Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Solo Bus

I've got a little trick to share today and that's probably good since I've been getting awfully philosophical lately.  This may or may not affect how you mix, but checking on this condition in your console is a great way to get better acquainted with your gear, or to get familiar with gear in a new situation.  The question of the day is, "How does your solo bus sound?"

I'm not going to take credit for this, it was brought to my attention when I was in college and Jim McElwaine who was the head of my department was showing some of us tender young engineers around the consoles in different rooms in our facility.  Unfortunately we were an all Mackie organization at that time.  Let me diverge for a second and say that I tend not to be a gear hater. I don't dislike Mackie mixers just because that's kind of the trend in the industry.  I dislike them because I mixed on them for ten years and while they were a quantum leap in quality and features when they first hit the scene, I eventually got so I was looking for more out of my mixers and by that time other options had hit the market. (I actually have Mackie level meters tattooed on my leg, and while that could be an embarrassment I like to think of it as a milestone)
At any rate, Jim had really been around the block as both a player and an engineer.  His opinion on this topic was formed in front of some of the best equipment in the world. When you go from mixing on Neve consoles and Genelec monitors to Mackie and NS10 setups, you've got a pretty good idea of where things stand.  So let's get on with it.

With a full mix up on the desk, at some point you're going to want to zone in on one or two particular inputs so you'll hit the solo buttons and listen to just those channels by themselves.  But does the circuitry in that solo bus stand up as well as the circuitry in the two mix.  On the consoles we had it didn't.  For one or two channels it was fine but if you started trying to mix a larger group in solo the sound would start to degrade.  I don't like to take anyone's word for something if I can prove it myself so I started checking this stuff out.

It's pretty easy to do and you can learn a lot about your console this way.  Take a good noisy group, drums are great because you've got a lot of level, big bass notes and high transients.  Start out by putting up a complete mix, then mute everything that's not drums and take a listen on the cans and also on your monitors or FOH rig (it's not just a studio trick).  Then solo the drum channels and see if the sound changes.  You may find that at high levels the solo bus is running out of gas and things are starting to get squashy and possibly even starting to break up.  A/B that a couple times and then go a step further if you're able.  Group the drums to a pair of sub groups and then solo those.  Now you're tapping into the chain at a different point and you may get different results... or you may not.

The point is that it doesn't really matter if your desk suffers from this condition or not, just that you know if it does.  Then you're ready to work smarter on your next project.  Dynamic processing is so important, both live and in the studio, you don't want to compromise your compressor settings because your solo bus was contributing some unwanted compression to your listening experience.

That's all for now Brethren of the Knob and Fader. Feel free to contribute your own tips and tricks.  Hit the comments section, or if you've got an idea for a whole article, hit me up about doing a guest post.  We take requests too so don't be shy about asking. (Like SNR on Facebook and send a private message if you're shy.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout out!

    Jim McElwaine
    Professor of Music (and Solo Busses)
    Purchase College-SUNY
    Chancellor's Award for Excellence


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