I have to begin this little word salad with a caveat: I’m a Pro Tools kinda guy. I’ve tried all the others and they all have their selling points. For a long time I chafed at the fact that PT had to bounce in real time, unlike others who could zip through a bounce in mere seconds. But other systems didn’t have a lot of the features I loved most about PT. Eventually, Pro Tools designers saw the light and now you can bounce a file or session in computer time, meaning in seconds, rather than minutes. Other platforms have also started to adopt some of the features that have always been there in PT, like bussing.
This is largely a function of the platform’s origins. Pro Tools was designed by musicians who sought to make the platform use the protocols of an analog console. Other systems started on a more basic level, making them appeal to would-be producers without a lot of the fuss and bother of a big analog console. For a LONG time, that meant that bussing was something most producers didn’t need (in their view) so it was left out of the mix, so to speak.
Most folks in the radio production game came to the table with a basic broadcast audio console knowledge, meaning you key a channel on, raise the pot to an acceptable level and move into the mixing phase. For a lot of the work I’ve been hearing of late, that seems to be sufficient…and at the same time limiting in scope.
These days, everyone is into the plug-ins. God knows there are a ton of them out there. I’m certainly into plug-ins myself. The down and dirty way to use a plug-in is to drop it onto an insert, make some adjustments and you’re good to go. However, using plug-ins on your bussing structure opens up a whole box of ideas that will give you grist for the creative mill of your mind.
Sends in any recording environment can be a huge bonus. In a digital system, they can be an absolute blessing. Let's say you're working a session with 16 tracks, half of which need reverb at various points through the piece. Instead of using your fave reverb plug-in on 8 different tracks, let's just set up one stereo AUX Master. Assign an unused stereo bus to the input, and set the output to your Master fader. (At this point let's say we'll use bus 15/16. If you NAME the bus, under Setups in the menu bar, I/O Setup> Bus, you can then name bus 15/16 "Reverb". Pick your favorite reverb plug-in on one of the AUX Master’s Insert points. Choose an appropriate setting for your production. (If it's set in a stadium, vault or large church, choose the right pre-set.) Be sure you set it to 100% wet. (Very important!)
Now, on any track that needs reverb, set up a send to the same bus you set the input of the AUX Master to. (In our example, "Reverb.") A special "floating" fader will pop up. [Option] + click on the fader to set it to 0db and click on the MUTE button. Then close the fader. You can also set up the "Sends View" [under Display in the menu bar] to a particular Send; A, B, C, etc. This will show a mini-fader, mute and pre/post send buttons for that Send on each track right on the display page.
Now, here's the fun part. In your EDIT window, when you click on the track display button, where you normally see Block/Waveform/Volume/Mute/Pan, you will now ALSO see a sub directory for your send. If you named the bus you're using "Reverb," the sub-directory will say "Reverb." Within the sub-directory, you'll see Level/Mute/Pan. (If it's a stereo track Pan Left/Pan Right.) Set it to Mute. Select any portion of the track you want to have reverb on and, using the cutter tool, drag the highlighted portion of the line you see, UP to un-mute the track at that point ONLY. You can also adjust how much gain is "sent" to the Reverb bus using the Level setting in the Reverb sub-directory.
Now, as you play the piece, if you're watching the Send button, you will see that it will be blue UNTIL the track is un-muted, at which time it will turn grey (like the rest of the console) and audio will then travel TO the reverb plug-in, which then adds its signal back into the main mix. This does NOT affect the audio that's coming from the original track. It merely COPIES the audio and sends it through the bus to your AUX Master, which treats it with the plug-in and passes it on to the main mix. It is for this reason you want to be sure the plug-in is 100% wet. This means it doesn't pass along any of the original audio, ONLY the actual reverberation.
Here's the payoff: If you have a rather large session, with a lot of plug-ins, you are using a lot of DSP in your computer. Every instantiation of a plug-in uses more. MANY plug-ins will take an entire chip, rather than sharing with other plug-ins. You only have so much DSP real estate. Instantiation of a Send adds to the DSP usage too, but it shares with the rest of the console. You end up only having to tie up ONE chip for the reverb plug-in instead of the eight or so you would have used on individual tracks. It also allows you to control the OVERALL level of reverb with one fader, your AUX Master. That way, after you're done, if you decide the reverb 'space' is too big or small, it's one easy adjustment.
This is one fairly straightforward use of the Sends. You can do the same thing with any plug-in. If you want a flange effect on parts of the VO, it gets really simple to control how much and when if you're using the Sends feature.
I know...it seems REALLY complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it's VERY fast and simple, especially if you can set up some basic Sends in your Template sessions.