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Mixdown Mastery: Using Sends to Clean Up Your Effects (Ableton)

Feel free to watch the video or read the post. Or both… if that’s what you’re into. 

Last week we interviewed Naden. One of the questions posed was:

Your atmosphere and effects usage is almost unparalleled. Without giving away too many secrets, what makes good atmosphere?

I’m not going to paste the answer here (feel free to read it over at the link), but one of the key points to take away was that you should be EQing/filtering your reverbs ALWAYS.

First of all you need to EQ your reverbs. Never put a reverb directly on top of your synth and leave it. They are built so that they sometimes can add low end “junk” into your mix. If you cut your reverb and even add filters, delays and effects on your reverb you are going to get a lot more interesting atmospheres.

Let’s be real for a second. If you’ve got low-end in your source material, there’s going to be low-end in the reverb. If you’ve got high-end in the source material, there’s probably going to be high-end also. And even though you may high-pass your synths, frequencies can still be added, like Naden said.

Why Use Sends?

Most reverbs and delays do have certain parameters that can be used to clean up mix to a certain point (lowcut, highcut, pre-delay, etc). These are all great, but the way I see it is that they’re a quick fix. If you’ve got a delay that has too long of a feedback and starts clashing with the next note, then you could lower the feedback – or you could stick the delay on a send channel and sidechain it!

Likewise, although you can filter a reverb inside the plugin, what happens if you want more control? What if you want to sidechain that also?

Here are just a few reasons why you might want to use sends for your effects:

  • Sidechain compression (reverb pumping after bass/lead, Benny Benassi style)
  • Greater control over the sonics (EQ, filtering, etc)
  • Can be used more than once (send multiple channels to that send

There are many more reasons, though these are the most common.

Setting up and Using Sends

If you don’t know how to set send channels up, I recommend having a read of our Parallel Compression Part 2 post, where we talking about mixer routing in FL Studio and Ableton. Otherwise, let’s get to it.

I’ll be doing this in Ableton. If you know basic mixer routing in other DAWs you should be able to follow along, but we’ve got a video for FL Studio users here.

I’m going to be using this  pluck sound as source material for this post. (Chords are from Dash Berlin & Shogun – Callisto)

 

You can choose to use your own sound, or download an audio clip of the sound I’m using here.

Adding Reverb and Delay

So the first thing we’re going to do is set up two send channels containing reverb and delay. I personally like to use delay and reverb on separate channels because using them in the same signal path isn’t that desirable for two reasons:

  1. Reverb after delay will kill the transient of the delay and it’ll lose character
  2. Reverb before the delay will cause the delay to act on the reverb, causing a longer tail and ultimately a more muddy signal

So I’ll be running my pluck sound through two channels, as pictured:

Setup

 

Notice that I’m just using audio tracks instead of send channels.

Now I’ll add the reverb and delay accordingly. (Using Ping Pong Delay)

At the moment we’ve just got the effects default, here are the changes I made to the reverb:

  • Decay: 7.8s
  • Size: 190
  • Dry/Wet: 100%

I also turned the chorus off.

You might be wondering why I changed it to 100% wet. I did this because we’ve already got a dry signal sending to the master, this is simply acting as a send track and therefore we want it to be 100% wet. (We’ll be sidechaining it later).

I also didn’t touch the Lo/Hi Cut. If we’re EQing the reverb after there’s little point in doing this.

For the delay I turned up the Feedback to around 50%, and the Dry/Wet to 100%.

You should have something that sounds like this:

Sidechain Compression

At the moment we’ve got a pretty ugly sound. It’s very muddy and the original pluck is rather drowned out.

This is something I often hear with new producers and it’s what happens when reverbs/delays are placed directly on top of the synth with little care. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: sidechain compression.

If you’re not sure how to sidechain compress an audio signal in a send, I recommend reading this post:

Sidechaining Effects and Adding Atmosphere to a Synth in Ableton Live

Otherwise, let’s get to it!

There are a few things to note here in terms of compression:

  •  Threshold is the volume level for which you want the compressor to start acting
  • Ratio is how much you’d like the signal to dip by (the reverb and delay signal in our case)
  • Attack is when you’d like the compressor to start acting in terms of time
  • Release is how long you’d like the compression to act for. Adjusting this will change the characteristic of the ‘pump’ sound you get

You can see the settings I used for the reverb sidechain compression in the image below. I’d encourage you to play around and find what you like best:

Reverb compression

Next, I copied the same compressor over to the delay channel. More often than not I’d change the settings on this to suit, but for the purpose of this tutorial and your valuable time I’ll leave it as is.

Now it’s sounding a little better!

EQing the Effects

Although what we’ve got at the moment isn’t sounding horrible, it’s not sounding great either. We’re going to be EQing both the reverb and delay to make a little more space and allow other things to pop through in the mix (the hypothetical mix, of course).

Reverb EQ

Reverb EQ

Delay EQ

Delay EQ

 

If you’re using your own sound then obviously you’re going to have some different settings, but this is what I found worked well for the pluck.

Before and After

So we’ve made some very simple but effective changes to our sound. Doing this in a mixdown will give you a much cleaner overall mix, especially if you’re someone who uses a lot of effects.

Listen to this before and after to hear this significant difference:

Before

 

After

 

Conclusion

Using send channels can be extremely helpful not just in terms of sound design but also mixing, as we can see from this tutorial.

Yes, it does involve a little more effort to set up, but it’s well worth it. We’re going to be following along with ‘effects’ in next week’s post where we look at how to clean up reverb and delay tails, which can also crowd a mix.

Until next time! Have fun producing.

Comments 10

  1. This post is great!!!! What a HUGE difference this can make in so many ways to your track. Using sends can do any things. It can take a sample that has been over used and bring new life to it. It can give sounds more space. Using sends is a classic technique that really can glue a track together. I’m a huge fan of the discussion here but I use FL Studio 11 and it is not difficult to figure out how to send one channel to the next. I’m not as surgical as I could be but this technique can really inspire creativity. Great post. Ace.

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  2. Great article, I am wondering what your thoughts are on the difference between using Ableton’s Send/Return channels versus using Audio channels as the Aux? Hope that makes sense lol

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      Well I think the benefit of using Ableton’s Send/Return channels is that it’s just easier to automate the amount that a signal is sending into one. You know, you’ve got the A/B/C knobs, and it’s a little easier to use that if you’re affecting large amounts of channels at once.

      If you’re using an audio channel, then you’d have to A. Lower the volume, or B. Turn down audio send channel that you created. Using send tracks allows you to avoid this.

      Does that clear it up at all?

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  3. Hey Sam,
    Awesome post, I found it really helpful. Question though, so in this example, for the return track you have the reverb and then the sidechain compressor afterwards that is being sidechained by the original track. If you wanted to sidechain the original track as well as the reverb/delay to the kick, where would be the best place to put the sidechain compressor? Would you just put that in the original track’s insert? Hope this makes sense and thank you!

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