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5 Quick Master Bus Mixing Tricks

Hello everybody! I hope you’re doing marvelously well, and of course, please subscribe and hit the notification bell, and yes, you guessed it, you will be notified! Hence notification.

Alright, so, we are doing five, you guessed it, five mastering buss tips. I went online and saw quite a few things, and there was some good information, but I realized there wasn’t really something where I compacted a lot of information in one video, which is what we like to do. We like to give you a lot of stuff.

So I get asked about this all the time, so let’s get stuck in. Here is a song that I actually recently put out as a course. It’s a song by a band called Robert John and the Wreck, and it’s a classic Rock tune, it was recorded live in Sunset Sound. The full thing live.

So I mixed it completely 100% entirely in the box.

Now. These are the important things to know. When you are working with your master buss, which you can see, it’s highlighted here — when you work with the master buss, if you change the volume going into your master buss, it’s post-fade. So it will hit your compressor differently. The bad thing is if you want to turn up the last chorus, for instance.

So let’s go in and have a listen.


You see here, we’re getting about — between 1 and 2 dBs worth of gain reduction. Okay? I’ll leave that out. The first thing in my chain that’s compressing here is actually an IK Multimedia T-Racks. And let’s have a listen.


About 2, almost 3 dB at times, gain reduction. So if I want that last section to be “louder,” let’s just say I turn it up, I don’t know, one and a half dB, I want a big leap. See what happens to our…


Here it comes…


Now I’ve got all — now instead of like, one and a half to occasional three dB, now I’ve got like, nearly 3dB, coming up to 4dBs worth of compression. And that can be useful, but ultimately, if you’re mixing a track, mixing through mix buss compression, and mix buss EQ, and mix buss limiting, that’s not really a good thing, because it’s not making the song feel any bigger, it’s just compressing it more. And sometimes that’s a cool feature, but I know really, it’s not going to do what I want it to do.

So one of these ways that we could adjust the output is to use the plugin itself. So as you can see, we’re printing pretty hot. We’re close to mastering level here. Each plugin has a different way of automating, but this one, for instance, we can come along and we can go, “Okay, here’s the L2. Let’s go to the ceiling slider — the output ceiling — and hit okay, and go in Pro Tools to the slider ceiling, which at the moment is set to zero, and just turn it down.”

Turn it down like, a dB all over. Then, when we come to that last chorus…


There I want it to come up after the fill on the way out. And then, I can just literally pin point it there and turn that up. And so we’ll get this…


You see a lift. It’s just a dB lift, but it’s nice. Now, great mastering engineers, like Gavin Lurssen in particular, will do this when they master. I know Rick Rubin, when he goes to all of the different mastering engineers he uses, gets people to do this as well. I’ve heard that story from many mastering engineers. So you can get there and automate just doing that.

I’ve seen people describe it by having multiple busses, and then feed this, and do that, and blah, dee blah. That’s a lot of stuff to do, when really, you can just go to your output ceiling, or whatever your last plugin is, and do that. Turn it up and down half a dB.

So let’s just say we went through the song, and now we’re turning up and down, you know, choruses, and bringing down sections. That’s such a quick and easy way of doing it. So now, if we want to do some fun stuff, there’s some really, really cool things.

Firstly, of course, just using this traditional method here, you can look to a compressor that also has a sidechain high pass filter. So that is a nice technique for letting some of those lows travel through. So let’s have a listen. It’s already here on the mix being used. Let’s have a listen.


If I bring that down, 76Hz is where I’m at. Look what’s going on. Look at that VU meter. So what’s happening?

What’s happening is all of that low end is really loud, and it’s compressing first. It is like, slamming my compressor. Now, if I default it, or bring it back to where it was at at 76…


The low end is passing through, and the compression is starting to happen above 76Hz. So it’s letting so much more low end breathe. Now, after that of course, we’ve got an L2 — a limiter at the end controlling. But look.


So if you have compressors on your master buss that have a sidechain high pass filter, just try it. It can completely revolutionize your mix.


It’s huge. It’s huge what it does. It really does. It allows that low end to breathe. Let’s try some other fun things. We’re going to turn off all of these plugins on our master buss. We’re just going to leave the master buss completely as it is.

Okey dokey, so let us go and highlight everything that would’ve been going to one and two. So these are all of the outputs. They’re either auxiliaries, or they’re actual busses, or the tracks themselves that are going straight to the master buss.

