Never forget that mixing is a creative process. I find so many people are more than happy to jump head first into a mix with not even undertaking even the most basic stages of mix preparation. It is these types of individuals that ask me time and time again to explain why their mixes have a tendency to "come undone". I find it is almost impossible to salvage an unprepared mix session as I believe there's little that can be done other than re import the data from fresh in order to deliver a mix in a reasonable timeframe.
I believe preparing yourself and your mix sessions to be a lot like cooking for your friends and family. You want the end result to be well presented, taste good and enjoyed by all. This can all be easily achieved if you know what you want to cook, have the correct ingredients to hand and most importantly the want, desire and creativity to express yourself through your cooking skills.
Every time I approach a mix I first make clear to my clients that there will be no more tracking and recording of instruments. This is very important to me as it lets my mind focus on the job at hand, mixing. I don't like to be thinking about the songwriting, arrangement and production stages when I need to be giving my attention to the musicality of the mix.
The first technical thing I'll do is increase the H/W buffer size in the playback engine so that my Pro Tools system has the chance to operate at it’s best for handling plug in count..
I will sit in my listening position between my monitors and play a handful of songs that either I like or have been given as references. Now I have the opportunity to set my monitor volume to a comfortable listening level, that I will leave in place throughout my mix process.
This is a stage that should not be missed as I find it gives me a chance to warm up my ears. It also helps me settle into the style of music I am about to work on.
Organising The Session For Easy Navigation
Being able to use all the available navigation properties in Pro Tools will enable you to move around your session quickly, freeing you to make intuitive choices by limiting the need to constantly search around your workspace for parts. Spending between 15 to 30 minutes organising tracks into a familiar order with colours and names saves so much time in the mix process. The aim is for each session you work on to look and feel the same each and every time.
Quick Preparation Tips
- Insert coloured song markers so that you can jump around your session quickly
- Setup auxiliary tracks and effect sends on every track so that you will not have to break your creative workflow setting these up later.
- Use plug ins that you know well and instantiate them ready to use on the tracks, again eliminating the need to break your creative flow in the mix.
- Ensure each track has a good amount of headroom and that nothing is clipping.
- Check for any phase problems such as instruments that have been recorded with stereo microphones or snare drums with microphones on the top and bottom
- Trim and clean any audio clips that have unwanted noise in.
Pitch & Time Correction Tasks
I do not consider vocal tuning or time correction processes to be a creative task. Tuning tasks can often take a long time and be very tedious. Breaking your creative flow to tune a vocal can easily distracts your ears from the bigger picture, the mix as a whole.
Mix Planning & Time Management
When mixing client material, or my own music for that matter, I find setting deadlines a key factor in success as it helps me to move with the mixing process rather than become a slave to it.
When listening through rough mixes I like to write short "To Do" lists based on my initial reactions to the music. This gives me a clear plan of action that I'll stick to for most of the mix process as I found in the past it can be all too easy to forgot these initial feelings resulting in many hours wasted trying to recapture a connection.
We all have our own ways of approaching a mix... so let's hear some of your mix prep steps