Mixing is the most mysterious part of any record. Every engineer has there own secrets and tricks of the trade. When i began my internship at NY’s famous Soundtrack Studios many years ago I was blown away by all i learned. After twisting many knobs doing gear recalls for top engineers and seeing what a real record industry mix look liked I began to notice a lot of the same patterns from engineer to engineer. Some of the techniques and philosophies will help you mixing skills tremendously. After you read the article please leave us a comment below. I can’t answer questions about mixing unless you ask them.
Mixing Secret #1 – Stop turning knobs and listening. Mixing engineers spend more time listening to the mix then they do twisting knobs, and adjusting effects. You should be spending alot more time listening. An average major label mix can take any where from 8 to 24 hours or more. Most of this time is spent listening to every small detail looking for problems and ways to solve them in a creative or corrective way. Listen on big speakers, small speakers, headphones and even in the car.
Mixing Secret #2 – Use a Template Most mixing engineers start with a template setup. Every engineer has their standard set up of effects that they begin a project with. This template is where the specific sound of that engineer begins. Each engineer falls in love with specific devices that they almost always will use. One engineer i worked with would use a sony reverb on all the vocals, another would only use the Lexicon 480L on vocals. An engineer will have the studio setup by the assistant with the same gear on the same channels, or bring their own personal equipment that they use on every song. As you learn to mix being building your set up of go to plugins and devices. Its better to know 5 plugins in and out then use 20 plugins and have no idea what they are doing. Find things you like the sound of and stick with it.
Mixing Secret #3 – It’s to loud in here. The best engineers spend most of the time mixing at very low volumes. At lower volumes you can hear much more defined. You will hear frequencies better and smaller differences in volume easier. Try listening at lower volumes. Other benefits to this are less fatigue on you ears and the most important one no damage to your hearing.
Mixing Secret #4 – The sound of silence. When you work on a mix, don’t start with the music. Start with the noise. The first time i sat in on a big analog mix I watched the board light up like a Christmas tree. The lights were the mute buttons for each channel going on and off during the mix. If a track did not have music playing it was muted. But why mute the channel when there is nothing playing? Well just because you don’t hear noise coming from a channel doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you played that one empty channel of audio you wouldn’t hear anything, but when ten, 20 or even 50 channels start adding up you will hear stuff filling up frequencies of your mix. This is especially important when you are mixing session with lots of live instruments and room noise. Although this is a technique from the analog world you can still apply it in the digital domain by deleting what you don’t need and putting a small fade on the starts and ends of your region. More on this in another post.
Mixing Secret #5 – The switcharoo If an engineer working on a mix doesn’t like a sound… They get rid of it. If a sound is causing a conflict with another element in the mix that can not be fixed and engineer will typically do one of two things. First they might re record the part or replace the sound. If for example a snare was recorded poorly a new one will be put into its place or blended with it. If a part or a sound couldn’t be replaced or layered to sound better it might be removed from that part of the arrangement. The producer, a&r, and artist can fight it out later. Ultimately the best decisions need to be made for sonic clarity not emotional ties to the song. Next week will continue with why your mix sucks Part III. Take a moment to sign up to our email list for more tips and free drum sounds to use in your productions and beat making. Read last weeks post for more information about the mixing process.
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