The Two Column Approach To Mixing

| Mixing, Plugins, Tips

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.


TRR216 The Two Column Approach To Mixing

Via Wellness GM Flickr

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.


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9 Responses to “The Two Column Approach To Mixing”

  1. Niklas J. Blixt

    This is great, I’m all about simplicity. And I think I’ll have to bring out my notepad and penn a lot more than I already do. I’ve found lately that writing things down on “to-do-lists” helps me focusing and propelling forward in my business life. It’s really helpful to have a list of things that you want to get done and if it’s not on the list then I leave it or add it to the list and cross it over when it’s done. And I think I’m going to apply this on mixing a lot more in the future. Great post Graham.

  2. Chris

    Thanks bro-I am going to try this out on my next mix! I think this will help me stay more focused on the end results and not be overwhelmed by all the tracks.



  3. Bongz Dave

    Wow, thanks for that. I’m a bit of an ametuer and I don’t know how many tutorials I’ve seen on youtube , but mixing is still a problem. Will definitely use this info thanks.

  4. JMaglo

    Hey Graham,
    I must say your lesson are truly priceless (and you give them away for free!!!). I have been following your articles, emails, videos, literature ect since I found the recording revolution and it has changed my entire workflow and perspective as a mix engineer and producer. The application of the wisdom that you provide has put me and my cohorts in a position where we have picked up our first album as a production company!!! I literally talked to my client about how out goal for his mixes was headroom and clarity and cohesiveness. Not remaking the wheel but making sure it has fresh tires…I actually said that lol. He appreciated the simplistic and fun stance that you have helped us adopt. It’s funny because my mix engineer called me this morning and told me, “We gotta use Graham’s 2 column approach for this project! Lets not make it more than what it is. Take out what’s bad, enhance what’s good, compare it to relevant pro mixes and test it across platforms.” THAT’S WHAT WE STRIVE FOR!!!!

    Quick question though. Where would u start on a 16 track project? With the craziest busiest song that’s hardest to mix? Or would starting from the beginning and working it linear? I’m just scared that the hardest songs first might slow down my workflow whereas I could do easier mixes quickly generating momentum. But too much optimism might make me over think my harder mixes. Idk…. But it’s a convenient problem to have!!!

    Graham your truly an inspiration and a blessing to the mixing, recording and production community.

    Cheers from Baltimore,
    Stay Blessed


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