We’ve got double the guests and double the experience on this episode! We’re thrilled to host Kriss Walas & Dom Tassinari, who have a combined 29 years in the music business. They’re also the hosts of the excellent music production podcast Poolside Chats.
Kriss and Dom join us today to talk about mix buss processing and share their thoughts on mixing, mastering, compression, and other key considerations for making professional-sounding music.
Kriss and Dom have some different techniques and opinions on plugins, but their combined perspectives offer a comprehensive understanding of how processing on a mix buss can positively or negatively impact your mix.
The audio tip of the week is about how to avoid overcompression. Nothing can make your mix sound flat and robotic quite like overcompression, so Scott’s borrowed Ian Shepherd‘s rule of thumb: If the gain reduction meter doesn’t return to zero at least once every bar, you might be compressing too much. Of course, this is just a general rule, but it’s a great guideline. If you’re wanting to get even better results from compression when mixing or producing, a new AudioSkills course, The Art of Compression can help you do just that!
Then Scott dives into the interview, where Kriss and Dom discuss how they met, how their mixing techniques complement each other, and their different approaches to mix buss processing. They also share their thoughts on compression and EQ, and why they advocate for learning how to mix without a mix bus so you can build those mixing muscles.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- Audio tip of the week: remember this rule of thumb to avoid overcompressing your mix.
- Why Kriss and Dom agree you should mix into your mix buss – rather than slap on plugins at the end.
- How to use compression to make your music sound elastic and lively rather than overdone.
- Some of the experimental plugins and techniques they use on their own mixes to create a signature sound.
- Whether a mix buss can help boost your confidence.
- Kriss & Dom’s best advice, including not overcooking a mix for a client and being truly present with your music.
Featured on the Show:
- Connect with Kriss: Continuum Music Studio | Facebook | Artist Page
- Connect with Dom: Lotus Sound Studio | Facebook
- Connect with them both: Poolside Chats Podcast | YouTube
- The Art of Compression AudioSkills Course
- EDM Mixing and Mastering Tips with MÄAG Audio
- Connect with the Show: Website | YouTube
Don’t miss an episode – subscribe to the AudioSkills Podcast!
Full Transcript of This Episode
Scott: Hey, what’s up everyone? Scott here with you, and we have got a great show for you today. I’m going to actually be talking with two awesome engineers, all about a very important mixing topic, which is mix buss processing. But before we get into all of that, I’ve got a quick audio tip of the week for you and it’s all about how to avoid over-compression, which is something that you want to do to preserve the dynamic range of your tracks, and preserve those transients, and the things that make it sound punchy and really energetic. Now, this is actually a great rule of thumb from a brilliant mastering engineer named Ian Shepherd and his advice is this: “If the gain reduction meter doesn’t return to zero several times per bar, you might be compressing too much. In fact, you probably are compressing too much.”
It’s a simple rule of thumb, but a good one. Now remember, it’s a rule of thumb, so of course there are times where you might want to bend that a little bit, especially if you’re going for effect, but it’s one that I think is great to follow, especially if you’re a beginner. Now that is just one tip. And if you’ve been struggling with using compression in your mixes, you may want something that goes a little deeper. If that’s the case, I think you’re going to love this brand new course that just launched on AudioSkills.com. It’s called the art of compression. And this video course will teach you how to use compression to create quality mixes. You’ll get a complete compression roadmap to give any mix great tone, punch, shape, and glue.
The course is taught by my good friend, Kendal Osborne, owner of the Closet Studios in Tulsa, and host of the Recording Lounge podcast. Kendal is simply awesome, and the step-by-step walkthrough of compression techniques that he uses is easy to follow and really informative. If you want to understand compression on a deeper level, so that you can use it to make your mixes sound better, then I really do think that this course will be perfect for you. You can buy the downloadable version at AudioSkills.com/products, or you can get unlimited streaming access when you sign up for a free 14 day trial membership to AudioSkills.
Your trial membership will give you streaming access to, actually, all of our video courses on recording, mixing, mastering, and music production, including brand new ones like the art of compression. So just go to AudioSkills.com and click the free trial button if you’re ready to take your mixes to the next level. Okay, that’s enough on compression specifically, but honestly, it’s an incredible course, and I really hope that you check it out.
All right, so now I am pleased to introduce our guests for today, it’s an AudioSkills podcast first, where I’ll be talking with two brilliant music minds. They both work at Continuum Music Studio, which is located in Sacramento, California. And are co-hosts of their own excellent podcast called Poolside Chats where they talk all things music, production, mixing, mastering, and so on.
Kriss Walas is a musician producer and engineer with 18 years in the music business. While Dom Tassinari is a musician producer and engineer with 11 years in the music business, so there’s a lot of experience and knowledge here. Kriss and Dom, welcome to the show, guys.
Dom: Thanks, Scott.
