June 7, 2013

Audio101: Learn About Submix Basics and the Power of the Bus

Just as digital imagery can be manipulated in post with a number of approaches -- combinations of which may be used to achieve pretty much the same effect -- working with audio is a malleable exercise. It's become even more malleable recently thanks to innovative sound manipulation interfaces which provide a powerful palette for painting, re-painting, and un-painting sound. That said, some tenets of the basic audio interface design haven't changed much in decades. One such basic is the submix. Check out a great demonstration of the undiminished usefulness -- and power -- of 'subs' below.

A submix is a pre-master bus, a group composed of select related individual audio signals from its own original respective track, which altogether may constitute a stem. This allows for such stems, clusters of associated signals -- such as a family of individual close-mic'd drum signals -- to then collectively be effected and mixed against the rest of the sounds, such as the other instruments of the band, as a single unit. After all, it'd be silly (and somewhat painstaking) to have to separately lower the levels of every single drum mic the exact same minute increment when all you want to do is make all the drums -- or the whole drum kit as a unit, better-put -- simply quieter than the guitar, or perhaps another submix of, say, 700 MIDI strings. Especially when those snare levels were already ever-so-perfectly balanced against the bass drum! Such is the advantage of the submix, the content of which is then finally ready to be sent to another bus, such as the master (where yet more stuff can happen to it, along with everything else, if you want) before it's output. This is demonstrated below.

This video comes to us from the blog FILM...SOUND...COLOR and its Vimeo channel, as a member of the blog's 'Audio101' series of demonstrations/tutorials.

http://vimeo.com/65978907

I know I might be a special case -- and that I've said this countless times before -- but for a fifteen minute-long video, I found myself caught off-guard by the end and wishing there was even more material here. That may because I'm a wretchedly amateurish neophyte when it comes to the finer side of audio (at least by my own standards) and Mr. Micha Schmidt appears to be an incredibly (and multi-) skilled technician and artist, from which many could surely learn. It may also be because Mr. Schmidt has created some dense mixes from diverse material here -- for a short piece, some of this stuff is pretty damn dense -- which could easily lend itself to a real-time 9 hour-long tutorial which, yes, I would also gladly watch.

In the meantime, and in that very spirit, here's a quick roundup of other Audio101 videos from Schmidt's FILM...SOUND...COLOR blog:

http://vimeo.com/65601576

http://vimeo.com/66575315

And, as for the last video, via F/S/C's Vimeo description:

So this is a "Client Profile" of Alan Meyerson the main Music Scoring Mixer of Hans Zimmer & others Euphonix had on their website back in 2007 ... i found it on my hard drive the other they and since AVID bought Euphonix and does not have it on their side anymore i just thought i share it with you...
Two things he is my Hero ... his mixes sound awesome ... he knows what he is doing ... 1st because of his talent and 2nd because he actually uses some analogue gear in a fairly digital workflow .... that is actually a pretty good idea to keep in mind ...
Alan Meyerson on IMDB .... pretty awesome list: imdb.com/name/nm0583657/

And there isn't much more to say about that. Check it out:

http://vimeo.com/58673569

Even though the availability (and desirability, unfortunately) of truly analog equipment will continue to decline, the desktop or laptop -- or even tablet or smart phone -- that you're reading this on is itself a home studio in its own right, and that's why I appreciate videos like these. Some things apply to software packages, as some of the nifty Premiere Pro-specific tips do above, but one thing audio folks can depend on is the submix, because that's not going away any time soon.

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5 Comments

Thanks for writing about audio. You've got the basic idea right I do think it's worth nitpicking over the terminology:

"Tracks" are the single recorded elements, be they mono or stereo. Those are assigned to a "channel" that controls various aspects of it (volume, panning, routing, effects), or in some cases assigned to multiple channels. "Stems" are a type of track, made by mixing together related tracks and "printing" them as one track. A "submix" is a channel through which any number of other channels have been routed before the final mix, most often because their volume will be mixed relatively. A "bus" is a channel without a track of it's own that other channels can be routed to, but not necessarily the only place that said other channel is routed (you can see he's using a couple of effects buses for his reverbs, for instance).

So a stem is a track, but a track is not necessarily a stem. And neither one is a channel. A submix is a type of bus, but buses are not submixes. The differences are important and fundamental, especially if you're talking to a mix engineer.

June 7, 2013 at 9:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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My pleasure to write about audio Colin. I appreciate your response, and I say nitpick away. I've made some changes to clean up the terminology, which is worth being picky over.

June 8, 2013 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
Writer
Freelancer

Something I've found amazingly helpful recently is mapping concepts of post-production sound and vision back and forth. For example, both have dynamic range. Both employ contrast and colour and space. Distance. Both have changing focal points - I'm now thinking about grading with power windows to focus the eye being like setting relative levels and panning to focus the ear. It has given me more confidence, since skills translate back and forth. And it made me realise the degree to which I've copped out on sound. I might spend 90% of my time on vision, then lay a blanket of music over it and put it to bed.

June 7, 2013 at 10:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I've taken specific notice of this as well. It really helps to think in these terms if you're coming to audio from a video background (or vice versa)!

June 10, 2013 at 11:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Christian Anderson

FatRick say, Thank you big guy! Audio/sound design does not get enough coverage here at NFS.

And given what good sound/sound design can do for a piece—be it a 30sec spot, a short, a doco or something long-form—I wonder if more cannot be done in the area moving forward?

FatRick says, peace out!

June 9, 2013 at 6:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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You voted '-1'.
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FatRick