There are so many posts online on what to do when mixing, covering tips and tricks to try. There are fewer posts on what to avoid during the process of a mix. This guide will cover a few of the things I have done in the past which have turned out to be detrimental to either the mix or the workflow. By avoiding these, you will find it easier to get somewhere in a much shorter space of time.
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Soloing Each Track
One feature in every DAW that I know of, is the ability to solo a track. This is great for when you are analysing it by itself for things to fix. For that, the solo button is essential. The issue is when it is used during the mixing process.
A mix is a number of tracks, working well (or not so much) together. When you are adding effects to a track, you are adding them to improve it's role in the mix, to make it fit better. By soloing a track, you are removing the objective comparison to which you want to control your effects against.
It would be like adding an instagram filter to a photo which shows only the red parts.
By all means check the sound isn't getting ruined by an effect with solo, but really don't try mixing with the solo toggle button getting more action than charlie sheen.
There is the period before mixing, of composition and arrangement, where you want to fix as many issues with the track as an individual as possible. Use solo here instead. That way you know that you are going into the mixing process already happy with the track, it will mix nicely and you can go through much quicker.
Mixing for the Sake of Mixing
Guess what, some things work from the start. Rough round the edges can work. Dry signals can be fine. Don't feel like you have to add a compressor or EQ to something, it may just be a perfect take. Perhaps that dynamic vocal is what the rest of the track needs, especially if you jump to compress everything.
Not everything needs backbreaking work to mix it together
Especially if you are recording with good performers and musicians, they may know the good mic technique needed to stop a recording or more likely, live mix from sounding too rough.
I suggest you toggle the FX on/off button throughout to make sure you are truly adding something to the mix. If it sounds better without the FX then you know you can leave it.
Going Straight Into the Mixing Stage
I have never enjoyed this one, you have your bursts of caffeine induced creativity, you want to keep going. Ask yourself however if it's best to give your ears a break.
Two reasons necessitate this:
- hearing damage
- loss of objectivity
If you listen to loud music for long enough you will lose hearing. Assuming you mix sensibly though, listening to the same sound for hours on end make you too familiar. We know music sounds better with repetition and recognition. You will recognise the song too well and may not see issues for what they are.
Give yourself a break, grab a walk, ingest more caffeine. Whatever gives you a break. Even just spending 20 minutes writing down what you feel needs fixing in your mix.
Automation is a gift, I really believe that. Let's look at vocals, there will often be a significant increase in volume during the chorus. If we want a fairly level volume throughout, we could slap on a compressor.
Adding a compressor though, can be quite crushing on the life of the loud parts. We would end up with a very compressed sounding chorus and a fairly dry verse.
As a general rule, macroscopic volume issues can be resolved with automation. If the 30 second long chorus is 6dB louder than the rest for example, just drop it down so it's only slightly louder.
That way the compressor can be applied much gentler and it will just smooth out the dynamics. For short busts of volume such as plosives, there is no point automating them (unless they are horrific), as they are over so fast that a compressor would not be as noticeable.
Remember that the tone of someone belting out the volume will be very different sounding to someone singing softly. The brain will recognise that tonality and understand that they are singing louder. If you compress out all of the dynamics however, it will not quite sound like a real voice and not benefit the song.