As I said, there are many ways to mix, and some throw themselves into the unknown and write, record and remix every now and then. What works for you does not necessarily work for me and one approach is no more right than the other.
Mixing is, in my opinion, a kind of rescue operation whose purpose is to put together the recorded material into an understandable whole. A necessary evil, albeit a very fun one. A slightly pessimistic view may seem and I am inclined to agree. But the fact is that I love to mix, so much so that I rarely dream of anything else.
My mix philosophy is simple and goes hand in hand with my other studio thinking: Large brushstrokes with a focus on feeling and simplicity, rather than technology. To achieve this, I have developed a way of working that suits me perfectly. Of course, it can differ a little from song to song, but on the whole my projects always follow the same pattern:
Assuming that the channels sound as they should and that each track is cleaned, I start by grouping all the channels. It usually looks something like this:
Where most main groups (which I enrich with capital letters for the sake of visibility) also have subgroups if needed. Nice and tidy, but without setting levels, panning or the like.
Main groups, here in the music program Reaper (which looks less gray in reality)
2. Bottom and top
The next step is to create two more groups that I call BOTTOM and TOP, where I shovel in each main group under the appropriate title. In the above case, drums and bass end up under the BOTTOM and other groups under the TOP. In this way, with the push of a button, I have access to only listen to the bottom or top package and can also adjust these separately if the future so requires. Furthermore, I also have a separate group called FX where my power channels are located, which also fulfills the same function.
Quick access to the bottom and top is for me a very useful mixing strategy
3. Large brush strokes
The most important part and central to my mix philosophy are the big brushstrokes. To work from the outside in, instead of the other way around. To start big and finish small, so as not to get caught up in unnecessary details. In other words, I completely ignore how, for example, bass, choir or lead singing sounds at this stage, it is unimportant.
With that said, it’s time to listen to all the groups together and set various levels and panning, both within and between the groups. This is really not about something fancy, but the focus should be entirely on finding the balance you want. Or rather to find the feeling you want. Here I try to think about what is important for the song. What drives the song? What is the core of the song? What captures the listener? Highlight what should be highlighted and do not be cowardly.
A rule of thumb I usually follow is to let a maximum of three main groups be dominant, while the others back up. These main groups can of course vary during the mix (using automation, for example) if the music requires it. Sometimes it helps to think about what should be far ahead, in the middle or at the front of the sound image. This is done with such a simple thing as volume.
If all instruments are heard equally and equally clearly, the brain becomes confused and does not know what to focus on. The depth disappears, giving the music a flat and lifeless impression. Nevertheless, the natural space that exists around each individual instrument disappears. The content: Be bold in your choices and think less about balance and more about the feeling the music conveys. Let things stand out and take place, it will be so much more fun then.
4. Low- and high-cut
Before you embark on any eq adjustments, I advise you to start with only low- and high-cut on all individual channels, ie on all instruments in the main groups. Put on the headphones and filter out unnecessary bottom and top. A slope of 12 usually works well in most cases. In this way, you save a lot, inaudible, energy for the instruments that really need it. Sometimes I skip low-cut on bass keg and bass, sometimes not, here there are no rules, but the basic sound and the song must decide. But managing energy for bass and bass keg is usually a must to get a well-defined mix, which feels.
Regarding high-cut, the idea is to filter out unnecessary noise, which may not be heard when you listen to the solo, but which adds to it when more channels are added. I rarely use high-cut lead vocals and acoustic guitars, while electric guitar, synths (not all), choruses and other things get their fair share. In the long run, this means that you do not have to boost as much, as frequency space has now been left for instruments that can really benefit from it. Another advantage of working healthy with low- and high-cut is that you can gas up and brighten up the mix more than before, without tiring out your ears to the same extent. With that said, I personally tend to be drawn to warmer, more embracing mixes.
The picture shows settings for electric guitar with a low-cut of 200 Hz and a high-cut of 10 kHz, as well as a small dip at deafening 2500 Hz
5. Final sprint and fine polishing
But before that… Time for a break. Neutralize and rest your ears. Then it’s time to mix as usual, whatever that means for you. Do you hear something sticking out and disturbing? Fix. Fine-tune the balance between different groups and individual channels and work with effects. Do everything in your power to elevate the song as much as possible. Use all the tricks you learned, break new ground, but for all intents and purposes, do not forget the whole and the original feeling you want to convey. It’s all too easy to unscrew at this stage.
Then it is obvious that you can not count on being ready with the mix from day one, the above approach or not. Different songs require more or less fiddling. At the same time, it is important to constantly remind yourself not to overwork the music. Put up a note at the screen if needed. With this in mind, I usually think of an old fairy tale about a world artist (whose name I choose not to mention), whose biggest hit was mixed in 84 times, after which they finally chose mix number two. That says a lot about what it really is we are doing. Or rather what we SHOULD do. Namely music.
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.