I always listen to the song as I received it. If that means a reference track, I like to always sit and make mental notes of certain parts of the reference that stand out as points for me to focus on, whether they are specific effects that the artist is looking for or maybe areas that I know are going to give me trouble when I get to them. If I haven't received a reference track, I just listen to the raw stems as a whole and then in groups. Ill listen to the drums to see how they already sound and then the vocal arrangement. Mainly what I am looking for is what already sounds good and doesn't need to be adjusted that much. If the snare already sounds pretty crisp and fat before I touch it, there is no need to over-process it. If the recording engineer used a compressor on the way in on the lead vocal, then I should note that and try not to over-compress it. This is also a great time to label each section of the song so that you can reference it later! (Verse 1, Prechorus 1, Chorus 1 etc)
Every person has their own system of organization and no system is right or wrong. The first thing that I do when its time to mix is put everything in the order that I like to see it and color code everything in a way that makes some kind of sense. It's good to have some kind of regular system of naming and coloring, although not necessary. For example, the first track in my mixer is always Kick Drum In (unless there is an 808 for hip hop or pop for example). My drums are always orange and my vocals are always shades of blue. I set up my busses and effects sends according to what I heard in step one and then start routing everything. BGV 1-4>BGV Bus>Vocal Bus or Guitar 1L-3R > Guitar Bus> Instrumental Bus. Cut out all of the silence!
My mixes instantly improved when I learned that it's better to turn something down than to turn something else up. Before I start processing any instruments or vocals, I like to lower levels on the louder instruments to get them into a more workable dB range. Im not trying to create a perfect mix at this stage, nor am I married to any of these levels, its just good for me to be able to hear everything in perspective.
This one might be a little controversial, but I always like to handle putting everything in the stereo field before I add any EQ or Compression. I pan the drums (usually drummer's perspective) and separate the BGV's and any stereo elements as well. I do this mainly because I've noticed that some Stereo Imaging plugins can increase the perceived loudness, so it's important to be able to hear that change when Im making compression decisions.
Not too much needs to be said about this part, but this is the part of the mixing process where I start doing subtractive EQ and compression. After subtractive EQ, I handle additive EQ. There is no concrete rule about whether EQ or compression should come first. In my opinion, it varies track by track. Do whichever sounds better!
I usually apply some reverb to the drums and vocals and use some discretion with melodic elements. I use 1/8 delays, 1/4 delays, and delay throws where they make sense. I dont forget about things like chorus, flange, pitch bending, and modulation! This is always going to be subject to the artists vision to the song, so I try to never overdo it
I'm constantly doing this throughout the mixing process, but its important to keep an ear on my levels. By this point, I have a pretty good mix 1, so I take a step back and listen to where I am in the process. I'll usually turn down the drums because I like drums a lot and usually overcompensate before this point. Everything has been compressed as necessary at this point, so everything will probably be closer to its final level.
This is the most important one! At this point of the mix, I've probably been listening to loud sounds on a loop for several hours. It's important to take breaks for multiple reasons, the biggest of which being the longevity of my eardrums. I've also been sitting in a desk chair for the entire time, which isn't great for the rest of my body. Ill usually do something to get my blood flowing as well as focus on being in a near silent (comparatively) environment. This might mean taking a walk around the neighborhood of the studio or getting some cleaning done or even just some stretches. Take care of your body and it will take care of you! Aside for the health aspect of taking a break, it's actually extremely important for the mix. After walking away from the desk for an hour or so, when I sit back down and hit play, I might hear something in a way that I hadn't heard it before due to ear fatigue. It's difficult to be objective about mix decisions when you've been listening to the same song on a loop for hours. I try to approach the song as if it's a brand new song.
At this point, Im basically done editing individual tracks. Everything is sounding great in context with each other, but work still needs to be done. I'll do bus compression on the drums and EQ the vocal mix to make sure the vox sit on top of the music perfectly. It's easy to neglect my FX bus, but its important to pay some attention to whats going on over there too. I'll do a little leveling with the busses as well to get everything to gel together real nicely.
After taking another break (usually the next day) I'll make final adjustments and head over to the master bus. I'll work on the overall tone and balance and make sure the levels make sense. Multiband compression usually comes in pretty subtle here. I'll also raise the overall level to a better level before sending it off to a mastering engineer (even if that engineer is me).
At this point the mix is basically done with the exception of revisions from the artist or label. I always collect any money owed to me before sending ANYTHING to the artist. I’ll let them know that everything is finished any have bounces ready to send as soon as payment is handled. Usually I have it sitting in a draft in my email. After that, it’s on to the next project
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