Sometimes, you need to look back at where you have been in order to see where you are going—this includes working in your home studio. Let’s look at ways that adhering to old-school mixing models can help maximize your efficiency “in the box.”
Most home DAWs run on a native environment. This means that your computer performs all of your audio effects processing, drives the audio engine, and runs your Facebook page, all at the same time. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to know that too much of a good thing can be a drag. So ask yourself this question: Which resources do you need on every track, and which can be shared among tracks?
A common problem in today’s digital audio environment is the overuse of effects in the mix. They are cheap (even free) and readily available, much like Big Macs! Does every track needs its own reverb? Some folks say yes, by applying individual effects, each track has an individual character. At the same time, I can hear that collective moan as their systems crash for the tenth time in a session.
To Each (Track) Its Own
With old analog boards, each channel had its own EQ and dynamics sections, which could not be shared. I like this concept, so I still use it in today’s digital world. On individual tracks, I apply effects that cannot be duplicated, such as EQ or compression, because their settings are usually specific to particular instruments or voices. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use the same EQ settings on more than one track, but the instance of a plug-in will be specific.
Using Your Aux Bus to Share Effects
Reverbs, delays, even harmonic effects can be shared if they’re configured properly. I run the effects as an aux bus and share them between tracks, bringing the effects back on their own dedicated aux return and mixing them like audio channels.
As an example, let’s take three audio tracks: snare, background vocal, and acoustic guitar. I assign each track to the same aux bus (let’s say bus 1 and 2). I then bring up an aux return and place a reverb on that return. Then I assign the input of the return to bus 1 and 2. This configuration gives me the freedom of a wet/dry mix at the board as well as the ability to put some of the tracks into prefader mode for added flexibility.
This may seem like a lot of steps, but you’ll save substantial processor resources by adding a single dedicated track to a mix instead of running numerous reverbs. There are side benefits to this work flow as well. When you use a single reverb for an entire drum kit or choral section, it makes the individual instruments or voices sound like they are contained in the same space, lending believability to the mix.
Don’t Bounce, Sub-Mix
Since a lot of workstation effects process in real time, you’ll need to do a full bounce at the end of the session or song in order to save them. This can be a huge burden on the client clock, one that you should alleviate whenever possible.
If you put a stereo aux send on each channel, return it to a stereo audio return and place that return in Record, then on your last go-around, you can mix in real time, just like the old days.
You are probably asking yourself why you would work this way. Sometimes, it can be better to do something yourself than have a machine do it for you. Something intangible has been lost since the era of automation; mixes can sound very staid and lacking in urgency. Think about it: You have the ability to play the mix in real time, much like a musician playing an instrument!
By easing the burden on your computer, you can sometimes find yourself in a place that resembles the past but looks toward the future.