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The concept of a bus explained

with Ableton Live


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Hens Zimmerman

Who am I?
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Hens Zimmerman (47), married, one child, living in the


Netherlands. I work as a post production audio engineer
for Dutch television. At work its Pro Tools that I use. At
home its Ableton Live.
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Whats a bus?
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A bus is a virtual wire in your DAW. It is not the source,


nor the destination. A bus, much like a wire, connects a
source with a destination. In this picture the red line is a
bus.

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source

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destination

Post fader bus send


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Sending to a bus means you have a


second route for your sound to
travel through your DAW.
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The default bus send is post fader.


Post means after. It means that
the bus signal will be less if you
pull the fader down.
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Pre fader bus send


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It is also possible to send a signal


to a bus pre fader. Pre means
before. This means you can pull
the fader up or down, but the
amount of signal being sent to the
bus is controlled only by the
independent send control.
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Where do we send a bus signal to?


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A bus signal is typically sent to an aux track. An aux


track is simply another track in your DAW that has
inserts (like a reverb or a delay) and a fader to control
the level thats ultimately sent to the master bus.
However, an aux track almost always has a bus as its
input. Its not a track that holds any audio or MIDI
regions.
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You will see that we can also use busses to send a


signal to other destinations, such as the side chain of a
compressor.

Aux tracks in Ableton Live


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are called Return Tracks. The


busses are assigned automatically
and called A, B, C, etc.
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If you have three return tracks, you will


also see three Sends in every track that
can send audio to a Return Track.

Audio and MIDI tracks can both send


to a return track
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Return Tracks can also


send to Return Tracks!
This means you can make
complex signal routings and
even use feedback. Feedback
means a Return Track will send
a signal to itself. Wrap your
brain around that one. Why
would a Return Track send
something to itself?
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Pre and post fader in Ableton Live


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Every Send to a Return Track (remember: the A,


B, C etc. rotary controls we saw earlier) can be
used pre or post fader. Like most DAWs, post
fader is the default. In the master fader you can
make Sends pre fader. In this picture you can
see that Send A is pre fader (orange). Its easy to
see which is which, because Ableton Live
organizes the order of the buttons exactly the
same as the Sends in a track as you see here:
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A send can be the input for an Audio Track


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This gives you some very interesting routing


options. For instance, you can (re)record the
bus signal to an audio track.
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A track can optionally only send to one or


more Return Tracks
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This means the original signal never reaches


the master bus. Only the output of the Return
Tracks is used.
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A bus can also be used as a side chain


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Lives Compressor and


Glue compressor can
use a Bus Send (A, B, C,
etc.) as a side chain
input. But Lives routing
system is flexible
enough that you can also use an entire tracks output as
a side chain input.
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There is a default Master Bus in Ableton Live


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It is called Master (see


red arrow) and it controls
the ultimate system
output. The Master bus
can have insert effects of
its own. Individual tracks
can send their audio
output to this Master bus
(blue arrows).
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Audio effect racks also have busses

In this picture you see only one bus in an effect rack


called Chain (red arrow). All the audio from the left
goes through this bus called Chain to the right.
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Chains can have user defined names

Here you can see two chains called Tube saturator and
Redux. These are busses inside the effect rack. The
rotary controls at the left can control how much signal
goes through each chain.
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Conclusion
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Ableton Live is a modern DAW. Although it uses busses


and aux tracks like any mixer or DAW, it has its own
nomenclature for it (Return Track and Chain). It is an
extremely flexible system that allows the user to make
complex routings of audio signals.
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This PDF was made by Hens Zimmerman on July 31, 2014 in Pailhas,
France. It was made on a Macbook Pro using Pages. There were lots
of flies buzzing around my head when I typed this.
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Ableton Live can be found at https://www.ableton.com/
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License.
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On analog modular synthesizers like this Doepfer A100 busses arent virtual
wires but real wires. Awesome! And yes, the red thing on top is a digital
synthesizer (an Access Virus rack to be exact).