One of the most challenging aspects of mixing is knowing how to start. Do you begin with the vocal? Do you begin with guitars or drums? What about starting your mix with all of the faders up? The beautiful news is: there is no one right way to start a mix. Find what works for you!
Today however, I want to make the case for starting your mix with the drums (assuming you have them). More specifically, Grammy winning mixer Andrew Scheps is making that case, and for a very good reason.
Make The Drums One Instrument
Andrew Scheps is a master mixer with credits such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Linkin Park, Adele, U2, Jay-Z and more. Here’s what he had to say on Pensado’s Place about starting a mix:
I usually start on the drums first, so I won’t have to work on them anymore. I want to get them to my group fader so I can stop thinking of them as 12 microphones or 30 microphones, and instead think of them as one thing. – Andrew Scheps (Mixer)
Scheps is a smart man. Too many tracks on drums can be a pain. It might be helpful to sculpt the sound needed, but when it comes to mix time you want to work as quickly as you can to shape and control the drums as one single instrument living on one fader. There’s simply far too much else going on in a modern mix to be dealing with multiple drum tracks.
Give The Drums Your Best Attention
By starting with the drums, Andrew is able to give all of those tracks his best attention and his clearest focus. Once he’s getting the drum sound he’s after, he can then buss all of the drum tracks to one drum group fader (Aux, VCA, etc) and move on.
In my workflow I like to do this and then even hide the drum tracks. Why? So I’m not tempted to go fiddling with the individual tracks again. One slight change and the whole drum mix can fall apart. That’s what is so tricky about mixing drums. So by giving them special attention at the beginning, you can know they sound good and you can move on from there.
Drums Really Are One Instrument
The sooner you can mix the drums down to one track (visually I mean) then you can really start mixing. Why? Because drums really should be treated as one single instrument. They are no different than a bass guitar or lead vocal. Once you mix the drum tracks to a perfect balance of tone and punch, it’s best to forget about them as individual tracks and instead focus on how they fit in the mix as a single instrument.
This will help you think bigger picture about your mix like your audience would. You can ask questions like, “Do the drum sound loud enough?” and make the adjustment with one fader. The question of, “Are the drums bright enough?” is now simply corrected with a tiny bit of EQ on one track. Simple, practical, realistic.
Applying This Concept Elsewhere
As I’m sure you are beginnging to see, this concept of starting with multi track drums and getting them to one fader really can be applied to just about anything in your mix. If you have a complex orchestral arrangement, do the same thing. Start balancing the strings against each other and funnel them through a single group fader. The same can happen with guitar heavy mixes.
The point is, start with what is complex. Then simplify it, reducing the number of options and variables, thereby allowing you to mix faster and more creatively.