How do you route to maintain fader and send relationships?

I have a question relating to using instrument groups, sends and inserts.

If I have, for example, three instrument tracks (audio or VSTi) that all belong to a logical group, say “Synths”, then I might create a group track and then route all three to that track.

Now, let’s say I have a common reverb on an fx track that I am using to allow the instruments to share the same reverb space.

So I’ll send from each instrument track (post-fader) to the fx track. Each of the instrument tracks will have different fader levels, and I might have lower send levels on one or more of the instruments.

So this way, if the fader is moved, the relationship between that and the send is maintained.

At this point, I could not use the group fader to mix because the sends are individual sends from the instrument tracks to the fx track. So the fader needs to stay at 0 - otherwise this would result in either more or less reverb than intended in the mix.

I could use a VCA fader on the individual instrument tracks collectively if I wanted to control the level of the group but that’s only half the job.

Say now on the Synths group track, I want to apply some balance to the group. So I might apply very light compression or dynamic eq. This then changes the tonal balance but it might also increase or decrease the volume.

This is the problem, as the changes are not reflected in the reverb. That is, the sounds being processed via the reverb sends are now not sonically the same as the changed dry sound on the Synth group track.

I can’t use a send on the synth group track, as each instrument requires a different send level. And I don’t want to have lots of extra instances of the same reverb plug-in - especially when it’s supposed to be a common space.

I can’t take the reverb and route it into the synth group track, as that reverb is also used for other instruments.

I also don’t necessarily want to have the reverb also going into the compressor on that group channel.

So what is the correct way to deal with this?

The instrument tracks could be anything, guitars, pianos, individual drum tracks.

I think you have just written off all the options. Since you are using sends to one reverb plugin you can’t really separate its output. You will have to use more instances of the reverb and drop it into the groups.

If you don’t have the power to do that then you will have to the tracks so you can reuse the reverb.

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So what would be the way to deal with this when using sends for, for example, reverb?

I’d probably try the following approach:

  • Make a separate reverb FX channel for each sub-mix (effectively a “group reverb”), each of them containing identical copies of the same reverb plugin with exactly the same settings
  • Feed the appropriate individual channel reverb sends into their designated “group reverb” channel
  • Send each designated “group reverb” into it’s appropriate group mix, thus applying compression to reverberated group mixes.

This method is hopefully close enough to “same space”, since all the group reverbs have identical settings.

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Many decisions to make here, and many different ways to work.

Do you mean that after having applied processing to the group different intensities of reverb are needed for each instrument? In this case, you’re right, not much can be done. But don’t forget that the balance of instruments in this group is dictated by the sends levels of each dry instrument channel. Maybe do another pass on these and see if a different balance is better.

What I would probably do is:

Use many sends and parallel process everything. Dry tracks receive some processing, output to master. They send to a 1st fx track, for aggresive compression or filtering or what have you. Output to master. They send to a 2nd fx track, just for reverb. Output to master. All levels of fx are controlled by sends, mix those and the returns to achieve balance. Finally, you can change the output of all paths (individual tracks, both fx tracks) to a “sum” group instead of master, so that you can control the level of all sources at once.

If you had an instrument or audio track with a compressor and reverb on it as inserts, would you put the reverb before or after the compressor?

Probably after. Because if the reverb comes before the compressor, the compressor will keep “squeezing” the reverb’s tail as it dies out, which kind of defeats the purpose. This doesn’t mean it can’t be used ever, I’ve done this at times.

But 90% of the time, compressor and then reverb.

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What I would do in this case is to simply get rid of the group channel and duplicate the EQ / compressor settings over each of the 3 individual tracks.

It’s crude but it’s simple and easy to understand.

Group channels don’t work well when you want to share some, but not all, the processing.

Yes, but …

  1. Having compression in the individual channels achieves a rather different sonic purpose than applying compression after sub-mixing the channels.
  2. Also: More FX instances :arrow_right: higher CPU load

EDIT: Never mind my original response, the question was about individual instruments, not submixes.

Re point 1 - Exactly!!

That would be my thoughts also.

