Zen of Recording

Catching Your Buss

I remember the first time I heard about mixing with busses. Actually, no… I don’t. I was sleeping. I woke up in the car on the way to Malibu with my friend, fellow artist and producer John Katchur. (By the way, this is one of two stories that feature Katchur and I in a car together. The other one is way better.) Apparently, he had been going on about how this LA engineer had introduced him to the concept of Parallel Compression, which is sometimes referred to as New York compression.

“See, what they do,” he was saying, “is get the drum mix pretty much where they like it. Then, they route all of those channels (snare, kick, overheads, toms, and room mics) to a new stereo channel or ‘Buss.’ Now, you just have one fader instead of eight to worry about. That’s called ‘bussing.’” I began to nod off, but simply nodded.

“What’s cool,” he continued, “is that now you can add effects to that buss.”

“You mean like reverb?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said, “But you don’t always put reverb on the whole kit, right?”

“Right…” I said with caution.”

“But what about compression?” He asked, with an air of rhetorical mystery.

“Whaddya mean?”

“Well, a lot of times you really need to tame the drums with a compressor or limiter, but they can get all dull and lifeless sounding… What he does is: He compresses the shit out of the drum buss at like a 6:1 ratio, and then turns that up, underneath the unaffected tracks. It gives the drums all that punch, tone, and wash that you want from the compressor, but you still have all of your transients and dynamics from the unprocessed drum tracks to work with!”

His words rose in tempo, pitch and intensity as he went along, as if someone had handed him the recipe for electricity and he was attempting to relay it, verbatim.

Now, see, I told you that the other story was better.

The really good story is that our friends at PSP Audioware (www.PSPaudioware.com) have introduced the BussPressor ($99 direct PC/Mac VST, RTAS, AAX), which as you might by now expect, does exactly what Mr. Katchur so succinctly described above. In fact, if that ‘LA engineer’ he referenced was working with an SSL console, it probably worked and sounded just like this thing.

I must state for the record that I am a sucker for the old-school design aesthetics of vintage equipment. PSP’s familiar “chickenbeak”-style bakelite knobs, brushed metal surface, and wooden “ears” always seem to help keep my head in the “analog” world while working in the digital realm. Kudos to their GUI design team for “keeping it real.”

Upon first glance, the BussPressor might seem quite similar to other compressors, with its traditionally laid-out controls for ATTACK, RELEASE, THRESHOLD TRIM , RATIO, and MAKEUP GAIN, as well as it’s sexily retro VU-style Compression meter.

There’s also an AUTO switch that engages an “auto-release mode,” which employs what PSP refers to as “a multi-stage release response,” helping you to find smooth sounding results, quickly.

The switch labled S.C. HPF sets the cutoff frequency of the side-chain filter. This is good for de-ssing or compressing just the snare or high hat in a dense drum submix, or similarly dealing with any other problematic frequencies.

The two knobs at the right of the interface marked DRY and COMPRESSED are a combination as powerful as it is intriguing, as this is where we enter the world of parallel compression.

Before I go into describing the sound of the BussPressor, It should be pointed out that this is a VCA-styled compressor. Unlike PSP’s wonderful OldTimer compressor, which is an excellent tube compressor emulation. This results in a signal that is less “colored” and much more modern sounding. Not that there’s no coloration, just a completely different type.

For instance, applying the OldTimer to an acoustic guitar and vocal mix plumped up the low mids in a flattering way, but the highs seemed to lose some sparkle in the exchange. Replacing that compressor with the BussPressor, the guitar and vocal actually seemed to move forward, helping to keep those tracks focused and articulate. The low mids were much tighter and the whole thing felt leaner and a little less sluggish overall.

Drum submixes were revelatory. The DRY and COMPRESSED circuits can each be bypassed individually for auditioning purposes, etc. So starting with the only COMPRESSED circuit engaged, I was able to get things really, really punchy. Then I could subsequently dial in just the right amount of sheen from the crash cymbals as well as the “ping” of the ride, by bringing up the DRY signal’s output. Other settings brought out brutal kicks and sadistic snare hits, or severely restrained them via the side chain filter.

I also got great results using it as an insert on individual tracks. It was an excellent tool for making lead vocals more aggressive and pulling finger squeaks down on guitar tracks.

For the mix buss, my results were less stellar than anticipated. This was mostly due to my not being able to easily find a healthy output level that didn’t digitally clip. I think that fixing this issue by adding an output limiter or clipping stage could go a long way toward making the BussPressor a much more useful mixing and mastering application as well.

Once again providing us with a dizzying level of power and audio sweetness at a price we can actually afford, PSP has brought us the squeezes that please us!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, and performing artist. As part of Seaholm Mackintosh, he performs at Queen Bee’s (3925 Ohio St., San Diego 92104) October 5 at 9pm.

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