Academy Dashboard Forum Production Mixing Can we talk about the master bus chain, please?

  • This topic has 39 replies, 8 voices, and was last updated 5 years ago by Just Lisa.
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    Just Lisa

      Different DAWs have different words.
      Different people have different philosophies about aspects of mixing.

      Being relatively new, but historically opinionated, I have a) ideas that make sense to me and b)questions and confusion.
      Yesterday during the livestream, I typed "I only have meters on my Main"
      because that's what makes sense to me.
      Yet, Anita (thank you BTW) suggested during critique of my mix, to change something in my master chain. Assuming I have one.
      Maybe I don't.
      Maybe I don't understand the need for one.
      I do have a separate Mix Bus, I believe people also refer to this as a stereo bus or a two bus -- that IS different from the Main Out, right?
      My mix bus has other stuff on it, that may or may not be needed. And generally, I don't engage it unless I'm printing a mix that I want to be a little louder. Okay one thing is always engaged: the Klanghelm SDRR2 with the "60s Master" preset -- because it sounds fantastic.

      I am confused by the idea that I should have a 'chain' on my "master" bus.
      If everything is mixed properly before getting to 'main out' why does additional processing need to be more than a db or two of compression and maybe a little eq to glue it all together?

      I would love to hear about the philosophy of Mix and Master Bus chains. What's the difference. Why?
      You know, all the stuff that people argue about.
      This one's been a hard one to just draw out of the ether.
      ; )

      PS: using Studio One, not Protools
      Someone needs to make a glossary for the jargon differences!

      • This topic was modified 5 years ago by Just Lisa.
      Jason Davenport

        Hi Lisa,

        The "Master Bus" is what all your other busses output to. In other words, your mix starts as individual tracks, then you might output similar ones to a stereo bus(for instance a drum bus where all of your drum tracks are summed to a stereo bus) Then you would output that to the master bus along with your other instrument busses. That final bus, or master bus, is your entire mix summed to a single stereo file. Some people call it a "mix bus", some call it the "two bus" all meaning the same thing.

        The idea of having a chain on your master bus is to simulate "mastering". In this chain, you might find a compressor(I like the Waves SSL G Comp for this), an Eq(Pultech or something similar to boost low end, and high end), possibly a de-esser, tape emulation, etc... The last thing in most master chains would be a limiter to get the levels up.

        In my DAW(Sonar Platinum) when you open a new project, it automatically creates a master bus that all of the tracks output to. Not familiar with Studio One, but I bet the default project has similar routing.

        Hope this helps shed some light on the subject for you!

        face (chris) Janton

          I use Logic.
          My "mains" are "Stereo Out" in Logic terminology. The LR channels that actually get "printed" or played.

          My mains have the Logic "Adaptive Limiter". "Out Ceiling" set to -1 dB, "Gain" set to 0.0 - whatever shows up in the WAV files will not be above -1.0 dB. I also have metering (post limiter) which I use to study the output.

          I have a "mixBus" that I place all sorts of things on. Most buses/tracks go here. Routed to mains.
          I have a "dryBus" that I route loops and samples through. Anything that has already been "processed" with ambience, reverbs, etc. Routed to mains.

          Normally I leave the mixBus empty until I am through with balancing and rough mixing. All of the hard work is done on busses like DRUMS, GTRS, VOX, KEYS.

          When I share songs I share the "mixBus"/mastered version of things, dutifully previews in iTunes before I send it out.

          My biggest issue is making sure that I don't send audio through my room correction software when I print it. I have mostly solved that problem by "correcting my room" on a system-wide level (ARC2+Audio Hijack, could use Soundworks) so it's always "right" for the monitors. I do have to futz a bit when switching monitors, but it's not a burden.

          Just Lisa

            In Studio One, the default is a "Main" Out. Early on, I heard that it was a bad idea to 'mix' there, so everything that goes to the Main better be exactly what you want before it gets there. So, a separate Mix bus, a bus before the Main, actually makes sense. EG I can print, use reference tracks or other things between the mix itself and the actual main out.
            Studio One doesn't like this approach, if you move a track or a folder, it resets output to Main which is a pain in the rear.
            : )

            Jason Davenport

              I see what you mean with the "mix bus" now, and yes , in that instance it would be wise to have it routed that way. For reference mixes, I usually create a stereo bus, and output it to a different set of outputs on my interface, so I can listen to it without going through my "Master Chain" to A/B my mix to the reference. Sounds like their intention was for the "Main" to be your "Master"... Nomenclature 😉

              Niki Pichler


                the masterbus/mixbus/2bus chain is just opinion and mixing style dependend. some mixers start with the mixbus and end on the individual channels (top down approach to mixing); me on the other hand start from the single tracks and i go up in the bus hirarchy.

                for me the mixbus is my genre and song dependend last phase of mixing. i compare my mix that i made until then (you can read about my whole mixing process here if you like to: with my references and decide which steps are needed to make it a "radioready" mix. for example if i wanna have more low end and i would just turn up the kick and bass, then the click of the kick would also get louder, as would my presence of the bass. if i don't wanna have these things louder but only the low end (and for sure you have to high pass correctly for this!) then i can put an eq on the mixbus and crank up that low end.

                if i hear that somethings just not working mixwise but can't say which track makes this problem as a last resort you can always adress these things on the mixbus (again as a last resort!)

                so my usual mixbus chain is: Virtual Mixbuss Emulation, EQ, Exciter, Buss Compressor, EQ, Tape Emulation, Limiter. how i process things through these is depending on every song.

                so for me the mixbus stage is the point in the mix to get a good mix to a great exciting mix.

                cheers, Niki

                Guido tum Suden

                  I don't know Studio One but I can't see why you shouldn't put plugins on the Main bus.

