A post by Mark Barrie - Producer
Someone told me the other day that they had no idea where or how to start the mixing process. I gave them one small tip and they looked at me strangely because they were surprised at how simple the tip was. It wasn’t complex, and it sure wasn’t what they expected from someone with my experience. They assumed mixing was complicated and cryptic, not simple and intuitive. See, the thing with mixing is: you have to make it intuitive. You have to set yourself up for success, not failure.
Mixing is about psychology
If you think about it, mixing is all about psychology. We are manipulators of the mind but yet, we have to keep our own minds in check to succeed at it. The listener, who is experiencing the final product needs to be immersed in our world musically and sonically. Understanding the psychology of sound music will benefit your listener. For you the engineer, the psychological aspect is what will make or break your process. The mentality of mixing is centred around “less is more” and that you want to ACTUALLY have fun doing it while being creative!
I’ve mixed many artists in virtually every genre and in a variety of ideal and not so ideal scenarios. The common thing that sets me up for success is preparation and workflow.
Preparation is the process of doing all organizational things in advance and anticipating issues that may arise early on. The goal is to avoid stopping the creative process and to allow your intuition to drive your decisions. Organization and preparation can be anything from labelling tracks to routing to simple communication with your client. You can anticipate virtually anything you think you are going to need or do in the mixing process beforehand.
Tip #1 – Your DAW IS your virtual mixing studio
Imagine a console in a studio: You’re sitting there and bobbing your head to the music with enjoyment, you want to hear a little more snap in the kick so you reach out, turn a knob, and presto the kick now has what it was missing. Then all of a sudden you want to hear a beautiful reverb on your vocal, you reach out and turn a knob and voila, you have a beautiful lush reverb almost as quickly as you imagined it.
Analog gave us this type of workflow because the console was already built and the patch cables were already connected. If you think about it, a blank DAW session is like an empty studio waiting to be filled with gear.
When you mix you want to be creative, you want to work as quickly as your creative brain wants to have ideas. You don’t want to stop and build a console in the middle of your epic drum sound. Do that beforehand.
So, build your virtual console in your DAW! Create EQs and Compressors that are bypassed. They are there ready for you to use at the click of a button. Reverbs can be routed, and presets selected, bus sends created in advance, all just waiting for you to add instant depth to your mix.
Tip #2 – Strong relationships + Strong Communication = Successful projects
With your clients: remember that communication is key. Always talk to your artists/tracking engineers to make sure YOU are getting everything you need to mix. The music production process is all about strong communication from conception to mastering.
It works both ways! You need to understand that the CLIENT’S vision is more important than anything else. If you do only what you feel is right with no regard to their vision you are wasting everyone’s time. Make sure you listen to a rough mix, and talk to the artist/producer/client to determine what they like about it, and understand what they want to achieve with the overall sound of the final mix.
You would probably be surprised if I said to start with the tracks from their rough mix. Seems odd right? Why wouldn’t you start from scratch with raw, unprocessed audio? Well think of it this way: most of the time the client is going to constantly remind you to listen to the rough mix to get the “feel” of what is there. Would it be more of a time saver to start with those sounds immediately and work from there? Or to take time out of your mixing to get BACK to the sounds they had from scratch? It makes sense to bypass the headache and just build off of what they had.
Work smart not hard
The process is all about working smarter and giving yourself the opportunity to use your creative intuition. You don’t want to be distracted by things you can easily avoid or anticipate before they interrupt the fun stuff. Remember, there is no way to anticipate every issue and always keep in mind that your clients are people who are unique and creative. The more you do this, the more you will be able to find what works for you, and for them. The goal, in the end, is to make great music and have your clients be ecstatic about the music you helped bring to life. Happy mixing!
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