Kriss: You’re awesome, bro, it’s a pleasure to be here, this is cool.
Scott: Right on. And now, you guys host a podcast together, and you work together, I’m always curious. How did you guys meet and start working together on all this audio stuff?
Dom: That’s actually pretty funny, we’re gonna talk about that on our 20th podcast next time, so this is perfect.
Kriss: Dom, you want to tell the story?
Dom: Yeah, I’ll start it, and then we can just fill in where we need to.
Kriss: Cool, cool.
Dom: Yeah, we met through a mutual friend, basically, I just wanted to up my production game to see what it’s like to possibly have someone mix and master my own stuff, ’cause I’ve been doing it primarily my own self.
Scott: For sure, yeah.
Dom: Yeah, get some objective insight. And our mutual friend took me to his studio, at the time, which was in a warehouse in Sac, it’s one of those music warehouses with a bunch of different rooms. And long story longer, no. We kind of just hit it off, because we both had similar sensibilities about music, and we both loved analog gear, and we’re just able to talk shop pretty much instantly. And none of us had really been around someone else who was … we’re able to do that with, ’cause he’d been with people who’re really just starting out, and he’s doing most of the teaching, and found out that we had a lot to teach each other, so that’s how the way I see it.
Kriss: Good way to see it, yeah, I don’t really need to add much to that. Dom pretty much summed it up well, I was doing a lot of one on one education, I still do through Continuum and my education facility. And Dom came in with a great track, we spent a lot of time working on it, he decided to not release the track, and that was actually a really cool thing, ’cause it kind of was the budding of our friendship and relationship, and we’ve pretty much spent a couple days a week ever since then hanging out, and working in the studio, and shooting pool, and making some cool podcasts.
Scott: That’s awesome, sometimes the stars just align, huh?
Kriss: They do, indeed, absolutely, well said.
Scott: So, now to just start us off here, could you guys just tell us just a little bit more about yourselves and what kind of things you guys are working on?
Kriss: Absolutely. So I come from playing guitar in bands. I got into music when I was 14, I was in punk rock, hard rock, and metal bands toured until I was 19, and got really tired of the touring. I never did anything major, stayed mostly on the west coast. But with metal bands and rock bands, there wasn’t a lot of money in it, and it was a lot of work practicing two or three days a week while going to school. Playing shows on the weekends at bars, most likely not getting paid, just working for beer money. Which was cool with me, ’cause I was like 17, so I mean, beer money was great, ‘cause I couldn’t actually drink. So it was awesome.
So after that, I spent my college years studying philosophy of law, and I thought I was gonna go out of music and do something else, and when I graduated, I decided music was kind of where my heart was, and what I really wanted to spend my life doing. So after school, pretty much abandoned all the time and effort I put into that. Started a studio, started teaching one on one, and building the brand that exists today. And I couldn’t be happier about it, I spend all of my days in the studio working with cool people, doing Skype sessions, mixing and mastering, and ultimately, it’s kind of my life’s purpose, so I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.
Scott: Right on, and Dom, how about yourself?
Dom: Also a guitarist, that was my main introduction into using equipment for music. Eventually I got a laptop with Ableton on it thinking I was gonna record my fantastic guitar licks at the time.
Scott: Oh yeah.
Dom: I ended up realizing how fun it was to start messing with the software since, and stuff, and effects in Ableton, and I started just falling in love with, quote-unquote, EDM production. And that eventually led into the mixing side of it, because then I started wondering why my productions weren’t sounding like all my favorite artists, and whatnot, like everyone goes through.
Scott: Oh yeah.
Dom: Yeah, we all know that. So that just led to me kind of making music so I could mix, and just get better at mixing. And then eventually, I started building my own brand, Lotus Sound Studio, just by slowly getting gear and just upgrading every little thing I could think of piece by piece. Oh, and then also went to school at American River College in Sac for music production. But that was actually a bit after I started actually making a studio, and then I decided it was my goal to do this for a living. So and then actually went to school for it, and made some good con … That’s actually how I met Kriss. If I didn’t actually decide to go to school for it, I wouldn’t have met the mutual friend, and we wouldn’t be sitting here today.
Scott: Boom, for sure. That’s awesome how that all comes together. I always love just hearing about how different people end up doing this professionally, working in music professionally. There’s no one set path, and I think sometimes people feel like there is, and there really isn’t. It’s … if you want to do it, you’ll find a way to do it, and you’ll make those connections. So for today’s show, we’re gonna be talking about mix buss processing. For those who don’t know, that’s where you’re essentially adding plugins on your master fader, that’s a really simple way of putting it. Now like anything, when it comes to mixing, there are different approaches, philosophies, I’ve even seen some mastering engineers who have kind of hated on it, particularly if someone’s adding a bunch of compression, or things like that. So my question for you guys is, where do you fall on mix buss processing? What’s your overall philosophy if you could give one?
