Mix buss processing is one of those subjects that seems very convoluted because everyone has a strategy or technique and not every engineer is the same.
Some like a lot of processing while others tend to keep things simple. In fact if you read any of my Psychology of a Mix Engineer Interviews, you would see just how much different every engineer is.
When you read about engineers adding processing to the mix buss, there really isn’t a clear explanation as to why they added it. You can form an opinion but truthfully only that engineer knows why. So by default we take it at face value. An example is if we see an engineer using EQ we automatically think he/she wants something brighter or maybe they need more bass. In actuality, they may want more energy to push the record or they want to open it up so it feels like it has more depth.
The term “processing” lacks life and automatically focuses our minds on to the technical stuff. We need to figure out a way to not think about processing our mix buss so that we can dig deep into our emotional core and hopefully give the record some life.
If we change our thoughts just a bit and focus on slightly different goals than our outcomes can actually change dramatically. This is why I am saying to “open the highs”, instead of just brightening them. Just read those two statements, “Open the Highs” vs “Brighten the Highs”.
To me, the word “Open” almost assumes a much more 3 Dimensional view and sounds more lively where “Brighten” sounds a little more 2D and feels sterile to me. This is my opinion of course but again just by changing the words and thoughts you use can do wonders for how you approach your mix buss and your mixes in general.
Now in regards to the low end, if we were just to say “Oh this mix needs more bottom end” that could work but
WHY does it need more bottom end?
Sometimes a mix may be a bit thin and the vibe of the record isn’t jiving with the song so adding a couple dB’s in the bottom can push the speakers just right that all of a sudden the record comes to life.
In this case I might use terms like, “weight” or “energy” or something similar to attach myself to the feeling that I’m trying to go for.
These are just two examples but I feel confident I can leave it at that. Try not to approach this with just EQ but rather with every other process that you want to add to the mix buss. Try and really dig deep and find that emotional word that compliments what you are doing.
In the track that I used in the video I added the HoRNet SW34EQ to get the record (mainly the vocals) to pop and come to life. You could argue the performance was full of life But I’m arguing that the sonics weren’t. The more life we can add to the record in the sonic department than the more the listener will be invested into the record.
I wanted the high end to open up and I wanted it to feel more emotional and exciting all at the same time.
But all you’re doing is adding an EQ, so what’s the deal?
Actually, I am technically just adding an EQ but again, that’s what you would see if you take it at face value. That EQ is doing more work that just adding a curve; it’s adding a unique sonic character as well as some distortion from the input stage.
A big part of why this EQ works for this particular record is because of the color and character that it adds. I wouldn’t have known that unless I tried many other EQ’s first, which is exactly what I did.
Since this record had a lot of dark textures in it, I needed an EQ that would grab that midrange and high end and then present it in a way that wasn’t tacky, brittle or worse – harsh. I definitely wanted color but most importantly I wanted the record to speak to the listener.
I would encourage you to watch the video and check out the before and after. The performance of the record doesn’t change but all of a sudden you feel much more emotionally engaged. All of a sudden the vocal touches you and it feels like he is speaking directly to you.
But why is that?
This is going to come down to you and why it makes you feel the way it does and this is why I encourage you to listen because I want you to form your own opinions on what you are hearing. You have to be able to connect the dots in your own mind. You will take those thoughts, even if it’s only a percentage, and apply them to your records in the future.
You have the ability to hear differently than any other engineer and that’s what makes you unique, so exploit that and be proud of it.
Hopefully I was able to articulate how to add life to the mixbuss as opposed to just adding processing because there is a huge difference. One is reliant on a tool (or tools) while the other is reliant on your imagination and your feelings; something that comes from within and has the ability to make the record speaker to the listener.
Video Source: Adding Life to the Mix Buss