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There’s no right or wrong way to approach mixing, but there are some workflow basics that can help you be more productive at the process.
This guide to mixing is for the producer who struggles with what to do when tasked with a mix, or for anyone who wants to be a professional mixer one day.
In this first post of the series, we take a look at four steps you can take to prepare for a mix.
1. Speak to the producer
If you’re mixing someone else’s song, speak to the producer, band members, or artist (from now on collectively called the ‘client’). What do they envision for the mix? What are their expectations of you? Make sure that you get deadlines down and payment agreements sorted out so that you don’t screw yourself over.
If you’re mixing your own song, send a rough mix to a friend whose ears you trust and talk it through with them. Let them know your intentions for the mix, and see if they have any constructive feedback for you.
Tip: If you’re approached to mix a song and realize that you may not be able to meet the expectations of your client, you should definitely not take the job. For a start, pick jobs that you feel confident pursuing.
2. Get a rough mix of the track
Once again, if you’re mixing someone else’s song, you should grab the latest rough mix (sometimes called the ‘production mix’) that your client has been listening to. Let the rough mix be a starting point for how your mix should sound.
Tip: Always listen to the rough mix and take note of the elements in the song that drive the song or make it great, and see how you can better that. When you’ve made your mix, reference yours against the rough mix and make sure yours sounds way better – because that’s exactly what the client will do.
3. Find a reference mix
After listening to the rough mix and talking to your client, find a professional mix that you can reference when working on your mix. This mix will help direct your decision-making throughout the mixing process.
Tip: Reference mixes apply when you’re mixing your own productions too. You should always have an end-goal to work towards.
4. Organize your session
We’re all lazy creatures, and no one wants to clean up a session, but all the pros do it because there’s value in it. If you’re currently mixing a self-produced song, I recommend bouncing down all virtual instruments to audio and exporting them to a new session.
Color code groups of tracks to easily visualize where you are in the session; for instance, make all of your drum tracks one color and all of your vocal tracks another. More importantly, name your tracks! While mixing, you’ll be expected to move from one track to another, making tweaks and changes, so color coding and labeling will help with navigation.
Lastly, arrange your tracks in an order that you’re familiar with. In my case, I arrange drums first (acoustic, then electronic kits), followed by percussion (if any), bass, guitars, keyboards, synths, strings, brass and woodwinds (if any), lead vocals, and lastly backing vocals. Again, organizing your session is key to being productive.