If you feel like you need a step by step approach to managing your mixing sessions, then read on! For a long time, mixing seemed like a simultaneously exciting and daunting prospect. I would start out feeling really enthusiastic about mixing tracks. But soon my enthusiasm would disappear. I would feel intimidated by the huge amount of tracks and the seemingly infinite possibilities in front of me. I’d set out mixing with no real plan and my mixing sessions would take days to complete. I soon realised that I needed a process for managing my mixing sessions.
An easy to follow guide to managing your mixing sessions:
With a step-by-step system in place, you can start mixing with a clear idea of what you need to do. Here’s my easy to follow process for mixing sessions. Breaking the process down into these key steps will help you to mix faster and achieve better results.
Mixing Session Preparation:
Begin by tidying the session up. Set up the routing for a drum bus, guitar bus and vocal bus. Set up an effects send and return, plus a mix bus and master fader as well. That way you can begin mixing with everything organised properly.
Trimming Gain levels:
Often, you will find that your master fader may already be peaking before you’ve even started to mix. Add a trim plug in at the beginning of your signal chain for any signals that are really hot. Pull them down so that you can get on with your mixing with plenty of head room.
Levels & Panning in mixing sessions:
With all of the signals at a more conservative level, the next stage in managing your mixing sessions is to mix the song using only levels and panning. There’s rarely one ideal position for every fader that will suit the entire song. This will be especially noticeable before any compression has been applied. But, getting your tracks as well balanced as possible at this point, puts you in a great position to begin applying compression, EQ, effects etc. I also pan things to give the best separation and width to the mix as possible.
Gating drums and other instruments:
Next, I like to gate the drums. Not everybody uses gates, but I think they make a huge difference. Gate your drums so that only the kick drum is audible on the kick drum channel. Do the same so that only the snare is audible on the snare channel etc. If you need to, gate things like the vocals. That way the signal will fall silent when the singer isn’t singing. This helps to eliminate any problems with background noise that has spilled onto the mics during tracking.
Use compression as you manage your mixing sessions:
Whether you should apply EQ or compression first is debatable. I’ve heard great arguments for both. Which ever way round you prefer to do this, a successful way to managing your mixing sessions is to carry out the compression and EQ over the next two steps. For me, I like to start with compression. I feel like I can make better EQ judgments with signals that are a little bit more consistent in their dynamic range. Compression can also have an impact on the tone of an audio signal. So I like to carry out the EQ after the compression.
Use EQ as you manage your mixing sessions:
Next, I like to equalise the tracks. Getting good EQ settings is the secret to a great mix. Try to give everything its own space within the mix. Aim for full and rich spectral content. Take the opportunity to use EQ to lessen any unpleasant sound in your mix, as well as boosting the pleasant qualities of your audio signals.
Effects for mixing audio:
With the track’s levels, panning, gating, compression and EQ in place, you should have a really solid foundation for your track. Next, add effects like reverb and delay to compliment the mix. Reverb on things like pianos, guitars and vocals will make the song sound natural. Delays can add interesting elements to your song when used tastefully. Each of these add to the song’s musicality.
Automation in mixing:
With the mix sounding great, the final piece for managing your mixing sessions is to automate various levels. Doing this helps you to ensure that the vocals sit on top of the mix throughout the whole song. You can also use it to boost the level of a guitar during a solo. Automation can be used to alter the level of any signals wherever and whenever you feel necessary. I often use automation on short guitar parts or piano parts to enhance that part of the song. You can also automate your effects. You can switch delays on or off. Or you can boost the level of reverb towards the end of a vocal line. These touches keep your mix exciting and interesting to listen to throughout.
Be sure to try this process out on your next mixing session and see if concentrating on each of these elements in this order works as well for you as it does for me!