Submixing is a popular signal routing technique for both live and studio mixing. The general concept involves sending multiple signals to a “bus,” which can then be controlled by one fader. MainStage 3 makes it easy to submix with patch buses and auxiliary tracks. In this tutorial, you’ll learn why, how, and when you should submix in MainStage.
What is Submixing?
Submixing involves sending multiple audio signals to a single bus. While there are many specific reasons to submix, those reasons usually fall into one of two categories (or both) — control and processing.
Let’s say you’re mixing a live show with a singer, rhythm section (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums), and a string section (violin, viola, cello). After achieving a general relative balance of the string section, you decide you want to be able to control the volume of the string section as one unit.
Well, there are two ways to do this — move all three faders at once, or send all of the individual string channels to a bus and control the section with one fader. The latter solution is the obvious solution here. You can still adjust the relative volumes of each instrument in the submix, but now you also have global control over the whole section thanks to submixing.
At this show, you’re using five microphones for the drum kit — kick, snare top, snare bottom, and two overheads. After sending all the channels to a “drum bus,” you decide you want that awesome super compressed drum kit sound for the show. This sound can only be achieved by sticking a compressor on the drum bus because it effectively processes every element coming into the drum bus as a whole.
Submixing gives you macro-level control over your mix.
Patch Buses & Auxiliary Tracks
There are two levels of submixing in MainStage 3 — patch buses and auxiliary tracks. You can think of patch buses and auxiliary tracks as micro and macro level utilities, respectively. In other words, patch buses work on the patch level, and auxiliary tracks can work on any level.
Using Auxiliary Tracks
An auxiliary track can be used for a variety of different purposes. When it comes to submixing, I typically use auxiliary tracks as a middleman between channel strips and the master outputs. Let me explain.
The shows I program usually use between 6 – 8 outputs. If I’m on the go, I don’t always want to bring an audio interface with me, so I just end up using my MacBook Pro’s built-in output. The problem here is the built-in sound card only offers two outputs. I don’t want to use use SoundFlower in 64-channel mode, so how do I assign outputs 3 – 8 in this situation? Here’s where auxiliary tracks come in handy.
By creating four auxiliary buses — 1 – 2 BUS, 3 – 4 BUS, 5 – 6 BUS, and 7 – 8 BUS and assigning those buses to Outputs 1 – 2, 3 – 4, etc., I can do all the necessary signal routing without having an eight output audio interface plugged in. Now you’re probably wondering how you’ll be able to hear everything except for the MONITOR BUS if I’m just using my Mac’s built-in speakers or headphone port. Just create a send on the other three buses, sending 0.0 dB to MONITOR BUS.
Depending on your concert’s gain staging, you might have to send -6dB to the MONITOR BUS to avoid signal overload. The exact amount does not matter as long as the same amount is sent from all the output channel strips, ensuring an accurate representation of your mix.