Mixing can be a simultaneously exciting and daunting prospect. Many different elements make up a mix, e.g. EQ, compression, levels, effects, panning etc. As such, it can be hard to know where to start and to feel as though you’re not making much progress as you mix. That’s why it helps to follow a step-by-step system when you mix.
An easy-to-follow guide to managing your mixing sessions:
With a step-by-step system in place, you have a clear idea of what you need to do and when. Here’s my easy-to-follow process for mixing sessions. It’s a tried and tested process which is used by many. Breaking the process down into these key steps will help you to build your mix up layer by layer until you reach the finished mix.
Mixing session preparation:
Begin by organizing your session. Start by arranging your tracks in a logical order and colour coding them. Next, set up the routing for a drum bus, guitar bus and vocal bus. Set up effects send and returns for reverbs and/or delays. Then, set up a mix bus and master fader. That way you can begin mixing with everything organized and with your buses setup and ready for use.
Trimming gain levels:
Next, you will usually need to apply some gain staging. Often, you will find that your master fader may be clipping before you’ve even started to mix. Insert a trim plugin at the beginning of each track and pull their levels down to introduce some headroom.
Levels & panning:
With all the signals at a more conservative level, the next stage in managing your mixing sessions is to create a static mix. A static mix is where you mix your song using only levels and panning. There’s rarely one ideal level for every track which is suitable for the entire song. But, getting your tracks as well-balanced as possible at this point puts you in a great position before you begin working with compression, EQ, effects etc.
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. 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 sounds in your mix, as well as boosting the pleasant qualities of your audio signals.
Applying compression allows you to take control of the dynamic range of each of your tracks. Compression can be used to make the level of your tracks more balanced by attenuating the level of the loud parts of the signal. It can also be used to add fatness, energy and punch to your tracks.
With your levels, panning, EQ and compression in place, you should have a really solid foundation for your mix. Next, add effects like reverb and delay to compliment the mix. Reverb will make your mix sound natural and add depth, and delays can add interesting elements to your song.
Automation in mixing:
The final step is to add automation. You can use automation to alter the level of any signals wherever and whenever you feel necessary. You can also automate your effects, or automate EQs or compressors to change mid-song. Automation allows you to add the final finishing touches which keep your mix exciting and interesting to listen to throughout.
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