If it makes you uncomfortable, do it ten times
I don’t have a ton of set processes; I believe generally in approaching each song entirely on its own merits.
But, that said, I have over time evolved a distinct preference for a couple of specific master bus compressors. There are a couple of certain sounds and feelings that work well for how I tend to mix, and I know that if I go to bx_townhouse1 or UAD SSL G Bus Compressor I will get those sounds and feelings.
Shannon and I have this interesting composition project at the moment, in a genre/style that’s in neither of our wheelhouses. Eeeee! Immediate discomfort! Change is not just hard but scary!
So we dove right in; we still have and value our neuroplasticity. Use it or lose it! This project is requiring Shannon to learn to write in a new way — and I need to mix it in a new way.
When I have a project like this that wants to go in a specific direction, I’ll often buy a new piece of gear specifically to honor that. Relax, I’m not a Rockefeller; we’re talking plugins, purchased on sale.
For this project, I bought the UAD API 2500 Bus Compressor (on sale for $50!). I was concerned that the bx_townhouse might not be “hard”-sounding enough, and I was concerned that the SSL G might be too clean. I’d read that the API has the ability to be super punchy and solid-feeling while also imparting some harmonics, and I’d been curious about it for a while, so I grabbed it.
I started mixing this project today, and I put the API on, and … it sounded totally wrong! I did not have my familiar attack and release. The ratio felt wrong. The knee felt wrong. Everything about it was deeply uncomfortable. I didn’t have my sounds! Ugh! This sucks! I soldiered on.
By the end of the mix on the first song, I’d gotten it somewhat better. It still wasn’t feeling great to me, but I’d figured out something acceptable, and the standards for this project are lower than if it were one of Shannon’s records, and I have high standards anyway, so I figured it was probably fine, and I moved on to the second song.
And … the second song went a bit easier! All the stuff I’d come up to speed on with this new bus compressor on the first song translated really well to the second song; so much so that it just needed a couple small but important tweaks to really start feeling like it was doing more or less the right thing. So I made a little template thing for it.
I loaded the template with the new compressor into the third song, and it went pretty great. I had the insight that, because the 2500 has a famously significant frequency-response component to it, if I reordered my master bus to have the Millennia EQ before the 2500, I could push frequencies into the upper mids in a way that kind of fought against what the compressor was doing in a cool-sounding and dynamic way. I mean, you can push frequencies into any compressor — but this one reacts in a special way. So I figured that out! Big win.
On song 4 I finally looked in the manual to get some clarification on the precise function of a certain knob. Heh. That was helpful!
I’m on song 5 out of 10 at this point, and I’m starting to feel fairly comfortable with this new bus compressor. And I think it’s genuinely very good for this style of music! And I have 5 songs more ahead of me; I should be an expert with this compressor by the time I’m done this batch. And I will have learned a new technique.
Imagine if I’d given up on it on song 1, when the discomfort was so high, and I’d retreated back to the safety of the known quantity.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall — jamie
bx_townhouse happens to be on sale for $40 as I write this!