Kriss: My philosophy would be, mix into it. I think that if you are working on a mix regardless of how many tracks are in the mix, and you wait until the very end to slap on EQ or a compressor, or a limiter, or something like that, you’re gonna find that the contour of the mix, the balance of the individual elements, and generally, the overall feel and vibe of the mix has a tendency to change. And this could be for the better, which seldom happens in my professional opinion from what I’ve experienced, to where I’ve … you know what I mean? It’s like, sometimes gets lucky, I’m like, “Oh, wow, everything just worked.” But that’s rarely the case, it’s more of that it does more damage, or it changes the mix in a way to where, now I’m going back into the mix and making a lot of changes.
So my philosophy that I personally use, not only when I help people, and when I’m mixing professionally is to set up a chain very early on. So once the production is in place, once I get my faders balanced, and the mix is good to go, I set up my mix buss chain, which is very minimal, and I mixed the whole project into that, and I make sure just to A, B, as I’m going, adjust little settings as I go through the mix. But then I’m not really surprised at the end by anything radical changing.
Scott: Right, and Dom, how about you?
Dom: Yeah, well if Kriss’s is minimal, then mine’s even more minimal, but …
Scott: That’s true, that is true.
Dom: But yeah, I didn’t use mix buss anything for a long time, just because I like to think I was self-aware enough to know that I didn’t know what I was doing. And I was using it way too late, like Kriss says not to do, just ’cause I would change the mix too much and I’d be like, “This isn’t helping at all.” But I agree with Kriss in saying that you have to mix into it. Even for me, it’s more a third of the way into my mix, I’ll put it in. Because I’ll get a lot of the big swoops done with my busses, I just like to start that way, it’s not a complete top-down approach, but it’s kind of middle then top, and then I go down. Yeah, so I generally just throw a single EQ and compressor on. And I’ve a few to choose from just to make a more polished sound. So I feel like I’m mixing into a polished sound versus trying to fight for it as much.
Scott: Right, so you do that early on as well, like Kriss does?
Dom: Oh yeah, so definitely, before the mix is halfway done.
Scott: For sure, now that’s interesting, and I’ve heard multiple people say that in so many words, that doing it earlier as opposed to later is what works for them. Now that’s not to say that there are people out there that do, do it later, and I’ve read books and seen people that do … that works for them. But I do like the idea of mixing into it, just the way you phrase that. It really makes a lot of sense to me. Here’s another with, now what would you say about, and Dom, maybe this would be better for you to answer, adding absolutely nothing to it, like is that still pretty viable? Can you still get a great mix together if you’re just like, I’m not even gonna touch the mix buss.
Dom: Well absolutely. I feel like I became a stronger mixer because I didn’t use a mix buss for a while. And had to fight using busses and less overall global control over the track. But a mixing engineer, that’s the thing, I really recommend anyone, even if they think they’re amazing mixer, still get their stuff mastered by someone else. Because they’ll, in the long run know how to do that stuff on the two busses, but the thing is, is Kriss and I, I bet, like to think we have some sort of signature sound, and a lot of that comes from the mix buss in the end, because of what you decide to use. Some people like to use more of a gooey compression, some people like a really fast SSL or something. And it’s kind of personal.
So you gotta find what your taste is, and I know what I like on mine, Kriss knows what he likes on his. Yeah, so to answer your question, not having anything at first, I feel like is a really strong way to go. And then finding your way instead of just throwing anything you want on. I think Kriss might have a little bit different story of using everything at first. So we could talk about that. We’re kind of … it’s cool, we kind of polar opposite each other a lot, so …
Scott: That’s good, you get the balance, the yin and the yang, right?
Kriss: Balance, balance is the key to life, absolutely. I think that you bring up a really good point here, Scott, and I think that it is essential, at first, to probably not do a whole lot with the mix buss because the mix buss is a really easy black hole to fall down. If you’re doing too much processing, which was my biggest flaw when I was first getting started is, overcooking the mix, and overcooking the mix buss, especially. That leads to more problems, then it’s gonna render and overly process mix that you’re probably not gonna be happy with. And you’re gonna probably do too much work in the mix. So I would say, starting with a blank mix buss, and then the only reason I say, in recommend, mixing into one, is, you have to have a vision for what you need, though.
It’s not arbitrarily saying, “Okay, you’re starting a mix, you’re a quarter, a third of the way through, whatever you want to be.” And you’re grabbing that EQ or compressing, you’re just slapping it on there, that’s not really what I mean, it’s more like analyzing the track, and asking yourself questions like, “Okay, what do I need to make this song really sound like a professional record that just hits people emotionally, and is really gripping.” And generally, that has to do with a couple global parameters, like having the mix bounce a little bit, and having a little bit of movement in the mix, that’s why I set up a compressor.