So now I’ve got all of those. What I’m going to do — so at the moment I’ve got 17, 18, and I’m also going to select 15, 16. So I’m giving myself two different auxiliary outputs. You’re going to see why now.

So here you see an auxiliary, 15 and 16. I’ll call this parallel. I’ll call this the parallel buss. Now I’m going to create another one. 17 and 18. Then I’m going to call this, “sidechain buss.”

Okay. Both of those are feeding the master section. So we’re going to do a couple of different things here.

So, the parallel buss, the sidechain buss — oh, and just for one more, we’ll call this, just for the heck of it, we’ll call this the clean buss. So what’s the clean buss? Well, you guessed it. Everything goes through clean!


That’s nothing on the main master buss there, everything is clean. Now, the parallel buss, we can have some fun with. We can go absolutely nuts.

And the other thing about the parallel buss is you can remove things from it as well, but for the moment we’re going to put the whole mix through it.

Okay, so let’s go in and — hmm, what can we do? Well, let’s go in and use something like a Fairchild. A 670.


It’s pretty destroyed, isn’t it? The great thing about parallel busses is we can do whatever we like! We can introduce saturation in there, and then we can bring it up underneath. You name it, we can do it.


I will always set that to one, which is the fastest.


Fastest release time we’re going to get. It’s interesting. It’s bringing out some of the transients. [mimics “p” sounds].

But it’s also quite frankly annihilating everything. I mean, we can go absolutely nuts on that. You know, maybe we will. Why don’t we try and — hmm. Why don’t we go and do as I was suggesting, put a little bit of… Let’s think. Yeah, you guessed it. SansAmp.

[mix, SansAmp distortion]

Terrible. Okay, turn it off. Clean buss. Let’s hear together.

For a song like this, it’s pretty nice. I had a song a few years ago that was a classic rock artist. People don’t like it when I say who the classic rock artist is. They’ll be like, “You’re name dropping!” But anyway, I was working with this big classic rock artist, and we had a song for Amnesty International, and they wanted it to be a single. So what we did is we mixed it, and when the classic rock artist heard it, he was like, “It sounds so good! It sounds too good!”

And I ended up using, what’s it called? The Culture Vulture, and just destroying it in a parallel way on a console, and bringing it up underneath. So the same principle, on its own, that is just awful.

[mix, compressed and distorted]

It’s cool, but it’s not going to win any awards.

There it’s just dreadful, but…

If I take it out…

So you can see what we’re doing. We’ve got these two busses, and what’s great about them is that’s adding tiny amounts of energy. We can put all of our stuff back on we had before.


It’s just nasty! Mute it. Back on. It’s just great. I mean, I think the thing to do with stuff like this is be fearless. Have some fun. I mean, I have no problem with doing that. I mean, it just sounds really, really cool. So we just added some extra energy in that.

What was nice about it as well is it’s mid-range and exciting. I didn’t really boost any lows. You can listen.

[distorted mix, then normal mix]

It destroys the low end, so we’re not getting that competing. We don’t necessarily have to high pass it. If you want, you could put a multiband on it and control it, but I liked it like, right about here.


It’s pretty quiet. It’s adding some dirt. What a lot of people like about analog was all the wrongness. You know, when people talk about analog sounds better than digital, I spend my life between the two. I have a tape machine, I have an SSL, but I also have 12.8.whatever and mixing in the box, and mixing hybrid. So the reality is, is that you can get the best of all worlds, and if you’re in full digital like guys like Neil Avron, like Mark Endert, who have some of the biggest records — they’re not — these guys are working all the time. They’re, you know — getting Mark to do an interview with me was like pulling teeth, you know, in some ways because the guy is so freaking busy.

And Neil Avron is so busy doing that 21 Pilots record. I mean, he’s killing it, and these guys mix in the box.

So here’s a fun one. Let’s change out our compressor. I want to put it over there and leave it bypassed. I’m going to go in and I’m going to — hmm, what should we go. What would be pretty clean, you know, not necessarily have too much of a personality? In a good way. I think probably an R-Comp.


Cool. So sidechaining. You’ve — we’ve just demonstrated a compressor. The T-Racks one that has a sidechain built in. This is a Waves R-Comp. It’s a pretty neutral compressor. We can get like, you know, the usual kind of two or three dB, it’s got a ratio… Turn the output up a little bit. Cool. Okay.

So we’re using it as a gentle compressor. We’re getting like, you know, one or two dB. Beautiful. And we’ve got a low end coming in here.


