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If you really want your productions to stand up, you need to get your head around effects processing. Stock sounds or simply recorded performances rarely cut it untreated, and the mixing stage is your last chance to get this right.
Before you even start, however, it’s important to understand the difference between insert and auxiliary. Fundamentally, an insert effect replaces the original signal you stick through it. Sometimes the effect you use will have a balance option to enable you to blend in some of the original, but this is the exception. Typical insert effects include EQ, compressor, gate, phaser, flanger and chorus.
By contrast, auxiliary effects make use of send and return busses and are added to the original signal. Auxiliary busses enable you to add the same effect to many tracks, with the effected sounds ending up blended with the originals in the stereo mix output. Auxiliary effects include reverb, delay and harmonisers.
Inevitably, the rules can be broken, and you can use any effect in either way, but this basic categorisation is useful as it reflects the underlying way we add and process when we mix. For example, if we want to brighten up a guitar sound, we’re unlikely to want to combine the dull and brightened sounds via an auxiliary bus, and worse still would be to share the exact same EQ with a multitude of other instruments.
On the other hand, it’s quite likely we’ll need to add the same tempo-matched delay to many sounds, so an auxiliary is the best bet.
With these basic concepts understood, applying effects processing will be much simpler. Let’s consider some examples.
Step 1: First, identify inserts and auxiliaries in your DAW. Insert implementation on channels is pretty universal - you’ll likely have a number of assignable slots above each fader. Auxes are sometimes preconfigured, or in the case of Logic, which we’re using here, freely selectable from a list. Identify the return level, as it’s here that you’ll assign your effect.