An EQ, the reason I use that, is I’m thinking, “Okay, I want this texture in the low-end, or this texture in the high-end across the whole mix.” Rather than boosting, let’s say, 15K over 17, or 75 digital layers. Why not just boost that globally over the whole mix if the song calls for that kind of processing?
Scott: I really like that. And kind of going back to what you were talking about, about overcooking it. I think there’s this philosophy that I’ve seen a lot, and I think, especially people newer to mixing, they get tripped up, but the truth is, is that, just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. And we have all these great tools, and it can be really exciting when you add something to the mix buss, you add that compressor, and you’re like, “Oh man!” You know? And that’s really … I feel like there’s more energy, or whatever it is. But you might turn around and realize, “Yeah, but there’s a multiplicative factor.” And you’re adding that to the entire track. And that can take you to a place that, maybe, you didn’t want to go.
Kriss: Absolutely, and that could be one side of the coin, and the other side of the coin would be, are you being fooled by a loudness curve, because a lot of times the mix buss will just get a DB or two louder, and you’ll really not think about it, and then you’ll assume that the whole mix is louder. Little do you know that your compression settings, be it, maybe your attack and release aren’t jiving to the track right. So you might be killing transients, or allowing a pumping to happen, and your ear isn’t even paying attention to it because you’re deceived by the processing you made, your bias towards the plugins, and the apparent level jump that’s making you feel like the song’s better than it was before the processing.
Scott: Right on. So it’s interesting, we’re talking about compression, that really leads into this question is, how do you guys, and starting with you, Kriss, approach mix buss compression? Do you have any particular strategy? And obviously every remix is different, every goal is different, but is there, sort of, an overall strategy that you employ when you’re saying, “Okay, I’m gonna reach for that compressor.” What are you trying to do, and what’s your technique there?
Kriss: Great question, yes, I think when something comes to mind, again, the first thing is, what does the song need? And it’s generally a movement-generating thing. I don’t look at compression as a gain reduction feature, even though compression can do that. I look at it more as a movement-generating mechanism. I think of it like a rubber band. If I’m gonna throw the audio into a rubber band, how is that rubber band gonna bounce the audio back at me? And that’s what I want my compressor to do, is make the music feel elastic, and like it has a depth, and a movement to it. So when I’m setting it up, the only thing I want to do, is tickle the needle, that’s my mantra in my head. Is tickle the needle, but that’s only really on the hooks or the drops.
In the verses, my mix buss compressor, when I’m mixing, is generally not even working. And if it does, it’s maybe just catching a peak or two, and controlling the mix in a gluey kind of way, at a very, very subtle level. But then when it gets to the drop, that’s when the compressor is kicking in, and I usually set it like that because I don’t want the mix to be over compressed while I’m mixing. If anything, I would go no compressor, or compressor at that very, very low setting, low ratio, 1.5 to 1, 2 to 1. Highest 3 to 1 to get the bounce back, but just enough to where the chorus is hitting a little bit harder, it’s giving my just a …
If you’re looking at my compressor, I’ll put it this way, and you don’t see the needle moving, I’m really happy with it. If the needle’s moving so much the whole time, where it’s going with the groove, I’m probably gonna pull it back, ’cause I feel that’s too much compression for the mix buss.
Scott: Dom, how about yourself?
Dom: Yeah, I have a pretty similar approach, I’ll probably get a little bit more compression out of it, just ’cause I really like the compressors I use, but yeah, a lot of times I’ll use the mix buss compressor, it’s really revealing and letting you know if certain parts of your track are pumping in weird ways, if you really listen to the low end, you can hear if your base isn’t compressed enough, you can hear if your drums aren’t leveled enough, it really allows you to know if your mix buss compression is acting in a very wonky way, where you’re getting all these weird gain reduction patterns, then you know you probably need to hit your actual mix compression a little bit more, and for me, it’s a really big tool on knowing where the actual buss compression’s at, and stuff.
And the mix buss compression, I use just strictly for movement and character. Because if it’s doing too much of actually leveling out weird peaks and stuff, then I need to fix that in the mix. But yeah, I think of it as movement, for sure. And I’ll spend most of my time, I have fun with it, I’ll go through three different compressors and just hear the different movement on each track. The low-end for me, of course transients are important, but each compressor reacts to a low-end completely different, and depending on if it has a side chain filter for the compression side chain, it’s a big dependent on what I’m using, too, and yeah. So there’s a lot of variables, yeah. For me, it’s very movement-based as well.
Scott: Right on, and I love what you were mentioning there how that can reveal things to you, I think it’s so easy to get kind of, I don’t know, get lost in a mix, or not know exactly what’s not quite right. And so any tool that could help shine a beacon on, “Hey, here’s this area where you could stand to do a little better, and needs some work.” That’s awesome. That’s what it’s all about, and especially for folks who, maybe they haven’t been mixing for a decade, so they don’t … their ear isn’t as attuned as someone who has more experience. Anything that could help emphasize that and bring it out more could be a win.
