You remember back in the day when companies would put out unofficial cheat code guides for all the biggest video games? It didn’t matter what system you played on; they all had them. And while you might not have spent money for all 10,000+ cheat codes held inside, I would BET that you must’ve copied a few select codes down or memorized them for use when you got home (looking at you, Grand Theft Auto fans).
The key to these guides was the promise held within them. Instantly more powerful characters. Unlimited resources. Shortcuts to help you nail a speed run or reach 100% completion.
How great would it be to have all those same shortcuts in your career? Well, if you’re a mixer by trade, now’s your chance! Here are our Top 5 music mixing cheat codes that every mixer should know.
1. The Solo Scam
The first entry on our list is something that seems like a cheat but isn’t.
The promise of a solo button that lets you hear a single track on its own can sound appealing at first, but the reality is that it forces you to work in isolation. You might think that’s a great opportunity… No muddiness or masking going on affecting your ability to hear the instrument clearly. No interruptions or distractions. What’s not to love?
Truthfully, there are very few situations where mixing in solo is going to do anything good for you. You need all that masking, muddiness, and distraction to give you context to the rest of the mix. What good is a great sounding kick in solo if it can’t cut through in context?
Pro mixers know that the solo button is there for spot checking – quick references in isolation before getting back to the mix where they work and adjust.
2. Aim Assist
While aim assist in a game like Call of Duty will get your opponents’ blood boiling, in the studio using some form of assistance is just a smart move.
Aim assist comes in all forms depending on the tools you’re working with and the tracks you’re working on. For vocals, these are things like the automatic tuning settings in Auto-Tune and Melodyne. By letting the algorithms behind these powerful processors identify and correct the tuning for you, you’ll be able to spend a fraction of the time on manual correction.
Even if you don’t have anything quite that automated, there are several mix strategies that could still be considered aim assist right in your stock plugins. Things like hi-pass filters clean up the low end of your mix – narrowing the actual frequency range you’ll need to focus on. While it’s not going to lock onto the target for you, it makes your job of seeking it out that much easier by eliminating some of the noise that gets in your way.
3. Infinite Money Glitch
Okay – there’s no glitch to have infinite money in your studio (at least not that I’ve found), but how about a way to save thousands of dollars on outboard gear? You can get REAL hardware effects like delays and reverbs into your mixes for just a couple hundred bucks.
This might sound like a pipe dream when you see the massive Lexicon and Bricasti rigs being run in professional studios, but if you’re willing to lower your expectations just a bit there are plenty of options out there.
One of my favorite affordable hardware hacks is to use guitar pedals and a reamp box in my sessions. Hardware pedals can add a bit of that analog vibe introduced by the round trip out of the DAW and back in, but they also give you access to a whole slew of sounds that you won’t always find in your stock plugins. And spending a bit more on higher-end pedals like the Eventide H9 will give you the exact same algorithms used in the rack units!
Give pedals a try the next time you’re looking for some inspiration – you’ll be amazed at how lush some of these effects sound.
4. Armor & Invincibility
Most of our industry today is working digitally, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. We can instantly recall sessions just by opening our DAWs and every fader, knob and automation is restored. All of this enables us to work faster, but not safer.
Backups are an absolute must in the studio if you want to protect your sessions from loss. This means extra hard drives in the studio and cloud backup subscriptions if you can afford them. All it takes is one failed hard drive to lose hundreds or even thousands of hours of work if you don’t have a system in place.
5. Skip to the Final Boss
The coolest features of one of my favorite video games is that you can skip to the end almost as soon as the game begins. While it’s a massive challenge without all that experience and game knowledge you gain along the way, there’s something exciting about seeing what you’re in for right at the start.
In the studio, this equates to jumping right to our master bus where we can apply compression and overall mix processing before touching a single fader or track-level plugin. Setting up a good bus compressor on the master early on makes a ton of sense in the studio – you spend all your time mixing into your chain, rather than adding it as a final touch after your mix is done.
See how it works in this video from John Connearn:
As you can hear, having BG-Mix on his output creates a crisper, more dynamic sound where his transients pop. By having that plugin there from the start, there’s no question about whether things will sound brighter, punchier, or any other number of side effects a good compressor will have when it’s added to the master bus. The full effect of the plugin will be there the whole time.
More Shortcuts & Secrets
Analogies can be great for beginners working to comprehend new techniques and retain information, but no matter how good they are, sometimes you just need a quick reference for this type of stuff.
For that reason, we’ve added a bunch of our favorite tips, techniques, and secrets to The Producer’s Guide to Synthesizers & Sweeteners. Whether you’re mixing music, film, or game audio, this is the perfect resource to explain why and where to drop in a sample or sound effect. It also pairs perfectly with our latest sample pack – JST Kaoss Vol. 1.