In this article, I’ll talk about DAW workflow. DAW workflow refers to the way in which you setup your session in order to record or mix a song. This workflow is nothing unique. But by using this workflow, you’ll be able to setup your mixes in a tried and tested way that makes mixing really straightforward. Generally speaking, even the simplest of sessions will be made up of a lot of different components. So having an organised workflow is essential if you want to be able to focus your attention on mixing. This setup allows you to mix quicker and easier, and it works for any DAW.
Organise your audio and midi tracks in your DAW:
You should start by arranging all of your tracks into a logical order. Put all of the stems for the drum kit together. Put all of the stems for the guitars together. Most instruments will be made up of a number of different audio/midi tracks which make up the whole instrument. Make sure that you organise all of them alongside their counterparts. The exact organisation will vary depending on the instrumentation of your track. But generally, you would organise a mix for a band something like this:
- Bass drum in
- Bass drum out
- Snare top
- Snare bottom
- Rack tom
- Floor tom
- Overhead left
- Overhead right
- Hi hat
- Ride cymbal
- Drum room mic
- Bass DI
- Bass amp
- Acoustic guitar mic 1
- Acoustic guitar mic 2
- Guitar amp 1
- Guitar amp 2
- Lead vocal
- Backing vocal 1
- Backing vocal 2
Drum bus, guitar bus and vocal bus using auxiliary tracks:
Next, you’ll want to set up some auxiliary tracks to use as instrument group channels. These are single channels that you can use to control all of the stems that make up one instrument. These will likely be:
- Acoustic guitars
- Electric guitars
- Lead vocals
- Backing vocals
Why do you need to do this? Well, you don’t need to, but here’s why I like to. Once you’ve balanced the level of each part of an instrument, you can control its overall level using just one fader. This is great for things like drums, because you can turn the whole kit up or down without having to alter each part of the kit individually. You can control the level of all of the guitar amps or all of the backing vocals in just the same way. Furthermore, you can even add plugins to these auxiliary tracks. This lets you apply things like EQ and compression to all of the guitars, or all of the vocals, at once.
Effects Channels using auxiliary tracks:
Next, you’ll want to set up some auxiliary tracks to use as an effects bus. I usually set up two, a reverb and a delay. Add a reverb/delay plugin to your effects channels. Now, instead of adding the plugin to every track that requires the effect, you only have to do it once. You simply send a signal to the relevant effect channel from each of the tracks that you want to be effected. The signal then returns at the effects bus auxiliary channel. This is great because you don’t have to add lots of copies of the same plugin to different channels. By doing it only once, you free up your computer’s processing power.
Mix bus and master fader channels in your DAW:
Finally, you’ll want to set up a mix bus channel and a master fader channel. It doesn’t take too much effort to guess what the master fader does. It controls the overall level for the entire session. Usually, you’ll be able to add plugins to it as well. As a result, you can process all of the tracks in the session through EQs, compressors, limiters etc.
However, If you want to process everything in the session through a plugin, its better to add plugins to a ‘mix bus’ auxiliary track, even though they could be added to the master fader. This is because in most DAWs, the master fader will be set by default to ‘pre fade’. Therefore, if you alter the level of the fader, the level of the input to the plugins on that channel change as well. The problem is that if you add something like a compressor plugin to the master fader, and you perform a fade out, the input level of the compressor will drop as the fader drops.
So what’s the solution? Pass everything through an auxiliary channel first which acts as a ‘mix bus’. You must set your mix bus auxiliary channel to ‘post fade’. As a result, changes to the position of the fader will not affect any of the input levels of the plugins. Consequently, you can automate the fader to fade out and it will decrease the volume with the plugin setting’s remaining unaltered.
By using this format, your DAW will be optimised for all of your mixing sessions. In my opinion, setting up your DAW in this way means that you can mix more effectively than you could using any other workflow.