Dom: Yeah, definitely.
Kriss: Yeah, well said.
Scott: So, okay, we talked about compression. Now EQ, starting Kriss, how do you approach EQ on a mix buss? Do you have a technique? What kind of moves do you usually make? Is it just as simple as I roll a little bit of the low-end off, or what is it?
Kriss: It’s a combination of a few things. Again, it’s always, like my EQ choice is always tailored to the motion and the vibe of the track, and really trying to get in tune for what the song needs. I think if I had to narrow it down between two EQs that you use out of the box that is also made in the box, and the plugins are absolutely phenomenal. Actually, what I’ll do is, I’ll throw a link in, if I’ll send it to you or something for a blog article that I recently wrote on my mix buss chain and how I use these EQs in conjunction with my compression. And the first would be-
Scott: Oh, right on.
Kriss: Yeah, it’s really cool, because the article, I go really in-depth, and I really talk about my chain, and what I do for EQ and why. ‘Cause I feel like EQ, just like compression on the mix buss could be easily overused. And again, the frequency points are really important, just like attack and release, and the ratio is on compression. Boosting 15K arbitrarily, ’cause it worked on the last track might not be the best thing, you might want to boost 18K for a shelf, or 20K or something. So the first EQ I use a lot is the mog. I have both the mog EQ-2s and the EQ-4s, and these have been my main mix buss EQs for years, and I love them.
They’re very transparent, they’re very open, and they’ve got a very musical, but clean sound. And the high shelf is critical, I usually set this at usually 15, 20, or 40K, and I usually have the bumped up a couple decibels. So I guess, in terms of high-end EQ, I would recommend people to, maybe, try a shelving EQ, or that classic smile face curve. Boost the top end, ’cause what I’m trying to do is get more air on the whole track. I don’t want to boost every layer in the production five DB. I want to just do a nice, global, two or three decibel boost at the very end, open the whole track up. And then I’m finding that I’m adding more high-end less in the mix, because I’m globally processing the mix with the kind of air, and the texture that I want in the high-end. The same would apply with the low-end with the mog. The mog’s great because it has a 10 Hertz span, which I love.
And it also have a 40 Hertz span, so I can really dig into the sup. When I’m not using that, I use a Pultec-style EQ, there’s tons of plugins out there that are great for Pultecs. And they have those very wide curves where you can attenuate, and also boost the same frequency. And I have that set anywhere from 20 to 30 to 60 Hertz depending on the track. And then, yeah, you brought up a really good point with the filtering, too, I always put a low-cut filter at, probably a 6 or 12 decibel per octave slope. Somewhere ball park between 25 and 30 Hertz. I usually pick the frequency depending on the key of the track, and how much movement there is in the low-end, but those are always staples in my mix buss chain.
Scott: Right on. Dom?
Dom: Yeah, I’m really simple with EQ. It’s always different. It’s always different.
Scott: After Kriss is …
Kriss: Dom’s just a simple guy, I’m definitely the more complex, eccentric one of the two of us, Dom has a very meek approach to life, which I love.
Dom: I just like boosting a bit, highs usually ends up being around 16K, or just so I can stay out of the mid-range and get some of that nice air. Yeah, just that’s a shelf on the highs. And I’ll either choose a peak for the lows, or a shelf on the lows depending on where I just think it sounds best. But generally, these are 3 DB boosts at the most, and then at the very end of my track, this is the one thing I do on my mix buss, where I’m hopefully, I hopefully have my mid-range style by the time I’m done mixing, but most of the time I don’t have it perfect. And then I’ll use the mid-range band on the EQ I like to use, and just boost that in a place that I think is sweet, just to give it a little bit extra energy, usually just a DB or two.
But yeah, I just like to stick to three bands usually. Sometimes, I’ll have two EQs in a row, I’ll have kind of like a need EQ, followed by a Pultec, or vise-versa. Just ’cause they do completely different things and have different sounds. And I’ll just blend the two to taste, but yeah, so I just usually stick to two different ones and blend the two to taste depending on what I think sounds the best, yeah.
Scott: Right on. Hey man, if it works, it works. That’s awesome, I love that. Now given that we, at the top, we kind of mentioned how both of you guys, you have a more minimalist approach to processing things on your mix buss. There are so many other options out there, and I know people can get really excited by, you’ve got saturation, harmonic exciters, multi-band compression, all of this stuff. There’s so many options for experimenting and such. What other processing, if there is any, might you add to your mix buss, and what might that give you? Or might you be trying to achieve with that.
Kriss: It’s really … I hate to keep saying it, but it really taps in one, first, like really closing your eyes, zoning out, listening to the music, and seeing, “Okay, what does the song need?”
