Occasionally, I get emails from project-studio users who are worried about over-processing their main mix bus during mixdown, their worry being that it might tie the hands of the mastering engineer. While I can understand the desire to avoid aggro downstream, I also feel quite strongly that any master-bus processing which substantially affects the mix balance needs to be active during mixdown, otherwise the mix engineer simply can’t make properly informed processing decisions. And if this means that you lock in the sound of heavy compression, then so be it, as long as it’s serving the aesthetic goals of the production as a whole.
And this production is a case in point, because the bus compression on display here is pretty wild, yet I couldn’t imagine mixing the track without it. It feels absolutely appropriate, an integral sonic and atmospheric production component without which the vibe of the track would be substantially diminished. No way would I trust the mastering engineer to add this, because that’d leave me at mixdown all but guessing how the lurching of the compressor’s gain reduction might mess with my positioning of those cool-sounding lower-level backing vocals, say, or the wispy ride-cymbal tails that seem baked into the piano sample. Besides, it’s much easier to counteract the unwanted processing artifacts of heavy master-bus compressor when mixing, where all the individual channel settings are at your fingertips, than when mastering a mixed stereo file, or at best a few stems.