Whether you’re using a software DAW, or mixing with a hardware mixer, there’s this one feature that I’m sure a lot of you have overlooked: subgroups. For the longest time, I’ve always just mixed straight, with all of my tracks routed to the main outputs of my DAW, and that’s fine because that’s all I needed. But there are times when subgroup mixing can be really beneficial, like if you’re working on a certain part of your mix.
I’ll use drums as an example because it’s the most common and simplest way to explain it. Let’s say you have a few drum tracks, such as:
Track #1 – Kick Drum
Track #2 – Snare Drum
Track #3 – Hi-Hat
Track #4 – Cymbals
You could have your drums just playing along throughout your track like normal, but what if you wanted to have a certain breakdown in your beat? What if you all of a sudden want all of your drum sounds to mute or for the volume to lower and then increase? Subgroups are what you would need.
Instead of sending all of your drum tracks to the main outputs, route it to a subgroup. When you do this, what happens is that now you can control all of your drum tracks with a single mixer strip – volume, pan, effects, etc. The benefit of this is it’s much simpler now to take control of the drums because it’s all in one place. If you wanted to have the volume for all of your drums to lower at one point in your mix, now you can do it with just this one strip, instead of trying to lower tracks #1-#4 all at once.
Of course, you could easily just copy all your drum track clips and paste them into the spot that you want, then lower the volume of those clips. But what if you wanted to use automation? This is when the subgroup will be a huge benefit.
It’s not just about mixing, grouping, and volumes. Subgroups are especially nice if you want to add effects to a whole group of tracks. So if you have tracks 1-4 with drums on them, and you want to add some kind of effect to all of them, equally, what would you do?
If you wanted to add a compression effect to your drums, then you could insert the effect to each track, but that would be really bad, wouldn’t it? By doing that, you would have four instances of the same effect, all adding to the load of your DAW, which we all know would suck up your computer’s memory really fast. If you happen to have a supercomputer in your house, then by all means do this. But for all of us regular folk, this is not a good idea.
So what do you do? Send all your drum tracks to your subgroup and then add the compression effect to the subgroup track. Simple, isn’t it? Now you will be able to mess with the compression for ALL of your drums, and that is not only much simpler, but it’s also efficient, as it greatly decreases the load you’re putting on your computer.
Ease Of Use
The other benefit of using subgroups is that it’s just efficient. Instead of having a whole bunch of drums tracks, then a bunch of vocal tracks, you can instead just group stuff together. You can’t have a ton of subgroups, but it’s just good to be able to send groups of tracks somewhere else so it’s much easier to organize everything while mixing.
Subgroups are not complicated, it’s just an easy way to help with your mixing, and that’s what it was intended to do. It’s not meant for you to scratch your head with confusion, wondering how to use this feature, rather it’s meant to make things much easier. So next time you’re mixing and you have a few tracks that you know can be grouped together, try it and see how it will make your mixing much better.