Want some mixing advice? Don’t spend too much time focused on the little details. Sure all the fine tuning is important, but you don’t want to overspend your time and energy there. Instead, pour the majority of your mixing brain power into these three core areas and you’ll get big results. Trust me.
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Build A Killer Static Mix
I know the strong urge to start throwing plugins around and automating faders is there, but so much of what makes a great mix takes place before you actually start mixing. In fact one of the absolute best things you should spend time doing is creating one killer static mix. And what might that be? A static mix is simply a mix of all your tracks using only volume and pan, nothing else.
Why does this work? This process of playing through the song over and over and messing with faders and pan pots forces you to give every track its place. Think in your head, “If this track had to stay at one volume and pan position for the entire mix, where would that be?” Do your best to compromise, but create the absolute best balance you can using only volume and pan, because in the end, you will be starting your mix with each track at the best place possible.
Pretend All You Have Is EQ
Now that you have a great rough balance going (your static mix) it’s time to do your major sculpting. It’s time to pretend like EQ is the only tool you have to make your mix come to life. EQ is by far the most important tool you’ll use in the mixing phase short of the volume fader, and it’s the most powerful as well.
Spend the bulk of your time mixing here. Do whatever you have to do with EQ to get all your tracks to play nicely together. Carve out what you don’t need, emphasize what you need a bit more of, or radically alter a sound to make it fit. Also, do yourself a huge favor and EQ your tracks while listening in mono. You’ll make better EQ decisions, trust me.
Bring Your Tracks To Life With Tasteful Compression
Finally, it’s time to bring in some compression. With your tracks sitting at the best volume, panned to the optimal spot, EQ’d to perfection, all you really need to bring them to life is a dash of compression. Whether you need some fast attack squashing compression or some slow attack rhythmic compression, a little goes a long way here.
Compression, when done right, can take sonically clear tracks and give them energy, presence, and punch. Drums get a bit fatter, guitars cut through better, and vocals sound upfront and full. Compression is control tool that really can contain tracks that tend to get out of control, while featuring tracks that need some “air time.” It’s truly something that makes a flat recording have life and passion.
Pareto’s Law In Mixing
If you’re familiar at all with Pareto’s Law then you’ll like this. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto famously gave traction to the fascinating pattern that 80% of results come from 20% of activities. For instance, many companies make 80% of their profits from only 20% of their products, their big sellers. The pattern shows up all over the place, and not just in business.
As far as mixing goes, I have found that 80% of my mix’s sound comes from 20% of my mixing decisions, namely my static mix, EQ, and compression. I can then spend a crazy amount of time on other things like reverb, delay, automation, mix buss processing, effects, etc. In reality, it’s the above mentioned three big wins that create the majority of my mix, yet they don’t take a long time to do.
Spend 80% Of The Mix On These Big Wins
With that in mind, what I’m suggesting we do is spend more than 20% of our time on levels, EQ, and compression. I say flip it. Spend 80% of our time on these activities and 20% on the rest. Why? Simply put, if these big wins are what make or break our mix, it’s worth take the time to perfect them. The rest of the mix process (effects, automation, and even sweetening) crucial as they are, only serve to enhance the core of what we’ve done.
On your next mix, give this a try. Don’t spend the majority of your time fine tuning the fun details. Put in the work on the big wins and see if you just don’t get your best mix yet.