Today I want to talk about the quickest way to kill a mix. This is a mistake that I see so many mixers making—especially ones that are just getting started, or are just learning about mixing for the first time.
Now, what I see a lot of mixers doing is…they throw on a ton of processing and plugins…they’re moving through the mixing process. They’re doing those things because when they add processing, it feels like they’re making progress.
But there’s no intention behind any of the decisions that they’re making. They’re moving through the mixing process without an end goal in mind, or a vision for what they want the mix to sound like.
Now this is one of the quickest ways to kill a mix, because when you don’t have a clear idea of where you’re going, you can’t possibly figure out how to get there. How do you know which decisions to make? How do you know which plugins to use, or what kind of EQ you need?
Everything that we do in the mixing process should be working backwards from—okay, what do we want the mix to sound like. And then figuring out how to get there using the tools that we have.
Today, I want to suggest 4 steps to defining your vision when you’re working on a mix. This is something that you should do before you start throwing on processing or plugins. If you take just a couple of minutes at the beginning of every mix to really define your vision and figure out how to get there, I guarantee you’re going to move through the mixing process so much faster. It’s going to be a lot more fun, and you’re going to end up retracing your steps a lot less along the way. So let’s get started.
Step #1 is to take stock. This is where you listen through the tracks you currently have in your session without adding any plugins or processing and just get a sense for how things sound. You’re also trying to identify any problems or potential hurdles that might get in the way of you achieving the mix that you’re looking for. This is also a great time to listen to the rough mix if you’re listening to someone else’s track. Just get a sense for where you’re starting, because you can’t figure out where to go unless you know where you are right now.
Step #2 is to define the goal. So after you’ve listened to all the tracks and you have a really clear idea of what you’re starting with, then you can start to say—okay, where do I want to take this? This is a step that people commonly miss at the beginning of the process. They just start throwing on things. They haven’t really defined what the end result is.
I recommend taking a couple of minutes here, and really starting to think about—okay, what is the sound that I’m going for? Do I want this to sound vintage? Do I want it to sound modern? Try to find a couple of reference tracks that might be in the same ballpark in terms of what you’re looking for. Really start to clarify in your own mind where the end goal is. Where are you trying to take this mix?
Step #3 is to define the process. So after you’ve defined the end goal, then you can start to say—okay, how do I get there using the tools and techniques that I have in my arsenal? This is when you start picking out plugins and techniques, and starting to say—okay, what are the tools that I have that can help me get closer to that end goal?
You might choose one reverb over another if you’re going for a vintage sound versus a modern sound. Or you might process things in groups if you’re looking for a more glued, cohesive sound, versus individually if you’re looking for more of a sense of clarity or separation in the mix. You might add samples or start to look through your sample library if you want to enhance the drums to sound more modern or punchier.
These are all decisions that come out of defining the goal, and then really thinking about process. Thinking—how do I get there…how do I achieve that goal…that sound that I’m looking for.
Step #4 is really to execute, and the key thing here is also to adjust as you go. So mixing is a dynamic process. It’s not like we set a goal and then we just drive through to that end goal. As you’re moving through the mixing process, you’re going to start to figure out that some things aren’t working. A certain technique or plugin might not be doing the job. That’s what you start making adjustments to both your vision, and also the tools and techniques that you’re using to get there. So it’s a dynamic process, and you should make adjustments as you go.
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