How to set up a mix bus in any DAW, and why using one is so important

If you’ve read ‘A tried and tested DAW workflow for mixing sessions’, you’ll know that using a mix bus is really important. To do this, you need to use an auxiliary track. An auxiliary track allows you to monitor and control any number of other signals by routing them to it. Think of it as a single control point for multiple audio sources.

Why use a mix bus?

The concept of routing your entire mix to one channel, then routing that to the master fader, may seem strange. After all, why wouldn’t you just route everything directly to the master fader itself? It’s because many DAWs provide only a ‘post fade’ master. Therefore, if the fader’s position is altered, the input levels of any plugins on that channel will be disrupted.

So the solution is to send everything to an auxiliary channel first. One which is set to ‘pre fade’. Then route the processed signal from the auxiliary track to the master fader. With a pre fade auxiliary track acting as your ‘mix bus’, any changes to the level of that fader will not affect the input levels of any plugins on that channel. Now, you can turn the processed audio up or down using the fader without any disruption to your plugin settings.

Setting up a ‘Mix Bus’ auxiliary track

Setting this up is really simple! I’ll demonstrate this using ProTools, but the process is the same in any DAW. Begin by setting up an auxiliary track. In your DAW’s settings, double check that the channel is pre fade.

Set up an aux channel to use as the mix bus

Routing the signal to your mix bus

Now you need to route all of your signals to the mix bus channel. Select an unused bus and use it as the output for every channel that you want to reach the mix bus. I’ve named the bus itself ‘mix bus’. When you give the bus a name, it makes it easier to see that everything is routed correctly.

Route the output of the channels to the mix bus

Next you need to set up the mix bus channel to receive those signals. To do this, you simply select the correct bus at the input stage of the mix bus channel.

Route the Input of the Mix Bus to the correct Bus

Routing the mix bus to the master fader

Finally, set the output of the mix bus aux track to the master fader. In most DAWs this will be the name of the analogue outputs that go to your speakers. ‘Master’ or ‘stereo output’ may also be terms used. The signals are now passing through the auxiliary channel first before they reach the master fader.

Its as simple as that! Open up your DAW and give it a go… set up a master track and an auxiliary track. Try changing the level of the faders and see the way that pre and post fade affects your plugin settings.


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