in the Send controls. We can use this level to send a different amount to the auxiliary track. Let me show you one cool little thing. If we go to View > Sends A-E, right now it's set to Assignment so we can see all five sends, but if we choose Send A, then we can open up these controls and not really need these big send faders.
So we can create a little mix of how much signal goes to the auxiliary track. Now the whole idea behind an effects loop is to have both the affected or the wet signal, which is coming from this auxiliary track, as well as the unaffected signal, which is coming from these two tracks out of the main output, and mixing those two together at the main output, so you can control the level of both the wet and the dry signals separately in the mix. One other little Pro Tools trick here. Instead of having to solo the auxiliary track, we can press Ctrl and click the Solo button, and that makes it so that it's grayed out, and that's called Solo Safe, and that means that this aux track will always be active, even if I solo other tracks in the session.
So let me show you. I am going to press play and you are still going to hear the effect. (Music Playing) Effects loops can either be pre-fader or post-fader. By default, any new send that you assign in a session is set to post-fader. However, you can change that by clicking the Pre button, or this little P button.
This makes the send pre if you choose it. Let me explain this. A signal routed through a send can either be affected by the volume on the track's volume fader down here, or not. When it's affected by this fader down here, it's called a post-fader send. If you hit the Pre button here, this volume level on the track does not affect how much signal is sent out onto this bus. Pre-fader sends route this signal onto the bus before the signal is affected by the volume fader, the Solo button or the Mute button, whereas signals that are routed post-fader are affected by the volume fader, Solo button and Mute button.
So why would you want to make a send either a pre-fader or a post-fader? Pre-fader sends are the default because in most instances you will want the levels of the unaffected or the dry tracks and the affected or the wet tracks to be controlled at the same time. In our example here, if I mute the guitar tracks, the dry guitar track is muted and the reverbed wet signal is muted too. That way you won't get a ghost in the machine, a wet track without its dry counterpart. Let's listen.
(Music Playing) Oops! I am going to have to undo this. Let's listen to these tracks in post-fader. So let me unclick that. (Music Playing) When the acoustic guitar tracks are muted, the reverb effect is also muted, because there is no signal being sent to it from these buses. However, if we choose Pre so that both of these are pre-fader and we keep this muted, now listen what we are going to hear.
(Music Playing) Now we are hearing just the reverbed effect on the guitars. Let me show you another cool example of why we might want to use a pre-fader send. I am going to undo that, unsolo that, and solo the drum track, and make this pre-fader.
Now I am going to actually want to create this ghost-in-the-machine effect, and this is when the original track and the send copy can be relatively independent of each other. So here I have it set up so that the drums will slowly disappear into a reverbed background. As I pull down the fader on the drum track, the reverbed drum signal stays the same level while the dry track fades away, and you are only left with the wet or reverbed version. Let's check it out. (Music Playing) You can create some pretty cool effects with this signal routing.
Now you should also note that all inserts affect both pre-fader and post-fader send signals. So if I look up here, we have got EQ on both of these guitar tracks. So these EQ plug-ins are going to affect the sound of the guitars that are sent, no matter if these sends are pre- or post-fader. Now I have found that using effects loops for reverb and delay effects actually sounds better than using reverb and delay plug-ins on individual tracks. This setup tends to make the mixes less muddy and have more impact.
I'm sure once you learn how to create effects loops and understand the signal routing involved, effects loops will become an integral part of your own personal mixing technique.
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