For me, on an individual instrument/audio track, I would generally want the reverb as the last insert if I’m using a reverb on the insert because I want to get the sound as I want it before putting it into a space.

I might use it earlier in the insert chain to create an effect but for me, most of the time I’d have it after compression etc.

But on the instrument group track, sonic changes I am making there would not be in the reverb, as that’s already gone from the sends on the individual tracks.

If it was drums, for example, I might want to shape the overall drums on a group track or add some compression to get more balance. But those changes are not going to be reflected in the reverb, right?

I was asking about individual instrument track insert positions because if I wouldn’t put reverb into the compressor on the insert chainm in most cases, then I don’t want to be doing that on the groups, either.

So if I routed instrument channels, say individual drums, to a group and sent from each track to an fx track with a reverb, I would not want to then route that reverb fx into the drum group which has the compression. Would you say that’s right?

I could have a “final” drum group and route the drum group with compression and the fx reverb channel into that (assuming that fx reverb is for drums only). But none of this is a streamline workflow.

What I have done usually when using aux reverbs on fx tracks is send to the fx reverb from each individual track. Then I’d route that to a group called Reverbs and in turn route that to a group called All FX. That way, I can have other fx tracks, like Delays, and route that to All FX. I can then mute out different FX or all Fx if I want to hear the music or song without aux reverbs or delays etc.

Does that sound like a reasonable way to do things?

So, by doing this, I’ve ignored any processing on the instrument groups being reflected in the fx channel reverb or reverbs.

I’m thinking it out loud because I’m still not sure which is the best way to go about it?

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For me, signal flow is a small puzzle each time. It’s exactly as you say. How to apply precisely what processing is needed, in the most economic and elegant way? Unless you have already settled to a method, e.g. record mono drums, pass through brand x limiter, then bounce and send to brand x plate reverb for aaaall your projects and drums, this puzzle must be solved for each specific task at hand.

Indeed. The important question for me is this. Are the sounds meant to coexist and be mixed in parallel or not? If yes, you use sends and keep an eye on returns and the balance of the group of dry tracks, in conjunction with additional direct routing for those instruments / channels that need it. (e.g. you can send from the kit pieces of a drum kit, but since you have mangled your snare, you want to bring THAT sound over to the group, so you direct route the output of the channel to the group. You are still restricted by the channels fader (for this is the level that will go into the group), and you still have to take into account summation, phasing and other gotchas that might pop up.

If not, and what comes out of the fader of each channel is “mix-ready”, wrapped up, needs no more tweaks, then you don’t need sends.

You can use direct routing to distribute those “ready” channels to one or more groups instead, where you just insert a reverb, or anything else.

The final solution is to commit to a mix state. You can render in place the result of each stage of processing when satisfied, and then proceed to another round of processing with the sonic result baked into a new wave file. It’s a routing breather! Another probable solution is to use Direct Offline Processing on the events themselves, that come before the mixconsole if I’m not mistaken.

And then there’s just duplicating tracks and inserts. If you have the horsepower, go for it. I try to keep track counts low if I can.

Sure it does!

Give Direct Routing a try, maybe it will suit your needs.

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Yes, phasing is something that crossed my mind… instrument tracks (synths, drums etc) routed to a logical group track but with individual sends to a reverb fx channel. The key thing here is the individual send level, which could be at levels for each instrument track.

But then with any processing on the group track for glue or balance, that’s not the same as what’s already gone into the reverb from the sends, and so that could cause phase problems.

I mean, I may want to have some sonic control or compression on the whole drum bus. But the send levels to a reverb fx channels for kick and snare won’t be the same.

If each instrument channel had reverb inserts, then the reverb would also be going into the group compressor, and I don’t really want that, right?

:melting_face: :confused: :anguished: :cry: :sob: :scream: :confounded:

Well, it depends. If your glue compressor is relatively low treshold low ratio, I don’t think it would hurt the verb. Another way is: Process Bass Drum, Snare in their channels. Now, use direct routing to distribute these to both groups A: Drum Master and B: Kick + Snare treatment. Now, depending on how much verb you want in your kick and snare you could either keep them together in this treatment group and insert a reverb as the last insert in the chain, or not, up to you, OR you could have added some reverb directly into the snare’s channel and enhance it more in the group.