I think that saturation can go a long way, a lot of these other things can go a long way, too. For me, I found myself using parallel processing on the mix buss in two ways. Way one would be to actually grab, like I have hardware, but I could do the exact same thing in the plugin form by just grabbing a very total compressor, for instance, and leaving the wet-dry at about 15%. So that would mean, I could grab any really dirty compressor, it could be a fair child, it could be an 1176, it could be whatever compressor you’re feeling that you really like the color of, and the tone of.
And then blending that in at about 15%. And that’s really cool, because it’s giving me the parallel feel, it’s not like I’m hearing too much of it, it’s more like it’s creating more RMS, it’s giving me a feel, and it’s injecting just a small portion of that flavor into it. So that would be way one for me. The other way is the blending of mid-side processing on the master faders well. And again, I can do that with hardware, but the software realm is the exact same thing. Pick an EQ or a compressor, or even like your favorite mid-side matrix that has some kind of a color vibe to it. And then blending that in at a small ratio to where, generally, I want to tread with caution here, because you’re kind of infringing on mastering territory and mid-side.
A lot more harm than good if you don’t know what you’re doing. But I will say, for people out there who haven’t heard of mid-side, or are excited about mid-side, it’s probably my favorite thing to do in the mixing process, and once you get really good at it, you open a whole world of sonic possibilities with using it. So I would say, sparingly experimenting with both of those techniques will really change the game for how an overall mix sounds if you’re also mixing into that rather than just slapping it on at the end of the mix.
Scott: Right on, Dom?
Dom: Yeah, all I can really say about that is, the reason why my mix buss is so sparse is because my drum buss and vocal buss, and all my other buses in my mix have two different pieces of gear, and six plugins, and that’s what’s getting all the heavy lifting.
Scott: Right, yeah, yeah.
Dom: Because I like, for the most part, ’cause things … We used to squash things a lot back in the day, by we – I mean mixing engineers, and they do a lot on the mix bus, but that sound isn’t really the sound anymore. We like to have a more separate sound that still feels gelled, but in a way where people took time to make individual busses sound good together, but things are still open because of it. And then the mastering engineers these days are just wizards at making things loud, I’m not included in that because I don’t really master, but … So they take your open mix, and then somehow keep it open, but also squash it at the same time.
So I like to let the mastering engineer do that. I’ll put most of my processing on the buss, but the question was, what kind of processing might you use? Kriss and I both like different sonics plugins that have like, there’s the inflator, and their limiter even has a cool enhance function that, I’ll generally use on busses to taste, ’cause on a full mix, I know there’s some mixing engineers that actually do this. But I like to use those effects a little bit on individual busses, but those could easily be done on a mix, and they have a loudening effect in an interesting way, and you just kind of have to hear them for yourself and demo ’em, talking to any of the listeners out there.
Yeah, so there’s that. Sometimes I’ll use saturation, just little things, like very rarely I’ll mess with the transient designer if I feel like the track needs that little bit of extra punch that I just can’t get with any type of compressor, just ’cause the transience design is made for it. But yeah, there’s certain things, and especially since Kriss and I deal with EDM so much, we get kind of crazy with some things, like there’s-
Scott: Oh, sure you can.
Dom: Yeah, there’s an artist I really like named Cascade, who I found out about the transient designer thing, he was also using a Data Life sausage fattener on his mix buss as well for a little bit.
Scott: Oh really?
Dom: Yeah, just, but of course, probably very sparingly. Same thing with the transient designer, just to get that little bit of extra something, you know? And it’s EDM, so who cares? As long as the song’s good and it sounds good then whatever. But yeah, so I generally leave all that stuff for my separate busses in my track for that reason, but they all could be applied to the mix buss if you feel it’s necessary.
Scott: Right on, I like Cascade, too, by the way, I saw him a few years back at Lollapalooza, so it was a good time. Okay, so I came across an article that was written by Graham Cochrane, brilliant guy of the recording revolution. And in it, he was talking about how mix buss processing can be a confidence builder when it’s used early on. For example, if he were to make one EQ move, since it impacts the entire mix of all 40 tracks, or whatever it is, right, it has a cumulative effect, and can really help you hear that improvement, or hear that change, and want to keep going. I’m curious, you guys, what are your thoughts on this idea? Can mix buss processing act as a confidence builder?
Kriss: It can if there’s a really deep understanding for what you’re specifically applying to the mix buss. Like for instance, I have a dangerous liaison, so what the dangerous liaison allows me to do in the hardware realm, is with a push of a button, I’m able to A, B multiple different compressors sounds like versus this one, what this EQ sounds like versus that one. And then I can leave it on, and mute the chain at any time, it would be no different than adding your favorite plugins then muting and aviating the plugins in real time during the mix. So I think that, what Graham is most likely illustrating here is that, I think we all mix better, and like music more when it sounds good. So if mix buss processing, with a global EQ, boosting the highs and the lows, or some mid-range, or some light compression for movement. If that makes the mix more exciting, then I don’t see any problem with mixing with that on if it makes you more inspired.
