So all your tracks are recorded and you’re primed to get your mix on! But before you start grabbing faders and throwing plugins around there are a few steps you should take if you want to get the most out of your mix. I know the strong temptation to jump right in, but let me share with you three things I do before every mix that help me get a better sounding mix in less time.
1. Listen To Every Track. Seriously.
This might sound obvious, but I find it very hard to mix a song when I’m not fully aware of what every track sounds like. Moreover if I don’t know what each track is doing at every point of the song I’m doomed from the start. I’ve been there, in the middle of a decent mix when all of a sudden something in a track takes me by surprise. Either it was a track I never heard (from a client) or a part I slightly forgot about that I recorded. Then I have to find a place for it in the mix, which can make my whole mix unravel.
These days I make a point to pull up all the faders and listen through critically to make a mental note of what we have to work with. What are all the guitars doing? What vocal parts come in on the bridge? Did the drummer even hit the floor tom in this song? These are the types of questions I’m asking as I listen through, soloing at times, and taking stock of my raw material. It might take you 15 minutes, but it will save you a headache later.
2. Eliminate Tracks That Don’t Add Something Special
Once I have a more thorough understanding (or review) of everything in my session it’s time to pull a Donald Trump and “fire” some tracks. Just because you recorded it (or a client sent it) doesn’t mean it’s needed in a mix. Too many tracks doing the same thing is just a big waste of time and CPU in my mind. I go on the hunt for bad or redundant tracks and give them the axe.
Here’s how I approach this elimination process. I listen to each track and determine one thing: if the track in question is adding anything special to the track or not. If the answer is yes, I keep it in. If the answer is no, it’s gone. Every track needs a purpose. It shouldn’t be in the mix just because it’s there. That’s a horrible reason to keep it. Ideally in the recording phase you (or the engineer) would have recorded only what served the song. In reality we aren’t good at commitment so we record everything and defer decision making to later. Well, now is later. Make a decision and cut the fat. Your CPU and brain will be happy you did.
3. Buss Tracks To Subgroups
Once you have taken stock of your tracks and eliminated the weaklings, you are left (in theory) with only good stuff. You’re almost ready to mix. But one last thing you might consider doing before you jump in head first is to setup some subgroups for similar tracks. This is super easy and immeasurably helpful. Typically I setup all of my drums and percussion tracks to buss to a stereo track called “Drums.” The same for guitars, vocals, and keyboards. All of these subgroups are then routed to my mix buss, or master fader.
This simple routing helps in a few ways. One, it mentally simplifies your mix even more. When you look at those 3 or 4 subgroups you can see your mix as really the blending of 3 or 4 key components. This keeps you focused and encouraged, which is crucial for churning out great mixes. Secondly this allows you to consider simple EQ or Compression decisions on the subgroup level before you dive in to the individual tracks. Sometimes with this type of simple but wide sweeping tweak you can get the sound you’re looking for with less work and fuss.
Lay The Proper Foundation
At the end of the day what you want is a great sounding mix. The best way to get there is to make the mixing process easier and more fun. The best way to do THAT is to know what you’re mixing before you start and to mix only stuff that the mix needs. What a concept. Add to that a little organization and simple buss routing and you are setup for mixing success. Of course now you actually have to mix the darn thing, but at least your foundation has been set. This has worked wonders for me and I hope will for you too.