In today’s blog post, I would like to share my mix preparation workflow that helps me finish all mixes a lot FASTER.
A lot of music producers and musicians alike get overwhelmed by the mixing process. After spending countless hours making a song, it’s understandable why you may feel overwhelmed by the process of mixing the track.
However, taking a few minutes to prepare your mix can get rid of all that overwhelm and get you to fall in love with the art of mixing.
The main goal of mix preparation is to make the mixing process go smoother. It will help you focus on “mixing” instead of wasting time on fixing recording and production mistakes.
You can’t finish a mix fast if you’re overwhelmed or disorganized, that’s why mix preparation is a crucial part of mixing.
So, let’s look at some of the most important things you need to do before you start choosing your favorite compressor or EQ plugins.
Preparing Your Tracks For Mixing
To get your song(s) ready for mixing, you’ll need to create multitracks. Each sound (instruments and vocals) should have its own track.
It’s also a good idea to name all the individual tracks (kick, shaker, violin, etc.) to avoid confusion.
When you export the audio tracks don’t use mp3, the multitracks have to be WAV or AIFF files since these formats are higher quality.
For the sample rate, it’s recommended to export audio files using the same sample rate that was used during recording and production.
You should also consider which sounds in the mix need to be exported in mono and which ones will be stereo.
Usually, kick, lead vocal, bass, snare, and other main sounds (not supporting instruments or vocals) are often mono. But there are no strict rules when it comes to this.
Turn off any processing (reverb, delay, autotune, etc.) the sounds should usually be raw, unless if the processing is stylistic then you can keep the effects.
One other thing that I do before hitting the export button is gain staging. I’ll do a dedicated post about it soon, so watch out for that.
A lot of mixes suck simply because the arrangement of the song is just not great, to begin with.
If the arrangement of a song is not great then no matter how you mix it, the song will never be interesting for the listener.
If you’re working with a client then either help them or give them some tips that will help them improve the arrangement.
A good song arrangement will make it easier to get the song where it needs to go. Does the song make people dance? Does it make them cry? Fall in love? Etc.
When you understand all that then you’re able to use your mixing skills to turn a demo into a professional-sounding record.
So, the arrangement is usually the direction of where the mix needs to go.
2. Cleaning the Audio
One thing you don’t want is to fix recording issues and mistakes during mixing. This stuff will drain your energy and that can result in making bad decisions when processing sounds.
So, I recommend you spend some time cleaning the audio tracks first (if necessary).
This includes removing clicks, pops, hum, and cutting out silent parts.
Don’t leave silent parts because you think there’s nothing there. In some cases, you might find that there’s background noise, clicks, etc. that you won’t be able to see with your eyes unless you zoom in.
Some stuff may popup once you start adding compression. You may find yourself wasting time just to find a crackling sound out of 128 tracks.
This is why it’s very important to just remove all the silent parts to be safe.
When cutting audio tracks, make sure that you use crossfades so that you don’t create clicks and pops.
I would also recommend doing all the audio cleaning manually instead of using tools such as gates, expanders, de-click, de-noise, etc.
Doing all this manually gives you full control and a lot of flexibility.
So, don’t skip audio editing, it’s very crucial.
3. Clip Gain Automation (Gain Riding)
Another part of audio editing is to automate the clip/pre gain to reduce loud breaths, sibilance, and peaks.
You’ll get better results when using dynamic tools during the mixing stage because the tools won’t have to overwork or bring up unwanted background noise.
Automation gives you full control and you have the power to do what no tool can do on its own. Even if it’s not perfect automation, but when done right, this can improve the quality of your mixes drastically.
4. Comping During Mix Preparation
Comping during mix preparation is different from the comping that you do during the recording and production stages.
The purpose of comping during mix prep is all about making your session as small as possible.
The aim here is to compress a session from maybe 100 audio tracks to 50, or even less.
Let’s say you have 6 guitar tracks that all sound the same and they were recorded at the same time. Chances are, you’re going to process all of them the same way. So, instead of processing them one at a time you can simply comp them and make them one track.
That way, your session will be smaller and easy to manage.
Another way would be to group all those tracks to a bus or group channel. I don’t work like that, I prefer to bounce all those tracks into a single audio track.
If I need to fix some panning or balance issues, then I don’t mind going back to the comping project to get that done. This is the only disadvantage of my approach, but since I’ve been mixing for ages I know how to avoid these pitfalls early.
Choose your approach and stick to it because comping or grouping will save you some CPU power and keep you organized.
5. Checking Phase
If you’re using multiple microphones (for instance, recording a full drum kit) always check the phase relationship between all the microphones.
This also applies if you’re layering sounds, always check that one layer doesn’t cause phase issues with the other layer(s).
When a snare is out of phase with the rest of the drum kit or the overheads, I don’t care how much you process it, that snare will never cut through. This applies to any of the sounds that are in a mix.
So, make sure that you fix phase issues during mix preparation.
6. Dealing With Timing Issues
You don’t want to be fixing timing and stuff that is out of key during the process of mixing a song. Things like that can make you lose perspective and drain your energy unnecessarily.
If something is out of timing or maybe the drums and vocals need to get tuned then do that stuff during mix prep.
However, speak to the client before doing all this stuff because, in some genres such as classical and jazz, things will be out of timing in some places to capture the human feel.
Never assume that you know what’s best for the client, always communicate. Have a conversation with them before fixing timing and key issues.
If you’re mixing your music then you’ll obviously fix this stuff before even thinking about mixing the song.
The role of markers is to save time when navigating different parts of the song (intro, verse, hook, etc.).
This is optional but it does improve workflow by making navigation on the mix faster. The process of switching from one section of the song to another and creating loops will get done in a few keystrokes.
There’s not much to say about markers, it’s up to you to decide if you need them or not, but they’re a lifesaver.
8. Color Coding
Color coding is also one of those things that I do during mix preparation.
I’ll start by placing all the multitracks in instrumental groups. The drums will be in one section, same with the keys, vocals, guitars, etc.
When everything is well organized I can find sounds quicker and be able to apply ideas on the fly.
Color coding makes it much easier for me to navigate the mixer and focus on "mixing" the song, without spending 2 minutes trying to locate the sub kick.
My workflow also includes reference songs.
This process speeds up my decision-making when mixing. It refreshes my ears so that I can hear whether my processing is improving the song or not.
There are different ways to reference music. Some engineers only use the rough mix. Others use their favorite songs. Some people prefer to listen to reference songs during their mixing breaks only.
It doesn’t matter which method you choose, but do try using reference songs to test if it will fit your workflow.
That’s my mix preparation workflow.
Using this approach makes my mixing process smoother because I can focus on enhancing sounds in a mix instead of wasting time fixing problems.
This also helps me remove all the overwhelm that comes with thinking about mixing my own music.
So, I recommend you never to skip mix prep and hope this post helps you do it in a way that gives you a better chance of getting the best results.