Yes, this post may be a little less exciting than most, but
it’s a critical part of the mixing engineer’s daily routine. I promise I’ll go back to fun little mix tips soon, but stick with me here. It’s just like eating your vegetables…it sucks a bit, but it’s good for you.
If you mix day in and day out like the rest of us, you are always looking for ways to cut some corners so that you can focus on the mix, not the technical stuff. If you’re not, you should be.
Here’s the dirty little secret: create a template to start each mix from, get an organizational flow set up, stick to it for every mix, and always be tweaking it to improve it. I can’t overemphasize how useful doing this can be. I’ve been tweaking the same template for years now and it’s to the point where I don’t have to think about the location of anything. It’s exactly where it should be. Try as you might, your brain is not good at multitasking and never will be. You don’t need to be wasting precious brain power chasing down where this bus goes or where that aux channel is now…you need to be 100% focused on making a kickass mix!
So, what does a good template include? I’m freaking glad you asked!
All pre-routed aux tracks. My template has the following aux tracks (with buses already assigned AND LABELED): Kick, Kick parallel track, Snare, Snare Parallel track, Toms, Cymbals, Rooms, All Drums, All Drums Parallel track, Kick/Snare parallel track, Bass, Bass parallel track, Drums/Bass, Guitars, Guitars parallel track, Lead Guitars, Background Vocals, “Pre-Master” track, “Pre-Master” parallel track, Master Output. On some of these tracks (snare, guitars, etc.) I already have a send to effects set up. I know I’m going to use it, why not have it ready to go?
When I load in the files for a new mix, I already know where each track is going. It’s just a matter of placing them in the right spot and routing them to the appropriate bus. Easy.
Effects aux tracks. Here I have a stereo drum reverb, a general reverb, a short stereo delay, a longer stereo delay, a super long stereo delay, chorus, and a tune up/down track. These are all routed into a master effects track for easy control. Again, all the buses are setup and labeled clearly.
Markers. Session markers are already set up for my reference tracks and my two “work zone” areas. One which will be ready to place in the mix’s verse, one in the chorus.
Plugins. “Gasp! How can you possibly use the same plugins every time?! Every mix is unique!” Sure…to a point. But you know what? I know I’m going to high pass filter my guitar aux every time, I know I’m going to distort my bass every time, I know I’m going to do a hundred other tiny things on (almost) every single mix.
I could A) Fool myself into thinking that every mix is like a pretty pretty snowflake…unique and perfect and like none other.
Or B) Accept reality that there are consistencies between mixes and save myself an assload of time that I can then use to focus on mixing.
I’ll choose B.
Reference Track. This is an audio track that bypasses the master bus processing of the mix so I can listen to my reference tracks in comparison to my mix.
Misc. Stuff. Color coding, zoom settings, track height settings, preference settings, etc., etc.
Now what about organization? The owner of the very first studio where I was an intern (eons ago!) taught me a valuable lesson. For every mix, use the same organizational structure. For example, on every track, have you reverb bus in slot 1, delay in slot 2, chorus in slot 3, etc. Again, you should know where to look for everything without having to think about it. Think about your mix, not where your reverb send is at.
The same goes for bus labeling. If your reverb bus is in bus 3-4, keep it in bus 3-4 for every mix! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to scan through 128+ busses just to get some reverb on my didgeridoo. I want to know right where it’s at so I can make the most slamming didgeridoo track you’ve ever heard, damnit!
In case you don’t know what a didgeridoo is, here’s 10 hours of one. Enjoy:
Disclaimer: For all you purists out there…the purpose of this post is not to say that you should turn the mixing process into a streamlined production line; churning out mix after mix with the same settings. This post is all about the starting point. Once you get into the mix, CHANGE EVERYTHING THAT NEEDS TO BE CHANGED. Getting a routine and flow organized for the mixing process does not mean ending up with the same mix every time. Get that routine set so that you can focus all of your finite energy into making a mix that will rip down walls and have the artist smiling (and coming back for more!).
Get a routine but stay creative. High five? High five!