Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way. Such is the case with me and mix buss processing. Over the years I’ve been guilty of slapping a plugin on my master fader, cranking some knobs to hear drastic change, and then calling it a day. At first it seems like magic. With one EQ or compressor you can totally change the sound of your mix. But the truth is, those drastic changes were hurting rather than helping my mix.
A Little Goes A Long Way
Here’s the reality of doing any kind of processing on your mix buss: you’re little moves add up big time. If you make a 1db boost with an EQ on your master fader in a session with 40+ tracks, you are in essence applying that 1db frequency boost 40 times and in 40 different ways! Think about it, every track in your mix eventually dumps into your mix buss, so any processing you do on the mix buss is multiplied across all of your tracks, for better or for worse.
That being said, the smallest tweak can have the largest of impacts. I’m usually tempted to try something drastic at first. This is natural because we want to hear what we’re doing. It’s fine to make extreme moves at first to hear the change, but then dial it way down. Your subtle move is doing more than you think, trust me.
Think Less Than 3db
Since nothing is ever a “rule” in mixing, think of this as a good suggestion at least worth investigating. When making any move on your mix buss (EQ, compression, saturation, etc) try to make moves that have less than a 3db impact. If boosting a frequency, keep it to 1db to 2db. If using compression on your mix buss watch the gain reduction meter and keep it from pegging more than 2.5db or so.
Remembering that a little processing on the mix buss goes a long way is key to making musical and helpful tweaks. The same is true with tape saturation plugins. I love the sound these plugins give and I tend to want to crank things. But once you’ve found a good setting that is helping your mix, do yourself a favor and dial that effect down to less than 3db or so.
100 Smart Mixing Moves
One of my good friends (and a great mixer) is Kevin Ward from MixCoach.com. He always teaches that there is no one big magical move in mixing that will make your tracks sound great. Rather a great mix is the result of 100 small, subtle tweaks that add up in a big way. He’s absolutely right and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to mix buss processing.
We all want to believe there is that one special mix buss plugin that we can simply “run our mixes through” for pro sounding results, myself included. Unfortunately that little fairy tale doesn’t come true in the real world. Instead we can make some small, smart, subtle tweaks with good plugins on our mix buss and run a great mix through them. You’ll still get that big result, just not the way you expected.