                  I have created a mix bus I named ST-EQ just for final eq-ing. From there the signal goes to ST-MAIN which has mainly compressors, tape-emulations and a limiter at the end. Finally the signal goes into the Main Out. On that I have a reference plugin and lots of metering plugins.

                  In Logic the CPU doesn't like it when there are too many plugins on one channel. Also the channel strips won't fit on my screen with too many plugins on one strip.

                  Logic also has a Master Fader. It's not really a channel, you can't use plugins on it. It is just a VCA Fader for all the output busses. You can have more than one output bus like the Main Out when your audio converter has more than two outputs.


                  Just Lisa

                    Very interesting, everyone! I hope you'll bear with me for a few reasons.

                    Have you ever thought about this?
                    When you are new to mixing in general, you need to learn vocabulary pertaining to WHAT is possible and HOW to make what you want a reality. In or out of the box doesn't matter.

                    With respect to DAWs, you need to learn what the tools are called and how to use them to get what you want.

                    With respect to mixing a song, you need to learn to set up a session, organize it for the best outcome and then do the work to get the finished product. (could be multi tracks, samples, recording stuff first, etc. etc.)

                    That's a lot of stuff to learn. And a lot of jargon. And a lot of different ways of accomplishing the same task.

                    I'm with Niki: bottom up seems to generally make the most sense.

                    And Guido: Your EQ main then stereo main before Main out idea is intriguing. I can imagine that working very well for some things -- and I'm going to try it!

                    And Jason: you threw another wrench into the works with your suggestion that there's more than one OUT! I don't use an interface except when I'm recording. Main out in my system means right out to my headphone or speakers.

                    And Chris: I do like you mix to All Guitars, All Percussion, etc before heading to the Mix. It's like a system of funnels. I've been working to try so not much needs to be done at that level because the heavy lifting got done closer to the source (Kick Bus, Elec Gtr 1, etc.) (I have a Morphit plugin (Toneboosters) that sits post fader on the main out so it doesn't affect a mixdown no matter how it's set up.)

                    "Stereo Bus" and "Two Bus" -- is that the MAIN OUT or the MIX BUS?

                    : )

                    face (chris) Janton

                      I try to simply use mains and mixBus. The mains get nothing but meters, the mixBus *may* have processing. "Stereo-anything" I interpret as mains.

                      Something that I do when I have the good fortune to get a 2-track recording from a live gig (USB stick in X32 or M32, stereo WAV of the board) is to put the "reference" track into my project routed to MAIN. I level balance the reference to match what is coming out of the mixBus. Now I can toggle between my mix and the live recording. I find it handy for panning and level matching. This all assumes that I have done creative mixing from the live board. I have pre-fader tracks that I mix for the band.

                      For me having a mixBus/two bus and a Main/Stereo Out as separate entities is a good thing.

                      Guido tum Suden

                        This article might be interesting or make things more complicated 😉

                        The four busses you spoke of can all be the same thing. That is, because all busses do the same. They are a channel in which other channels are mixed into.
                        Stereo- or Two-Bus got their names because all other channels on a console are mono channels. I wouldn't use those names in a DAW.
                        Well, Stereo-Bus can have a different meaning in a DAW because you can switch a Bus between Stereo and Mono.

                        The Mix-Bus is the one where your mix comes together. I would call the Main-Bus the one with the Outputs out of your DAW. So often those two are the same.

                        My guess is that you hear Stereo-Bus oder Two-Bus more from PLAP members mixing with a console and Main-Bus or Mix-Bus from members who are mixing in the box.

                        Jason Davenport

                          Sorry to wrench up your works 😉

                          I use the Presonus 1818 interface. In my setup, I have 18 channels of input, and 18 channels of output. I am only using 8 in, and 8 out at the moment. The 8 ins are my built in mic pre's on the front of my interface, and the 8 outs are a series of TRS jacks on the back. These outputs are known as your hardware outs. They can be used a number of different ways. For mine, outs 1 & 2 are the mains which go straight to my monitors. Outs 3 & 4 are vacant at the moment, but could be used for another set of monitors to A/B between. Outs 5 & 6 got to my patchbay, which I use to send a signal to my outboard gear(I use this for re-amping a lot as I have a hardware re-amping box) Outs 7 & 8 are my headphone outs. I can switch the outputs of my busses in my DAW to any of these hardware outs I choose. I usually have my Master/Mixbus/Twobus outputting to 1 & 2, then I output the reference bus to 3 & 4, so I can bypass any Master bus processing and listen to the reference clean to compare it to my mix. This method makes level matching a snap because all you have to do is move a fader.

                          Like most things in mixing, there are several ways to accomplish the same thing. Hope this adds fuel to the fire 🙂

                          Just Lisa

                            Jason: wrenches are often necessary, so it can never hurt to know where to find one!

                            I don't really want my home set up to become more complicated, but if I ever am working somewhere else, it would be good to not be clueless.

                            Okay, so I guess I'm safe in saying that "Master Bus Chain" is the group of plugins etc. on the bus where my mix comes together. And however it looks in my DAW isn't important.
                            So, for me, my Mix Bus (where all the pieces meet) has the Master Chain and my Main Out is just the output to my speakers where I have a variety of meters.
                            Perfectly legit way of working. Helpful to understand how other people get the job done and for interpreting tutorials from a variety of sources.

                            Now for the next question: "Master Chain" is referring to the plugins you are using to actually make your mix sound "Mastered?" Or, something else?

                            I'm interested in the philosophy behind what and how much anyone is trying to accomplish with "the chain." I hear a lot of different opinions.
                            I've tried to keep a light hand on it, but maybe I need to do more.
                            : )

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