Compression is a topic we’ve covered largely already, everything from types to how to use it within your mixes while recording with JZ Mics or any source for that matter… but we haven't talked about Bus Compression all that much!
So, with it being one of the most important elements in my mixes and a lot of pro’s mixes, let's get underway.
What Is Bus Compression?
Bus Compression is mainly used to glue together a group of elements in the mix - usually, it's either the same instrument, (like the rhythm guitars, leads and cleans - or the entire drum kit, for example), or in my case, I do exactly that, but I use it to then glue together ALL the instruments together, and then ALL the vocals together - then send that to my Master Bus.
I call it the 321 Compression Technique but I know a lot of people call it other things, this is just an easy way for me to explain it when asked this question: Let's look in terms of a flow diagram.
How do I use the 321 Compression technique?
Well, I’m glad you asked! I’ve included a few examples of the compressors I’m using (their types, etc.) as well as the settings so you can try this out yourselves.
Drum and Vocal Bus Compression
With Drum and Vocal Bus compression it's hard to gauge quite how much I dial the compressor without actually listening to what I mean, so with that in mind, check out the video below to hear all the compressors, starting with the drums using the Korneff Pawn Shop Comp that I have fallen in love with recently!
Instrument Bus Compression
Here is the Plugin Alliance Townhouse Compressor you will have seen in the video above - based off the SSL Bus compressor found in their Series E and G consoles, it has coined the term bus Glue. I use this to do exactly that and can glue all the instrument elements together into one cohesive instrumental track.
This helps the master compressors glue two main elements of the mix - instruments and Vocals, rather than lighting between ALL of the elements. And, like a lot of bands are now doing, you could even solo to release as a followup instrumental album if you so wanted and still have the same sonic quality as you would if with the vocals included.
You can see I’m not smashing the living hell out of the compressor either, simply pushing it
I’ve been using the Korneff plugin a lot within my mixes recently and it just seems to work on everything. It’s a FET and Vari Mu compressor so it’s quite unique in its design, but it has a massive amount of character and edge I haven't been able to find in mainly other compressors.
Here I’m actually Limiting the guitars at 10:1 ratio and just shaving about 2 or 3db off the top to keep the pick attack in line with each other and not poke out of the mix unwantedly. I’d usually do this across the individual channels as well with something like a Waves L1 limiter but for this mix it didn't need it, but try both to see what ‘feels’ right to your ears.
Acoustic Guitar Bus Compression
Acoustic Guitar compression is a tricky thing - it requires a level of automation and ‘riding the fader’ as they call it, to bring the threshold down to catch the peaks of the more dynamic quieter parts - and raising the threshold to not smash the guitars to pieces (pumping guitars are never good guitars in my honest opinion!).
As you can see below, I’m not taking too much off these louder strumming parts using a LA3A style compressor which is similar to the LA2A Opto compressor, but with a slightly varied attack and release times that work wonders on guitar and bass!
Master Bus Compression
Mastering is such a broad topic, but for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to touch on the 3rd element of the 321 Technique and talk quickly about top downmixing.
I’ve written about this before, but to reiterate this is where you have a small amount of compression and EQ on the master track to get somewhat similar results to what the end master will sound like - in this case as explained in the video above, I have used mid-side processing and only reducing by 1db on both the optical and VCA parts of this compressor, and lowering the side channel to balance the overall tonality and mix for this track. Use compression sparingly on the master track - it’s a lot like cooking, too much spice can ruin the dish!
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