Shortcuts help mixers cut down on the time they spend making each decision, in turn making each edit in their mix easier. When your approach to various problems you encounter in the studio becomes streamlined you’re able to work faster and make MORE decisions on the fly.
Summing all of these perks together means one thing: better mixes.
When you can work confidently through any scenario, you’ll end up with a mix that you can be proud of. What once took an entire day’s work to somewhat complete can sound professional and polished in just a few hours of time. With the biggest edit decisions happening in a fraction of the time, you’ll free yourself up to putting those final tweaks in that make each mix uniquely yours.
Here are some of the biggest and best ways to improve your mixes without a ton of experience:
Try Mixing In Mono
Mono mixes are one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, but they’re necessary in a time where plenty of listener’s are going to be hearing your music played through a phone or mono Bluetooth speaker.
For mixers looking to hack their way into a better mono AND stereo mix, starting with your master fader set to mono might just be the way to go. You’ll still hear how panning of various instruments changes the mix, but you’re locking yourself into a tighter stereo field from the start this way.
By mixing in mono, you’re immediately kicking off your mix with the most difficult place to find balance. Things are hard enough to spread out in stereo, especially in a dense mix. However, if you can find balance in the mono realm, you’ll often find that flipping back to stereo opens up into a HUGE full-width mix you can be proud of.
Start At The Top
Too often, I see mixers that start mixing from the very first second of the session just to find out after a bunch of work has been done that they didn’t leave enough headroom for the song to hit its dynamic peak where it really counts. Rather than going back and remixing the entire thing, they’ll usually compress the whole song even harder, or worse; bring their tracks down a few dB (potentially throwing the gain staging and levels of every plugin in the session out of whack).
Rather than box yourself into that corner, you can work smarter by starting at the dynamic peak and working down from there. All you need to do is jump to that section, whether a bridge, end chorus, or something else altogether. Once you’re there, do as much as you can to loop it and get a rough mix going on that section alone.
Once you’ve done that, you’ve set the stage for where the rest of the song should fall in relation to your peak. If you’re ever questioning how hard anything is getting pushed, just jump back to that part of the session for a quick check and you’re good to go.
Quick Tip: Even though we’re talking about the “peak” of the song, you should still leave yourself some headroom for mix bus processing and mastering.
Simplify Your Session
Got a hundred tracks? Two hundred? More? How can you expect to maintain all of those when working through a mix if you’re not simplifying as you go?
Your session should really be a funnel working its way down from “all tracks” to the mix bus. Along the way, you can make things more and more simplified using subgroups for different types of instruments.
Things like drums, guitars and vocals all qualify for traditional subgroups, but don’t be afraid to get a bit more creative than that. Your background vocals could work as a sub-subgroup of their own before getting bussed down to the main vocal track. Another great place for a subgroup is where you’re working with time-based effects. While you’re not as likely to be processing this group in any way, it gives you a quick spot to monitor and adjust gently outside of individual adjustments.
As you start committing to grouping different parts of your mix, you can also start processing them as a whole. Compressors like the ones included in the Bus Glue series shine the brightest in these scenarios where dozens of dynamic instruments are thrown at them on a single stereo bus. They catch the stray peaks while simultaneously adding to the cohesiveness of that part of the mix.
When done right, grouping and subgrouping should always result in a handful of manageable tracks for your final mix, saving you the headache of scrolling through endless tracks should a small edit be needed later.
The Best Way To Improve Your Mixes
There’s no substitute for hard work and experience, but using these tricks of the trade has helped dozens of mixers improve their decision-making. In addition to these few examples, we’ve got hundreds more in our Courses, eBooks & Tutorials in the JST VIP Members’ Only section of the site.
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