Since we’ve turned on the low end, it’s like, “Oh!” Turn the low end off and see what happens. Back on. So what’s happening? Well, that lovely T-Racks, you know, vintage EQ, the Pultec. You know, I’ve got like, a couple of dB, even though it says three, it’s about one and a half dB of 60Hz feeding that compressor. Like, oops! What’s happening?


Well, we’re getting too much compression now. We’re getting a little bit too much. Well, what can we do? Well, we’re going to do this. We’ve got our sidechain buss down here. Okay. So let’s get to our sidechain buss, and let’s find an EQ. Let’s find an REQ-2. Something else pretty neutral. Let’s go up to, I don’t know. Let’s go back to that 76, because we liked it.

Okay. What am I doing? Ah, you know, I’ve got about 80. Now I’m high passing it. [gasps] He’s high passing it! Okay, and what am I going to do?

Well, I am going to send that out. Pick a number, any number. 19. We’re going to send it out of 19. You’re guessing where I’m going, I’m going back to my R-Comp. And I’m now going to, yes, you guessed it, set it to 19!

So what’s happening? Well, now the compressor is only being controlled by the sidechain buss! And the sidechain buss has had 80Hz and below gently wiped off. Not like, full blown, so now that is controlling the compressor. You just invented your own sidechain buss.


So maybe don’t have a compressor that has it, but you don’t need it, because courtesy of that. So look. Whether I have my Pultec emulation on or not… Still going through. Mute it. Bypass it. Still compressing about two or three dB. Put it back in, two or three dB. Didn’t change at all. All of that beautiful boost that we did with that 60 is allowed to pass through, because the compressor is only being controlled by the sidechain buss, which doesn’t allow that coming through.


So fun! So you can build your own sidechain busses. It’s really very simple to do. You can parallel, you can sidechain, you can run automation on your limiter, or your compressor, whatever is last in your chain.

And of course, you have a clean buss where everything passes through. And you can do all kinds of fun things. You can readdress the balance of your parallel and your clean.


So this section here. Highlight it. So you see that section there. We can go down to our clean buss and turn it down, I don’t know, 15dB? Go back up and bring it up.


A bit too much, but maybe like this. Totally crazy.

Love it! All the guitars just got trashy and distorted. You know, it just gave a whole different feel just for that section.

The point is, when you have a parallel buss, you can have so much fun with it.

So one thing that’s really fun to know is that because all the plugins on your master buss happen to be post-fade, ie when you turn the fader up or down, you will get more or less compression, you’ll get hotter signal passing through the plugins, they may respond better to that. If they’re analog emulations, sometimes they do sound better if they’re hit a little bit harder, it really depends.

Because you know, they add a certain grit and distortion. I know Mark Endert was specifically talking about that. About getting his gain structure just right so the plugins, the emulations he was using actually sounded like the real things. He knows that world really well so that’s a great illustration.

So, one thing that’s important, when you are thinking about it in terms like that is, well, for instance, if we have a listen here…


We’ve got the sidechain compressor being fed from this buss. So if we turn it off, the great thing about it is there’s no compression. So it does kind of mess around with this whole principle, because here we are. If you know got the L2, if we go back to volume on that, for instance…


So you see, it may not affect the compressor, because that’s still being controlled… The compression amount is still being controlled by that sidechain buss, see? Still being — so that’s really nice. So a couple of things you could do is also use your sidechain buss to control your limiter on your EQs and everything.

Now, this particular limiter doesn’t have that option, but if you wanted to, you could easily create that kind of stuff. But it’s a nice trick to choose how you want to do things. I think with limiting in particular, I might go to a different section of a song, like let’s go to that second chorus.


My mix is pretty even. I’ll be honest. So here, you’ll see about 2dB worth of gain reduction. You go to the first verse…

[mix, first verse]

It’s pretty even. Now what will happen sometimes, when you get mixes where you get an enormous amount of guitars and basses — you know, the bass gets fatter, more distorted, a couple of extra guitars come in, the keyboards come in, the choruses will get significantly louder and denser. So don’t be afraid also to automate your threshold. I’ve done that a lot of times where I’ll automate the threshold so it isn’t compressing as hard.

You know, it’s all about thinking like a mastering engineer does quite often thinking that way, because you don’t want to over destroy this 2buss mix that you’ve got going on.

So for instance, it’s difficult, because my mix is actually very even. That was actually the whole point of doing this mix and showing people how to mix.


