As you’re reading this, I know two very specific things about you. The first is that you want to mix music for a living (this ones a bit obvious though). The second, is that I know you’ll succeed at it.
How could I possibly know that? Because you’re taking it seriously enough that you’re spending time learning your craft. You aren’t preoccupied with the things that aren’t going to make a difference to your music career, you’re reading the advice and tips that are.
Not everybody is born with a natural gift of a great ear for mixing; in fact, the vast majority of us start with terrible critical listening skills. We train hard to learn what works and doesn’t in our productions. We build collections of samples and plugins that help us achieve the sounds we’re after. We do all of this because we care about the art we make.
So if you’re someone who’s been working on your music with this level of passion for a while now and you’re finally getting your shot to mix something (whether your own band or another), you should be equally prepared with the reality facing you as a mixer. Here’s what you need to know:
Don’t Expect To Be The Fastest Mixer
It’s okay to not be the fastest when it comes to editing, mixing, or mastering, especially when it’s a project you care about personally. Your first mix isn’t about speed. Neither is your second mix, or your tenth mix, or even your twentieth mix. Your earliest mixes are all about building your workflow, learning what sounds good, and creating a comfort zone for yourself.
It’s okay to be slow while still working under a deadline. Mixes are as much an art form as the songwriting itself, and art takes time to perfect. Even if you don’t find perfection at first (and you most likely won’t) you can focus on constant, measurable improvements.
Speed comes with experience and comfort. As you learn your DAW and the plugins you use, you’ll naturally start moving more efficiently as you work. Instead of sweeping a knob every time you reach for a plugin, you’ll know exactly what parameters you want to adjust. It will become second nature.
Another excellent way of speeding up your workflow is to create presets as you work. By saving a plugin preset for your bass compression from one session that you can load up on the next, you give yourself a brand new “starting point” that you’re familiar with. No more making the adjustments from stock every time – you’re working off of your own templates.
Expect To Make Mistakes
Making mistakes is part of learning just about any technical process. Mixing music is no exception.
Expect to make mistakes just about everywhere you possibly could in your mix, knowing that the bypass, mute & solo buttons are there to help you make sure you’re moving in the right direction. As you add plugins and dial them in, use your bypass to make sure that your plugin’s settings are helping to improve your sound. Use your mutes to take elements out of the mix temporarily to see if they’re causing masking or muddiness with other tracks. Rely on your solo buttons sparingly when you need to hear a track or group of tracks in isolation.
Just because you’re making mistakes along the way doesn’t mean your end result should be anything less than a great mix. Recognizing mistakes and correcting them go hand in hand when you’re working on your earliest mixes. You’ll be able to take pride in the end result knowing what went wrong as you worked and how you corrected it.
Best of all, you’ll be able to recollect those mistakes on future mixes, helping you make less of them (or at least new ones instead).
Expect To Use Simple & Familiar Plugins
When you’re working on an early mix, there’s no point in using overly complicated plugins or signal chains that require complex routing. Many new mixers seem to think that the pros use these state-of-the-art processors to get the sound they’re after, but the truth is that those only become useful once you’ve got a lot of experience and understanding. Even than, many of those pros will stick to the simple stuff unless the track warrants the extra power.
By simple and familiar, I mean that you should be using stock plugins: EQs, compressors, reverbs. If you can’t understand the tools that are available right in your DAW, getting some custom plugins will rarely help you address the problems in your mix any better.
The exceptions to the rule are plugins that can help simplify your signal chain. Things like Gain Reduction Deluxe and Bus Glue Billy Decker are both made to replicate full signal chains, not just individual plugins. As a result, you can get a lot of great sounds with just a handful of knobs, replacing hours of trial and error with individual plugin chains.
Use The Resources That Are Available
As you can see, a lot of your first mixes are going to be about mentally preparing yourself. Your process will improve over time – just like learning to play an instrument.
To help move the process along, there are tons of great resources available out there that can help you with the theory behind mixing. Check out a few more of our blogs and subscribe to get emails as new ones become available below. Try out JST VIP, where we’ve got a bunch of eBooks, Guides & Tutorials geared toward helping you become a better mixer.
There’s a lot of guidance that can help you become a better mixer – you just need to continue to seek it out.