Mixing: Using Templates In Your DAW

Why Should You Use A Template?

When you first open your DAW, there isn’t much that you can do. It’s a useless blank slate until you start populating your session with tracks. In the days of analog recording, the entire studio was a template. The console existed with 24, 48, or more tracks sitting in the desk waiting for you to send them signal. So, why start with an empty DAW every time? You’re wasting valuable time doing the same tasks over and over when you could have most of it saved in a template.

Wont A Template Make Every Song Sound The Same?

No way! Actually, the opposite. I use my DAW as an insturment and the more time I spend cycling through plug in menus the more time I’m using the technical side of my brain and not the creative. Have your favorite effects pre loaded and ready to go so you can audition them, blend them, and quickly decide on a sound while you’re in the zone.

My Pro Tools Template

I use Pro Tools as my main DAW, but these routing techniques can apply to any DAW. When I first set up my template I experimented with a lot of different versions. I had a really elaborate version with pre made tracks for guitars, every possible drum, bass, lead vocals, background vocals, busses, effects, routing, master buss processing… It was a lot. I spent more time dragging and dropping tracks than I would have if I’d just started fresh. Now I keep it really simple.

My template is almost entirely routing, and effects. I don’t have any tracks with pre loaded EQs or compressors because the source material changes so much for me. If you’re lucky enough to really niche down to a specific genre, and the instrumentation of all of your sessions is 90% the same, then it might make sense for you to have more detailed templates to fly your songs into. For me, one day its hip hop, another its pop, another its metal, so I keep my tracks clean but I have pre made busses to send them to.

Routing

Main Output Busses

Lets take a look at my routing template from biggest to smallest. I have 3 tracks that make up my Master bus. The Main aux is going to be what I monitor through. It receives audio from all of the subgroups we’ll talk about later, and passes through right to my speakers. To the right of that, is my Print track. It has the same input as the Main aux but instead it is a recordable stereo audio track. I keep this track muted and with the fader at -inf. The next track in line is a Master track. In Pro Tools, Master tracks control the input to their assigned bus or output.

This can be a tricky concept to grasp. Basically, it controls the sound leaving an output before it gets to the output. This is a great feature. Lets say you love your balance but you are clipping the output slightly. You could go down your whole session, make groups, and turn it down until you’re not clipping - or, you could simple turn down the master fader controlling your main output.

The Master track is assigned to the input of the Main aux and Print tracks, and is where I will apply all master bus processing, and even do my final mastering.

6 Subgroups That Make Up My Routing Template

Before hitting my main output busses, I have 6 subgroups that all of the tracks in my session get assigned to.

  1. Drums

    • All drums & percussion.

  2. Bass

    • Any bass instrument (bass guitar, sub bass synth, low end pad etc.)

  3. Music

    • The music bed. Everything else in the session that is not drums, bass or vocals, for example - guitars, synths, piano, keys etc.

  4. Bass & Music

    • This bus sums the Bass and Music busses.

  5. Instrumental

    • This bus sums the Drums with the Bass & Music busses making it the full instrumental bus.

  6. Vocals

    • All vocals and vocal effects returns are summed at this bus.

These 6 subgroups are summed to the Main aux and Print tracks, controlled by the Master fader.

Effects

The most recent addition to my template has been a set of pre made FX tracks that I almost exclusively use for vocals. So much so that they are routed to the vocal bus. They are 3 different reverbs (Slate Digital Verbsuite, Waves R-Verb, & Waves Abbey Road Plates), 3 different delays with pre loaded delay times (1/4 note, slap, & tape), a distortion track (JST Clip), and a doubler (Waves doubler). They all have the same input and their volumes are all set to -inf. Now, when I have a vocal that needs some effects all that I have to do is make a single send to my FX tracks and because they all have the same input they all start seeing signal. Its as simple as raising their volumes and making a nice blend. I use an Avid Artist Mix control surface that makes this process very intuitive.

You’ll also see that there is a de-esser in front of most of the effects plug ins. I find sizzling sibilant sounds ringing through reverb and delays can be really distracting and annoying, so I use the de-esser first and hit it really hard before going into any FX.

Summing It Up (pun intended)

My template is the first thing I load up when start any session. It’s organized, color coded, and pre routed and it makes every session have a familiar flow. I’m able to quickly navigate any session by having a track order that I use every time, and by routing them to the same busses I use in every session. It’s a huge time savor and a technique that I hope you’ll adapt and incorporate into your work flow!

Links

Avid Pro Tools - https://www.avid.com/pro-tools

Slate Digital Everything Bundle (contains Verbsuite) - https://www.slatedigital.com/everything-bundle/

Joey Sturgis Tones (JST Clip) - https://joeysturgistones.com/collections/audio-plugins

Waves (R-Verb, Abbey Road Plates, De-Esser) - https://www.waves.com/


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