In short, it is about starting with the whole and ending with the details, instead of the other way around.
There are as many ways to attack a mix as there are mixers and one way is not necessarily better than the other. What is clear, however, is that there are more or less successful (and proven) strategies to facilitate the workflow of hard-working studio foxes. Whether my approach works for you is of course impossible to answer, but hopefully you may be able to pick up a few things. Let’s go.
1. Start with group and name all channels. A tidy and well-organized project is always much nicer to work with. It is also a prerequisite for future steps.
2. Set volym and panning and no other. Here it is important to focus on the whole and above all listen to the song itself, not the mix. By this I mean that you should not snowball into details. Ignore if the bass keg lacks a bottom, or if the guitars sound mushy. Instead, divert your thinking to good things in life, such as the song itself. Think about what is the core of the song. Which instruments are important and which should stay in the background? Highlight the important elements, and do not be afraid to throw (or bribe) excess tracks. Go for emotion and ignore the technical. 90% percent of a mix is volume and panning, at least in my opinion. Make time for this!
3. Then set the sight to the group channels. We say for the sake of simplicity that we have drums, bass, guitars, synths and vocals to work with. How do the groups sound in relation to each other? Do they compete in frequency? Make overall eq adjustments so that each group has its place in the sound image.
The drums may need to be lowered at 150 and 500Hz for the bass and guitars to emerge and the guitars may need to be lowered at 2000Hz for the song to fit and so on. It can help to think bass, midrange and treble. Why not do the opposite if you might be wondering? Why not start with the individual channels and then set the final sound in the groups? Of course you can do that, if you want. But there is an idea of putting a kind of basic sound first, as this usually means that you later do not have to screw on the individual channels as much, which in turn can give a more natural sound. In addition, this approach goes hand in hand with the philosophy of focusing on the whole and not snowballing into details until absolutely necessary.
4. Now it’s (finally ?!) time for them the individual channels and tinkering at the level of detail. Do what needs to be done, but no more. Are the guitars still mushy? Does the bass keg need more bottom or the song more air? Now it’s time to adjust this. But preferably avoid steering in solo mode, it does not matter how an instrument sounds alone. Of course, it may be necessary to listen to the solo sometimes, especially when looking for problem frequencies and the like. But this should go fast and not take up too much time.
In my opinion, it is of utmost importance not to get caught up in details, as the joy of mixing quickly turns into frustration. Keep up the pace. I’ve said it before and I will definitely say it again: It does not matter if the bass sounds “poof” or “boom” if the music does not make you stomp the beat.
5. Then continue with effects and automation. This is about creating movement, energy and depth with the help of reverb, delay and automation. A live mix is a mix that breathes, that does not feel static. Exactly how you can work with effects and automation, you can read more about here:
6. Finputsa. When you have come this far, it’s time to take a well-deserved break. How long is entirely up to you and it is of course tempting to just drive on (and sometimes there is unfortunately no choice). But a few hours is definitely recommended and preferably you should wait until the next day to rest and freshen up your ears. When you then listen to the song (not the mix!) Try to do this unreservedly – Turn off the screen or close your eyes and just listen, from beginning to end. Then write down what needs to be adjusted. For example, it could be that the bass is too strong, the song is too treble, or that the mix is too dull overall. Advice remedy for this.
Congratulations. You have now succeeded with the piece of art to mix backwards in six simple steps – From the big whole to the small details. All the time with the music in focus, without snowing in on details unnecessarily.
Feel free to ask questions or comment on the article in the comment field below, and we will spin the topic together. Or if you prefer to discuss mixing in the “Mixing and mastering” section of the Studios forum here!
Fredagstipset is a recurring series where Studio writer Jon Rinneby shares tips every Friday in, among other things, recording and mixing. Here you will find all Friday tips.