See, here I’ve got one to two dBs worth of gain in a loud section of the song. If I go to a verse…


Same amount of gain reduction. However, if for instance, I didn’t want that much gain reduction there, I could do this! I could go in and I could get my threshold slider and come down to threshold, and automate it. Let’s just say on the verses. I’m going to do a quick dumb one. Let’s just say I want to bring it up, I don’t know, 1.5 extra dB.


It’s more open. But I think in general, what you’ll end up wanting to do is taking choruses…

[music, chorus]

Which in this instance, aren’t being limited that heavily at all, just by the way I — virtue of the way I mixed it, but let’s just say I did want to open that up and make it feel louder still, I could bring it up that whole dB on a chorus, and you’ll get this.


I’m getting like, one or two dB. There’s no limiting at all. It’s actually kind of nice.

So there you go. Don’t be afraid to automate your plugins. There I am, automating the threshold, and the chorus got louder, because it wasn’t being hit as hard. However, you might like what the limiting is doing, so if you do like what the limiting is doing, go back to the first idea, where you adjust your output ceiling.

Or do both! There is so many ways we can treat our master buss. That’s why there’s like, for me, it was like, I wanted to get into lots of detail kind of ideas, because also, you can automate your EQ. One of the very common tricks that a lot of guys do is this.

So this will be our last little trick. Let’s go to our pre-chorus here.


You can bring it down a little bit in volume. That’s an easy trick a lot of people do. This is an even simpler one.

Let us just find a little area here. I’m moving my L2 to a different place. Still got all of the automation written on it. But before I hit the L2, I am going to add an EQ! And I’ll go to — I’ll go to REQ 2, because it’s pretty straightforward, and I’m just going to do a little high pass.

And I’m not going to go too crazy, but I’m going to go at like, where the kick sits at like, 60. So this is it off.

[mix, no REQ]

Put it on.

[mix with REQ]

Hear the low end change. It almost sounds like he’s playing a little lighter on his foot.

Now that’s pretty drastic. I think we can probably come up a little bit more here. Another thing we can do that’s kind of fun is maybe just turn this off for a second. Maybe go to like, you know, some of the thumping kind of low, and like, 110 for instance, and pull that out. Like here.


See what it’s doing? Very, very subtle. That’s a whole two dB. Your mastering engineer might dislike you for that. Maybe if we come down a dB, one point two dB, just a little tiny bit, and literally just automate it so it’s bypassed. So if I go now to our REQ, it’s in bypass at the moment. Now it’s on. Now have a listen. Come out of the verse…


Pre-chorus. Chorus. So that girth came back in. All of those kind of like, low lows, but it wasn’t too drastic. It wasn’t that drastic. So I’m down at 1.2 dB at 110Hz. And you know, mastering engineers will do tricks like this themselves. You know, I know guys that will do…


For instance, guys might do something like, here we’ve got this crazy thing we did here.


We did that there, we could go… See, there would be a nice place to do it. That clack, gong, clack, gong. So why don’t we come up here and turn it on here.


You know, if I change this, for instance, to an REQ 4, a four-band EQ, I could go even crazier. We could maybe do something like that. And now let’s just go in here, turn on the master bypass again.


So here, let’s open that up.


It’s all mid-range, no low lows. So it’s subtle, but it’s pretty aggressive.


So I’m going to distort it. Quite silly. Quite silly indeed. I like the way that sounded. I do think the top could probably be opened up a little bit more. It doesn’t need to be quite so drastic, but it really made the low end come in. You could also continue the trashed out parallel sound up until there as well, but you see all of the different ways we can have fun doing things on our master buss.

These days, it’s so much easier to be so much more creative than it ever was before, and we have to be fearless. We have to have fun with this. These are the kind of things that all of the really great guys that I talk to — all of those incredible — the Shelly Yakus’, and the Jack Douglas’, these are the guys that were always doing these kind of things, and they were doing them in any way, shape, or form. Another name that comes to mind is Roy Cicala. Look him up.

He would do stuff with John Lennon like on Mind Games with delays, and all kinds of weird phasing effects, and all kinds of craziness that just sounds so unique, and they were doing it on analog gear and on consoles, and now we can have some fun with this kind of stuff.

Anyway, as ever, please subscribe, hit the notifications bell, and you’ll be notified! Thank you ever so much for watching. That was a lot of fun. I really, really enjoy doing these, and please leave a bunch of comments and questions below, and also give me ideas of what you do on your mix buss.

Have a marvelous time!


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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