I think I’m as guilty of it as anyone else… When I was starting out in my career as a mixer, I would spend hours and sometimes even days working away at the same mix. Before I had any credits to my name, trying to nail the mix was an obsession of mine and at the time that meant perfectly automating, tweaking, EQing, replacing, enhancing & time-aligning every aspect of my mix.
While I still do most of those things today, I’m not worried about sweating the small stuff – I’m focusing on the big picture.
This concept is the driving force that keeps my productivity high and my turnover times low. I don’t need months on end to mix an EP – just some time that can be honestly dedicated to mixing and nothing but mixing. In order to pull that off, there are a few things you’ll need to do:
Schedule Your Sessions
Too often, if a timeframe or deadline isn’t set, things will just get postponed, delayed & ignored. You need to be strict with your time; make sure your time is as valuable to you as it is to the band or label paying you for it. There’s no point in spending 80 hours mixing a track that the label is only going to pay you 8 hours for. Factor in revisions and stem requests that are bound to happen, and you might as well get your mix process down as tightly as possible while still giving the best possible results.
I find that by blocking out some time in my day and scheduling other projects or errands around it, I’m more conscious of my time. For others, setting a timer or alarm can help break you out of the bad habit of running long on a session. Don’t worry if you run past your allotted time the first few mixes – these tools are there to help you track how long you’re taking. Subconsciously, you should begin to adjust and move closer to your target each time.
If it’s really bad, start by giving yourself an extra hour or so, or find a halfway point between the time you want to be spending on a mix and the time it’s currently taking you to finish each project.
Edit Before Mixing
In the genres I work with, a clean, tight performance starts well before the mix itself. During tracking, engineers should be working to get the best performance possible right at the source. From there, edits are almost always a must to lock instruments into the grid. This amount of time and effort this takes varies by artist; so I don’t think it’s fair to count edit time against the time you should be mixing.
I know plenty of other engineers that feel the same way about editing and how essential it is to a good mix. For this reason, I look at editing as a necessary task between the engineer and mixer. Depending on timing and availability, the task can fall to either person or someone else altogether.
If you’re looking to start working in the industry, a great audio editor has a huge advantage against others they’re competing with when it comes to internships & assisting gigs. If you can pick up on an engineer’s editing process and do it as fast (or faster) than they can, that’s a great reason for them to have you around and involved.
If you’re editing your own audio, getting familiar with common edit techniques to speed up your workflow is going to be essential to moving forward. While it might be a headache while you’re doing it, you’re going to be grateful that everything is locked into place & pitch corrected BEFORE you start mixing. It’s the only way you’ll ever even hope to cut your mix times down.
Using Tools That Speed Up Your Mix
If you can accomplish multiple parts of your processing signal chain with one plugin, why would you ever use two, three, or more? This is the concept behind many signature series plugins and its how all-stars like Billy Decker are able to constantly churn out Top 40 hits with shorter mix sessions. What previously took a load of different plugins and presets has been essentially boiled down to his new Bus Glue line, allowing him to “Deckerate” his mixes faster than ever.
If you haven’t adopted the pros approach or found a way to incorporate their plugins yet, you can still get a decent amount of your work done by learning the plugins you have access to right now. By trying out their stock presets, you might find a great starting point that can act as a shortcut to get you into the ballpark of a sound you’re after. From there, it’s just a matter of tweaking the settings to fit just right.
Want to take it a step further? You can create your own presets for almost any plugin to refine your starting point over time. Let’s say your favorite bass compressor has a preset that you love using, but the ratio is set to 4:1 and you always turn that up to 8:1 and lower your threshold 4-5 dB. By creating your own preset, you can cut down on both of those moves by giving yourself an even better shortcut for every future mix. Multiply that by dozens of settings on a handful of plugins across every channel, and we’re talking about saving some SERIOUS time!
Learn Processes From Start To End
Anyone working with audio should know what it takes to get a sound from a microphone through to the streaming platform the listener is hearing his or her song on. It’s a matter of knowing how to record a great sound, edit it, mix it & master it before sending it off for consumption. Not everyone needs to be an expert in every step, but having a general understanding is great for understanding how your mix fits in with the parts of the process that surround it.
We’ve got some amazing resources available in the JST VIP section that will take you from tracking through mixing and more thanks to our eBooks & lessons. The Toneforge Bootcamp is an especially useful course for those looking to nail the perfect guitar tone. Perhaps best of all, mixers can submit their mixes for review by Billy Decker or myself. Regardless of who you go with, we’ll give you expert advice on what’s working well in your mix and what still needs work.