I have been recording and mixing records professio nally since 1994. I have seen, worked, and lived in the days of big studios; analog tape machines; and large-format Neve, API, and SSL consoles. It wasn’t too long ago that we had big recording budgets, studio assistants, endless outboard gear, and records that sold millions of copies. Fast forward to 2016. I have my own private “hybrid” studio in sleepy southern Delaware and I couldn’t be happier. Here are the top five things I have learned about mixing along the way.
1.Start with a Good Recording
This is not rocket science. Record your music the best that you possibly can. Get your source instrument (i.e. guitar, keyboard, vocal, drum kit, etc.) sounding right in the room before placing a microphone in front of it. No plug-in is going to be able to completely salvage a bad recording later in the mix stage. Make it easier on yourself (and guys like me) and make every track sound as you would want it to in the final mix, from the beginning of the recording.
2. Know Your Monitors
The most important part of mixing is hearing things properly. Listen to music you know well (sonically) through the speakers in your room. Every decision you make from recording to the final mix will be based on your sonic understanding of what is coming from those speakers in that room.
Organizing the tracks in your DAW so that the layout is familiar to you will make you work faster and smarter. Oftentimes, the longer you spend on a mix the worse it gets. This is the main reason people fall in love with their “rough” mixes. They spent little time on them, but the gut instincts of which parts matter in the song are more in focus. Also, if you are mixing songs produced and recorded by someone other than yourself (as I do), take a day and create a few different mix templates for various genres. Focus on the layout of the mix and edit window, routing, bussing, color coding, etc. Set up reverb and delay returns, and insert certain plug-ins on channels bypassed but ready to go when you need them. The quicker you can start mixing and get the vibe of a song happening, the better the end result.
4.B Is for Balance
Take a few minutes and learn the song you are mixing. Push the faders up. Learn what makes it tick. Find the “hook.” Knowing these things early on will help you get to the finish line. I hear so many mixes where it sounds like the mix engineer spent hours on the drums and ten minutes on the lead vocal. Of course the drums/beats should always sound great, but the 15 year old who downloads the song three months later couldn’t care less about the signal path you used to get your snare drum sound. Always keep the end-listener in mind.
5. Use a Real Mastering Engineer
So often, people are mixing through “brick wall” limiter plug-ins, trying to create the loudest mixes of all time. They are essentially mastering their music themselves, while simultaneously crushing the dynamics and life out of the music. But mastering isn’t all about volume. It’s the absolute final stage to fine-tune your mix by adjusting frequencies that are too harsh or muddy, and where you get songs recorded in several locations to sit together as a consistent record. Find a mastering engineer you trust and your recordings and mixes will thank you.
Veteran engineer Jeff Juliano has mixed music for Train, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, O.A.R., Phillip Phillips, Paramore, the Dave Matthews Band, Rachel Yamagata, and many others. He also recently released his own drum sample library with drummer Nir Z. Find out more at jeffjuliano.net or iwantthatsound.com.