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What Is "Top Down Mixing"?

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Top down mixing is a very buzzword type of phrase to me. It always hooks me when I hear it. “Top-down”. It’s got this official kind of feel to the sound of the words and if I’m being honest, it makes me feel professional when I say it out loud. But what is it?

For a while, I had no idea. It was one of those things where I had heard it from other people in the industry and nodded my head as if I understood while inner Aaron had zero clue.

Another way to think of “Top Down” would be like “Trickle down.” One movement at the top effects everything beneath it.

That’s basically the concept behind this approach to mixing. If you bus all your tracks to one place (for example, a master bus) and then insert your effects plugins on said master bus first before dealing with each individual track, you can affect all the tracks collectively with just a few moves. This can improve your mix in subtle ways and may even help you to use less processing on individual tracks which ultimately can help save you time while mixing. On the other side of that coin however, top down (or mix bus) processing can potentially ruin your mix if you’re not sure what to do.

There are many types of plugins one may use on their mix bus ranging from eq and compression to saturation plugins, stereo wideners and various time based effects.

In the video example featured below, I am experimenting with using a compressor in a top down fashion. No eq or anything else on the mix bus. Just compression. The key to using this mix bus compression wisely in my humble opinion is to approach things in a conservative manner because as mentioned before, one move on the mix bus is going to effect all tracks.

I’m following some basic guidelines of keeping the attack slow, the release fast and only allowing a maximum of 2 db of gain reduction on the mix. Watch to the end to hear some different examples using these guidelines but experimenting with different thresholds, ratios and attack and release times.

See more examples in THIS video

Which one sounds best to you? Feel free to let me know!

Thanks for reading.


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