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Dave Pensado’s 5 Best Lessons For Better Mixes (Now!)

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Keep watching for five powerful lessons from pro mixer Dave Pensado that will improve your mixes today.

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and before we dive in make sure you download my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to mixing like Dave Pensado. Click the link above or in the description below to download this e-book right now.

Now if you don’t know who Dave Pensado is, he’s a professional mixer. He’s worked on records from Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Elton John. And a few years back he launched an online video series called “Pensado’s Place,” where every week he brings on a guest – this could be a producer, mixer, someone who just works in the music industry at large – and really dives deep with them and tries to talk about the tips and tricks and tactics and techniques that they use to craft some of their biggest records. So he’s done such a wonderful job at sharing so much free content with the music-making community, and in this video I wanted to distill down what were the five core lessons that we can all take away from the hundreds of episodes of “Pensado’s Place” that Dave has shared with us.

Lesson number one is that taste matters more than technique. Now in a recent interview on the “Pro Audio Files,” Dave was asked – you’re sharing all this great information, why is it that you have no qualms about exposing all your secrets and tips and tricks that you use on some of your biggest records? And Dave replied by saying, “I’m not selling my engineering, I’m selling my taste.” Now this is a huge, very important point that we can all learn from, right? This idea that it’s not about tactics and tips and tricks, that we all have access to that same information, but at the end of the day what really separates good from great and what really is going to make you exceptional as a mixer is your own taste, your own unique spin, your own context that you bring to the table from all the different thousands of records that you’ve listened to over the course of your lifetime.

And the truth is when you’re mixing, there are a million right answers, right? There’s not just one good mix. You can get to the finish line in a million different ways. So really what separates mixers from each other is their unique tastes, and that’s what they bring to the table. So what Dave is saying here is you can have all the techniques. We all know – you know – the tactics about how to compress a kick drum or how to EQ a snare. That stuff is all out there. But really what’s going to separate you from everyone else is your unique taste.

Now later on in the article Dave goes on by saying that if you have two hours available, the best use of your time is to listen to as many records as possible instead of just learning techniques. That time comes after immersing yourself in records you enjoy. So really focusing on building up your own taste by listening to lots of different music, and developing your own sense for what a good mix sounds like ultimately is going to do a lot more for you than just going out on YouTube and trying to learn all these different tactics because taste precedes technique. So if you can start with that and really build up your sense of taste, then you’re going to be well on your way to making really great-sounding mixes.

Lesson number two is you’re never too good to stop referencing. Now for those of you who don’t know what referencing is, the idea is that while you’re mixing you can actually compare your work in progress to other commercial mixes out there. So you can flip over to Spotify and pull up some of your favorite records, and flip back and forth between that music and the mix that you’re working on. This process of referencing is something that is so important because it will allow you and help you to stay in the right lane while you’re working, so you avoid veering off the path and ending up with a mix that’s just completely in the wrong direction.

Now something interesting to note is that referencing is not just for amateurs or home studio musicians or semi-pros. Dave is a professional mix engineer, and yet he’s referencing in every single mix that he does. He’s talked about this at length, and in several YouTube videos that he’s released. He’s gone into his process of referencing. And there’s actually a plug-in out there called Magic AB, which is a referencing tool that was inspired by Dave himself. So this is a guy who said look, I’m not too good for referencing. And even though I’m at the top of my game, I’m still making sure that I’m listening to other references while I’m working so that I can remain in the right lane and stay grounded. So this is something that we can all learn from, this idea that there really isn’t ever a point that you just get to where you’re going to stop referencing. The truth is referencing can always be useful regardless of how skilled you are. And if you use references during your mixing process, at the end of the day you’re going to end up with better-sounding mixes.

Lesson number three is workflow is key. Now Dave has one of the most detailed, comprehensive mix templates I’ve ever seen. This is a guy who’s built in tons of effects chains, multiple layers of bussing and routing. And there’s a lot to be said about this because the idea is that you’re moving quickly and efficiently when you have a mix template that gives you lots of different options, that allows you to pull up plug-in chains and try things out really quickly and easily without a whole bunch of different clicks. So Dave has really prioritized workflow in this sense, and the idea that he’s set up a system that allows him to move quickly and efficiently through the mix process is something that we can all learn from. So if you don’t have a mix template, if you’ve never experimented with that before, try to build something out and take a page from Dave, and see if you can build something that allows you to move a little bit more quickly and efficiently. And if you can do this, it’s a great way to improve your mixing process and ultimately end up with better-sounding mixes.

And lesson number four is to embrace change. Now when Dave first started mixing, he was 100% in the analog world. But over time he’s completely embraced in-the-box mixing. This is a guy that’s 90+% in-the-box right now. Not that he couldn’t be 100% in-the-box, it’s just that he’s chosen to use both the best tools of the digital world and the best tools of the analog world. So he’s taken an integrative approach versus saying oh, in-the-box mixing, you know, plug-ins are never going to sound as good as the analog world and remaining stuck. He’s actually chosen to embrace change and to move forward with the times.

And not only that, but he’s embraced tools like automated online mastering. This is a guy who whenever he sees something new and different, he says how can I take advantage of this? Versus hanging on to something that was really good yesterday, right? And we can all learn from Dave’s approach, because the truth is things are always changing. Things are always going to be different. There are always going to be new tools and approaches and ways of doing things. And rather than feeling afraid of that, we can actually choose to embrace it, and constantly be looking forward and discovering new ways of working and better ways of doing things. And that’s an approach that we can all learn from Dave Pensado.

Lesson number five is never stop learning. What I find fascinating about Dave is that this is a guy who’s clearly at the top of his game. And yet what he decides to do is start an online web series where he can bring in some of the best people. And instead of just sitting there and going, you know, this is how I like to do things, and this is my approach, he listens. He sits there and asks questions, and remains curious. And he’s learning as much from these guests as we are.

So the truth is whether you’re an amateur or a pro, the learning never stops. And if you can remain humble and curious, you have so much to learn from others. And look, this is a lesson that I have to teach myself too continually. Because even though I have a YouTube channel and I’m sharing and teaching others, I learn as much from you guys as you learn from me. So the truth is, if you can remain in that spirit of humility, remain humble and curious, the learning never stops. You have so much to learn from others, and we can always, all of us, be getting better every single day. And this is probably the greatest lesson that we can all learn from Dave.

Now if you enjoyed this video, don’t forget to download my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to mixing like Dave Pensado. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free e-book right now.

Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – which of Dave’s five lessons did you resonate with the most? I’d love to hear your response, so leave your answer in the comments section below.

Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel, or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.