The standard workflow for most sessions is straightforward. First, you need to record something. Second, you edit those tracks – clean up the problems, tune the out of tune parts & pocket each of your instruments. Third is the mix before you finally wrap up with mastering.
While several of these steps might be broken out into parts (such as separate tracking and overdub sessions), for the most part this is the workflow we’ve all come to know. There are parts that you simply cannot rearrange; without something tracked, there’s nothing to mix & without something mixed, there’s nothing to master.
But sometimes, engineers and producers might play around with the timing of the editing and mixing parts of their process if it makes sense for that session. Let’s take a look at when that might be a good idea…
Starting From A Static Mix
If you’re opening up a session for the very first time, creating a static mix might be the most helpful approach rather than jumping right into edits. By creating a static mix first, you’re accomplishing two main things.
The first is that you’re creating instant familiarity with the session. Rather than having to go track-by-track listening for edits that need to be made, you’re hearing them in real time as you’re building your static mix. You might take notes as you build your static mix, but you’re working at a much faster rate in this manner. This can be essential if you’ve never heard the song before.
The other major benefit is that you’re giving yourself context from the start. Editing in isolation can be tricky – things don’t play off each other the same way if you’ve edited them one at a time and your first real play-through of the song comes after all of the edits have been made.
This benefit is especially noticeable when it comes to the pocketing and timing of your tracks. Something that sounds slightly off-grid in isolation could’ve been 100% intentional to play off of another instrument in the song. Without context, you’d have no way of knowing that.
What Goes Into A Static Mix?
A static mix should be a quick and easy thing to create for engineers. You’re not trying to make it sound perfect, just good enough to work with by setting levels generally where you’d like them to be. Quick settings for static mixes include setting levels, panning, and basic dynamic processing like EQ and compression. How you set these now just need to get you in the ballpark – you’ll be changing them and creating a more “dialed-in” sound after editing.
I also like to include a lot of my routing and grouping options right from the static mix as well. By having my busses set up for guitars, drums, etc. I can add the basic glue needed pre-edit so that I can really hear what my groups will sound like later in the mix. Bus compression for each group is common and having a dedicated reverb/delay to send tracks to can be helpful even if I plan on replacing them later.
Most static mixes should only take 15 – 20 minutes to set up, but they’ll save you hours of editing. You’re not going to worry about any kind of automation at this point – save that for the actual mix. Just set up something quick as if you were mixing the song on the fly. Just that bit of context you’re giving yourself will go a long way.
Don’t Combine Editing with Mixing
Notice that as we’ve been talking through this, I’ve only discussed the mix before & after the editing stage. This is a key part of taking this approach – it’s a waste of time to try and do both at the same time.
Many mixers think they can cut corners by killing two birds with one stone. They think “If I can mix and edit at the same time, wouldn’t that cut my work in half?” In reality, it cuts the quality of their final result in half, or ends up taking them twice as long.
The reason for this is simple: switching between technical and creative approaches kills your ability to do both well. When you’re editing, your mind is in analysis mode. You’re seeking out problems and finding solutions. When mixing, it’s switching to creativity. You might be seeking out problems and solutions, but for the most part you’re focused on the art of the mix. You’re painting with broad and narrow strokes to create great sounding individual instruments that combine into a full, complete mix.
Do yourself a favor and keep the two separate. Doing so will give you better edits & better mixes.
How Do Your Mixes Compare?
If you’re someone who’s struggled to keep your mixes and edits separate, you might be in too deep to see what’s really holding your productions back. Sometimes, getting feedback from a professional in the genre you’re working with can make a huge difference.
JST VIP members get access to exclusive courses, tutorials & plugins, but they also get direct access to mix crits from Billy Decker and myself. If you’re struggling with a metal or rock track, send it my way. If you’re looking for feedback on a country or pop song, Billy’s your guy. Either way, we’ll tell you exactly what’s working and what’s not to help keep your mixes moving in the right direction.