I think, for me, that’s what I try to do is, I want to hear the song like it was to be mastered. I know the song’s not mastered, I know the song’s still gonna be mastered, but I try to dial in my mix buss chain in a way to where, okay, I want to feel like I’m hearing a mastered product. And if I’m able to do that, I feel like I’m more excited when I’m mixing, and I feel like the mix is gonna be better because I have an energy flow moving forward that’s on a different wavelength versus hearing something that sounds like I’m mixing it with the aspiration of, “Oh, cool, this is gonna sound that much better when it’s mastered.”
Scott: Right, right. Right, that makes sense. Dom, what do you think?
Dom: Yeah, I mean, if I didn’t think it made me more inspired and helped out the track, I wouldn’t do it, to be frank. So I think that’s just pretty accurate, because we all want to hear a finished mix, we’re all excited to hear what the mastering engineer does, and that’s definitely part of the reason why I do it, even if I haven’t thought about it in that way. I like to think that, anytime I do anything, I told Kriss this a while back is, I do it like I’m the last person in the process of the song. So if I’m producing, I like to pretend like no one’s ever gonna end up mixing it or mastering it, so I try to make it as good as possible, so if someone listened to it now, it’s gonna be able to listen to, and people get the emotion from it.
And then once it goes to mixing, I like to surprise myself with how much better it gets. But then assume that there’s not gonna be a mastering engineer. And then try to make it as good as possible, and so that does include some mix buss processing, because I’m gonna pretend like there’s not gonna be a mastering engineer. Then every time I get a mastered song back, I’m like, “How the hell did you do this? Why does it sound this good, I already did everything possible.” Like I just want to be surprised and amazed at every single process.
Scott: Absolutely. I love that. And I always recommend when people go into mixing, that mix to the point where you want your mastering engineer to have the easiest job in the world. He or she twists a nob and makes it a little louder, and whatever. But like, you have mixed as though what you were just saying, Dom, as though no one else is gonna be able to touch it. And kind of go for that. And then kind of, walking back with, in terms of building confidence in mix buss processing. I think, yeah, all of that makes a ton of sense, and I would just say that, there’s a caveat there in that, keep in mind what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish. And don’t feel like, “Oh, well I need some confidence here, so I’m gonna throw this compressor on here, and I’m just gonna start slamming stuff, and that’s gonna make me feel better because, like Spider Man, with great power comes great responsibility.” Right?
The mix buss can really do a lot of great things. But if you get carried away with it, you might be in a world of hurt.
Kriss: Well said, it’s just that last thing where the whole mix is getting run through it, so I think a lot of people, they throw on some processing thinking the mix will naturally and automatically get better. But yet, they’re not really, then, taking a second to be conscious and being subjective or objective, rather, and saying, “Well what does my kick sound like now? What does my low-end sound like? What does my mid-range? How’s the vocal? How’s the highs?” I think we’re so, just amused by what the mix buss is doing, getting to use a cool pieces, a cool hardware, or some cool mix buss relator to mastering raid plugins that we might not be totally focused and the elements of the mix, or the details that we put so much time into.
Scott: Right on. So okay, my last question for today is, for each of you, and I love asking this question, and this is just a general mixing question. If you could give one piece of advice, you could only give one, it’s your best tip for mixing, what would that tip be?
Kriss: That tip would be to remain present, to remain objective.
Dom: Took mine.
Kriss: Oh, did I? Sorry.
Dom: That’s all right.
Kriss: I’ll give you … I’ll talk for an extra minute so you can take time and think of something else to say. And lastly, to be true to yourself and to trust yourself. And I think that every mixing engineer is on the verge, or the whole ambition of it is to create a style that’s unique to you. I’ll give you guys a great example. Dom brought over, we always get different gear, and try out different plugins, and we’re always trying to go to each other’s studios and listen to the gear, and A, B them against other stuff, and really see what’s going on. It’s all about cultivating your sound, and it’s like, there are things that I enjoy about music that I want to captivate in my productions, in my mixes, and I want that to be something that I’m able to inject to get people to be able to feel something, and to really connect to the music on a deeper level, so when I’m present in the studio, I’m able to really hear the sound.
I want to feel so immersed in the sound that the walls fade away, that the speakers feel like they’re endless, that I’m not sitting in a chair, I want the sound waves to penetrate through me to where I become part of the song, and that’s only able to be achieved through being truly present with the music. If you’re thinking, or analyzing, or trying to apply all the stuff you learned in the tutorial, you’re not really being present with the music. And that presence turns into objectivity, ’cause when you’re really present, you can ask yourself, “Okay, are my decisions making the song sound better? Am I more connected to the music? Am I feeling more emotion now?”
