I’m going to let you in on a little secret, a foundational principle that is the core of my mixing workflow and the workflow of every great mixer I know. I shared this with my newsletter subscribers a couple of weeks back and the response was so positive that I simply had to share it with you all here on the blog.
This principle takes the massive task of mixing a multitude of tracks and boils it down to two simple moves. It’s called the Two Column Approach to mixing and it works.
If All You Did Was This, Your Mixes Would Be Better
Mixing becomes overwhelming quickly. Even for me. I get sidetracked easily trying to make everything sound awesome and I don’t know where to focus my efforts. The truth is, all you should be focusing on when mixing is this fixing the bad and enhancing the good. It’s really that simple.
I call this the Two Column Approach and it’s for people who like simplicity. This mindset breaks mixing down into two main parts: the fixing part and the enhancing part. When you think in those terms, the mix comes together much easier.
Fixing The Bad
Here’s what I mean about “fixing the bad.” I listen to the tracks in their raw form and I listen for problem areas.These could be harsh or muddy frequencies, a lifeless kick drum, an overly dynamic vocal, or a dull bass guitar. Whatever it is about the mix that you wish was different you write down in column one, the fix column.
Some people may say “Mixing shouldn’t be about fixing,” and I would agree. In fact I like to record as if there is no mixing phase coming later. But what I’m suggesting you write down in the “fix” column are the things that simply aren’t good enough and are distracting from the song. These are the elements that need some attention, otherwise they will haunt you for the rest of our life. (OK, maybe that’s extreme but you get the idea.)
Enhancing The Good
Then I listen back to the mix again and think about the things that standout to me as solid. The elements I really want to feature. These could be a great guitar tone, awesome vocal harmonies, great drum room mics, or a thick synth part. Whatever it is about the mix that you want to hear more of, this is what you need to write down in the enhance column.
Everything else is neutral. So leave it alone. Don’t assume mixing involves touching every single element of the song. Some things are simply fine the way they are and don’t need any of your involvement. So stop meddling.
Use Your Best Tools: EQ And Compression
Once you’ve filled out both the bad and good columns, it’s time to get to work. With EQ and compression in hand begin by fixing the problem areas. After you’ve done some repair work, it’s time to use those same tools to feature and enhance the good elements. Help them to poke out a bit more in the mix so they are prominent to the listener.
If you can do this one simple process (identifying and addressing both columns) you will have a great mix. I promise. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. But it’s simplicity doesn’t diminish it’s effectiveness. Try it out yourself. Mentally approach mixing this way and watch what happens.