4 Creative Ways To Use Aux Sends and Returns
4 Creative Ways To Use Aux Sends and Returns
Sound Tips

4 Creative Ways To Use Aux Sends and Returns

Aux sends and returns will be found in almost every mix. For example, rather than use individual reverbs on each track in a mix, most producers will set their reverb up on an FX return, and use this to provide reverb for their entire mix. If you don’t know how to do this, it is certainly a technique that is worth exploring, but in this article we are going to look at other ways you can use sends and returns to improve your mixing and your workflow.

1. Parallel Compression

This a technique that is mentioned in interviews with big-name producers again and again. The key to parallel compression is that you are only compressing part of the signal, leaving your main instrument channel uncompressed. This way you retain the attack transients of your original signal, while thickening the sound through the addition of your compressed track. Due to the nature of this technique it is therefore normally used on instruments where the transients are really important – such as drums. Your clean channel will make sure that your drums retain a really sharp and punchy attack, while the compressed channel will fill out the sound.

Set up a bus on your instrument channel, and send this to a new aux return. On the return, insert a compressor. You can play around with the settings, but generally speaking, you should set a very high ratio (you can even use limiting), and set your threshold so that there is a lot of gain-reduction of the loudest sounds. The idea here is that we are making the quietest elements much more prominent. Once you are happy with the compressed sound, drop the fader, and then gradually bring it back up, mixing the compressed signal with the parallel, uncompressed signal.


2. Stem Mixing

Have you ever been frustrated by the fact that you have to move 10-12 faders every time you want to change the level of your drums? Then this tip is for you! Try splitting up your mix into groupings (drums, bass, guitars, vocals etc.) and then send the outputs of each entire group to one stereo aux return. This way you can control the level of each of these subgroups with a single fader, massively saving time when you want to tweak a mix. This can be especially useful when working with an indecisive client or band who constantly want you to turn things up, and then down again to see how a mix will sound! 

3. Add Width To Your Sounds

Sometimes you need to make a specific, mono element of your mix sound really BIG! Perhaps a lead guitar, or a snare drum. Try panning this element to one side, and then sending it to an aux return that is panned the other way. Insert a compressor or reverb onto the aux return, making sure that the effect is set to 100% wet. Instantly your instrument will sound bigger, as it will feel like it is coming from both sides of the mix at once. Try this on a snare, with a reverb set up on the aux, for a real 80s sound. Or try it on a lead guitar or synth part, with a delay on the aux to fatten up the sound of the instrument. 


4. Add Movement To Your Mix

It is often desirable to have some dynamic panning in your mixes. Having sounds moving from left to right (and from right to left!) across the stereo field can add excitement to a mix, and help to hold a listeners’ attention. The are numerous plug-ins, such as Soundtoys’ PanMan that can automate panning for you. However, if you pan an important mix element, such as a lead part, then your mix can end up sounding a bit unbalanced when that element is moving out wide. You can get around this by setting up your dynamic panning plug-in on an aux return, rather than on the instrument channel itself. This is a similar concept to parallel compression, in that we are now only affecting a part of the signal; most of the sound stays at a fixed point in your mix, whilst part of the sound swims around across the stereo field. This way your mix doesn’t become unbalanced, but you add some movement and excitement to your track.
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