Mixing; it always seems to have some kind of stigma attached to it, what does it even mean? Generally speaking, the mixing process should be the icing on the cake for what has probably been an arduous journey for artists and producers. It’s the point where everything is consolidated and if there’s something that needs attention or isn’t quite working, you make it work.
It’s the point you realise your vision and should also be the point in which a breath of relief is relieved. It’s also one of my favourite times; It’s this moment I’ve been working toward with the end vision in sight from the first time I had those demos hit my laptop, I’ve been quietly conjuring up a specific set of sequences in which instrumentation will appear, disappear, reverbs, space echo’s, modulation, character etc. at the back of my head. It’s now I believe where tracks can really start to shine and take shape, they may not necessarily change from the original recordings, nor should they, but things will start to move and dynamics become the forefront of the mind with subtle changes being made throughout the track so it will feel like its moving with intention, a beginning a middle and an end if you will, everything in its right place.
So, now that I’ve explained everything (or nothing), I’m going to throw some general rules of thumb down I follow;
- Firstly, I’ll spend some time laying tracks out across the console, grouping things together. I will setup FX sends and then go through to check instruments are sounding great, if they’re not then make them sound great. It’s at this point I’ll also be thinking about space in the mix; I find a reverb I like and start sending things to it, maybe a flanger or modulation too, once instruments start hitting the same FX buss this will start to create a particular mood and space within the track which is what we want; Things will start to sound like they’re playing in the same room.
- I will continue to play through the song, focusing on the song as a whole, if something jumps out to me, I will zoom in on that, figure out why, make it cohesive and move on. It’s obvious within several seconds if something works usually, so try that initial intuition that comes to mind and go with it, 99% of the time it will work and be great, if it doesn’t then move on, the important thing is to be able to try new things but not get stuck and keep the forward momentum, that’s when you lose sight and go down some kind of mixing vortex. We don’t want that. We want to stay fresh and excited about what’s going on.
- I then usually use my ears, I make everything exciting and fun, character with personality, if its none of those things then I will make it all of those things, not following any particular procedure just doing what comes intuitively and letting everything flow together, using dynamics, EQ’s, FX, whatever I can, to bring all these nuances out.
- Then there’s automation, I will generally automate everything; sends, drums, percussion, instruments, vocals, whatever. This helps with dynamics; you can really change the mood or scenes of parts of songs which is great to accentuate them moments and really draw people in and out without even realising it, even the subtlest movement can make a huge impact on how the parts are perceived especially moving from verse to chorus or vice versa.
- Check your mix in as many places as you can; your laptop, your car, wherever; I’m constantly using my trusty Beyer Dynamic DT770 pros. They’re not the most expensive headphones but I listen to everything on them, I know how they sound and what sounds good on them, so even if you’re in an unfamiliar room or unfamiliar speakers these will help with knowing how it should and is sounding. Its having these trusty tools that give you the confidence to not be second guessing yourself all day taking you away from making a killer mix.
- Finally; the print, usually move through your stems if you’re stemming out through analog gear/console first, grouping your drum tracks, bass tracks, guitars etc. this will help with any anomalies in the tracks you may not have picked up on before. Be confident and make that mix as badass as you can, using all the headroom possible on that print so as to get the most character out of your console and converters.
- Also; have fun and do what comes naturally, I don’t think there’s such thing as the perfect mix but there are
definitely some bloody excellent ones and keep learning from your last how you can better it.