All other drums go to the A: Drum Master group, where the glue happens, and you have your additional reverberated B group of kick and snare to blend with A.

If a compressor is not set to nuke and the treshold is not awfully low, the reverb (if it’s not the gated in your face type) will fly under the treshold, not being much affected by the compressor.

Given that pretty much every mastering chain has some sort of compression on it well after all the reverbs for the mix are baked in, I don’t see why you wouldn’t “glue” compress a reverberated submix.

I think I’ve unintentionally moved away from the point by using a compressor as an example. The point is there could be a number of plug-ins on the group bus that change the sound and sonic qualities. So it could be eq, dynamic eq, saturation, other any other that changes the sound in one or more ways. The point really is that there’s processing that might be wanted on the sounds together but that aren’t then in the reverb. Whether you can hear that is one thing; but then those differences can cause phase problems.

I’m trying to figure out the best way to deal with this as a standard or best practice.

I’m not sure if there’s an algorithm that can accommodate all routing scenarios. The big advantage of sends is that you keep the “clean” signal intact and you blend it with the return effect. If this is not desirable, sending is not a good candidate for the task at hand.

  • There is the scenario where multiple channels sending to multiple FX channels gives perfectly adequate results after mixing the channels and the effect returns. I find this is the case when I need to record four trombones as a four-part harmony for example. All 4 channels have nearly identical processing, and probably require the same reverb, or saturation, or compression (either on one FX channel, as a chain, or many FX channels of one effect each, to be mixed independently).
  • There is the scenario where multiple channels output to one or more groups for processing (simultaneously even using Direct Routing), and those groups to other groups for further processing, in series. This is an intuitive way to work, as you can easily follow the signal flow.
  • There is the scenario where some channels might require their very own processing and are not meant to be routed together with the rest of the channels at the same processing stage, even though they might be part of the same logical entity. This requires planning and using both the first and second methods, or waiting to route the channel to a group at a later processing stage (see hihat in the example below)
Routing Example

Start

Channel Action Group
Kick In Output Kick Sum
Kick Out Output Kick Sum
Snare 1 Output Snare Sum
Snare 2 Output Snare Sum
Snare Bottom Output Snare Sum
Hat
Hi Tom Output Toms
Mid Tom Output Toms
Low Tom Output Toms
Crash Output Cymbals
Splash Output Cymbals
Overheads Output Ambience
Boundary Output Ambience
Room Output Ambience

Continued:

Group Action Group Action Group
Kick Sum Send Reverb
Output All Drums
Snare Sum Send Reverb
Output All Drums
Hat Output All Drums
Toms Output All Drums
Cymbals Output All Drums
Ambience Output All Drums

All Drums group and Reverb can be mixed individually, or they can be output to a “TotalDrums” group together for further processing.

Observations:

Each initial channel and each subsequent group is an opportunity for processing. For example, all 3 kick channels might already have some processing applied to them. By setting the output of these 3 channels to Kick Sum, we transfer all processed sound to a group. No sends involved. Then in Kick Sum, we may further process the collected signal by inserting effects and then set the output to All Drums. At this point, and since I think I’ll be using the same reverb for the Kick and Snare, I just send to the Reverb from Kick Sum, because I’m happy with the sound of Kick Sum. I could very well insert a reverb as the last effect directly on the Kick Sum and tweak the mix knob there, the same goes for the Snare Sum.

So there is no real solution, right?

Perhaps a way to mitigate it to a point would be a linear multi-band compressor/limiter on the fx channel before the reverb?
Not to apply limiting but just to be able to send from the group ch and change the gain of particular frequency bands. So if it was drums, the lower frequencies could be reduced in gain, so there would be less of those going into the reverb (e.g. for kick).

What do you think of that idea?

I know it still doesn’t help when there are several instruments that share similar frequencies and need different send levels. It’s a shame we can’t “eq” sends or add pre-delay to sends.

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It’s a good idea! You can also use steep filters, gates, all sorts of effect chains, before the reverb.

(Or, working in series, split the group to 3 other groups, process each separately with each own inserts chain, then recombine them to a group after the fact.