How To Mix When You’ve Got Over 100 Tracks

Jim Pavett - Allusion Studios

Veteran recording engineer and producer, Jim Pavett, recently finished mixing Jack Gladstone’s latest record in Tucson, Arizona. The mammoth album, titled Native Anthropology, wound up with over 130 tracks to be mixed down. Drawing on his wealth of experience, Jim managed to create a compelling and aurally exciting mix combining the standard setup of bass, drums, guitar and vocals, along with several eclectic instruments such as the Bouzouki, huge choral arrangements, keyboards and string sections.

I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his huge mixing project.

Faced with so many instruments, where did you start with a mix like this?

Well, I started with creating the foundation. I made sure the drums, bass guitar and other leading rhythm factors sounded tight and powerful. Only after I did that did I start adding in the additional instruments and arrangements.

Adding in so many tracks must create a lot of clutter in the mix?

When adding so many tracks, you must take into account that although you’re adding tracks to the mix you can’t add more weight. Which usually means being careful with the low end.

So in effect, you are adding more instruments but being careful to cut the low end as well?

Yes and no. Even though we were adding more instruments and trying to not add extra weight, we also had to be careful about not ripping the body off either. We couldn’t have a 130 track arrangement that’s so airy in the high end that the low end and bottom just sound distant and weak.

With that many tracks, how did you create space for all of them?

For this particular mix I used an EMT 140 plate reverb from Universal Audio to create most of the space around the instruments. I was able to push all the tracks and instruments in place using the reverb. It’s very vintage sounding and its character really helps acoustic instruments soften up and blend well in a mix.

That’s an interesting way to use a reverb. Do you have any extra anecdotes from the session you would like to share?

When we were mixing ‘The Story of Private Charlow’, which is this ten and a half minute song with all sorts of tracks, narration and sound effects, we decided we wanted to add some extra power to one of the parts. Since we didn’t have any guitars on that particular part we came up with the brilliant idea of distorting the cello part. It added such a distinct character to the mix and sounded absolutely amazing. It just goes to show that you should consider everything when it comes to mixing.

Try everything and see what works then?

Absolutely. Sometimes things work well in a mix. Sometimes they don’t.

That’s great advice. Thanks for your time and information.

Thank you.

Jim Pavett is an experienced studio/live drummer, recording engineer, producer & clinician. Exposed to music his whole life, he is a 20+ year veteran of the recording industry. He is the owner and operator of Allusion Studios, a commercial recording studio in Tucson Arizona.