And that leads to trusting yourself, and once you can trust yourself and realize that, every mix you do, you’ll get better and better and better. And from there, you’re gonna define a sound that’s unique to you, and only you, and because of that, you’re gonna have such a strong level of confidence. So I would say, forget all the tools don’t worry about what you’re using, use what you have, right now, in front of you. And just remember to remain present, be objective, and to trust yourself, and most of all, have fun with what you’re doing. ‘Cause if you’re not having fun, why are you making music in the first place?
Scott: Boom. Dom?
Dom: Yeah, so besides Kriss taking every single one I was gonna say, just to add on how to be present better in the studio, Kriss likes to keep a very, very dark studio, we’re in his studio right now and it’s completely dark besides a couple of salt crystal lamps. I also keep it pretty dim, not nearly as much as he does, but I can just swipe my mouse to the bottom left of my screen, and my monitors turn completely off. Kriss has a screensaver that says, “Mix with your ears.” And so that also really helps. But I guess, my tip would be for, if people are out there trying to get a client base, and when they finally do get clients, I learned this the hard way, that overcooking mixes is not the way to go, people, when they give you their rough tracks, and a lot of times, a rough mix, they want to hear their track back.
And especially, I’m working right now with a rock dude, and he likes to hear his musicality back, he doesn’t like to hear too much stuff changed, he just wants to hear a polish, he just wants to hear a polish. He like, he just wants someone to scrape off all the dirt. You know?
Dom: I feel like this is applied to all my clients so far, where, in the end, doing less, and actually giving them their track more than what you think like, “Oh, this would be so much better if I did this.” And getting kind of a pompous attitude about it, in the end it’s not your art, your art is in the polish of their art, your art isn’t their art. So it’s just a good thing to kind of take an objective step back. And then a lot of times just communicate with the client, and ask them, “Yeah, I think this would sound better with this.” And when in doubt, just give them two different renditions of the same track, that’s usually the best way to go, and let them choose. So I figure I’ll just go in a different area of mixing since Kriss talked about the actual spirituality of it, and just more of the dirty part of getting in with clients and stuff.
Scott: For sure, no, that’s great advice. I wanted to thank you guys so, so much, for coming on the show. This is super, super informative, and really fun to talk about.
Kriss: Yeah, thanks so much for having us man, we’d love to have you on our show here in the near future. Until then, we’d love to keep in touch, obviously. And link up on social media, and do everything we can to support each other, and for any listeners out there who are obviously in need of some awesome tutorials and stuff, Dom and I have some great videos on the Continuum Music Studio YouTube channel. We show off our mix buss compressors, and EQs, and all the cool stuff that we do in the mixes that we’re really passionate about, and we’re just happy to share information with people, because together, we all thrive when we’re supporting of one another, and that’s kind of our mission here.
Scott: Absolutely, awesome. Well thanks everyone for joining us today. If you’d like to learn more about Kriss and Dom’s work, do check out ContinuumMusicStudio.com. I’d also encourage you to listen to their excellent podcast, Pool Side Chats, which is available on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and on YouTube. Thanks, again, so much for listening today, and as a reminder, for links and information about today’s show, and our guest, please check out our show notes at AudioSkills.com/podcast. Now, wherever you are, whatever music you’re making, whatever your skill level is, just go out there and make some great music.
Not Sure The Best Way To Get Started?
Here are some of my best resources to help you get started FAST...
=== Watch & Listen ===
- Step #1 - Listen to The AudioSkills Podcast for actionable tips you can immediately apply to your music
- Step #2 - Subscribe to my YouTube channel for new tutorials on mixing, mastering & music production
=== The Essentials (Everything You Need To Get Started) ===
Free Guides: 121 Mixing Tips 'n' Tricks | 47 EQ Tips 'n' Tricks | 47 Compression Tips 'n' Tricks | EQ Cheat Sheet | Compression Cheat Sheet | Home Recording Cheat Sheet | Mastering Cheat Sheet | Music Production Cheat Sheet | Top 20 DAWs
=== Go Even Deeper With Premium Video Courses ===
- Art of Home Recording [Instant Download]
- Art of Mixing Vocals [Instant Download]
- Music Production Crash Course [Instant Download]
- Ultimate Mixing Crash Course [Instant Download]
~~~ "Just Give Me Everything, Please!" ~~~
Get instant access to ALL of the video courses (plus a whole lot more) with a Free 14 Day Trial to AudioSkills. You'll be joining a private, friendly community of musicians and producers who are upping their game, just like you!
Personal Note: Thank you for being a member of the AudioSkills community! If there's anything you need, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me on Facebook. — Scott Hawksworth, Founder