Your 7 Step Blueprint To Finish A Mix
It’s easy to get lost, lose focus, and start hearing voices while mixing. Sometimes you find yourself turning knobs at random and getting lost at sonic sea.
This can be a disheartening descent into madness, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve found that following a simple framework has helped keep me focused and maintain a big-picture perspective while working on a mix. Never forget: the goal is to try and create the maximum impact for the listener.
Here’s my extremely simple yet effective process:
1- Organize Your Session
IMPORTANT: Before starting to mix, every track should be properly named, edited, and consolidated. This is crucial to keep your files organized and stay focused on your one goal: mixing.
Group the session into the least amount of tracks as possible. If you can combine multiple tracks into one, get a rough balance and bounce them down into one stereo track.
This is important not only for organization, but to help you COMMIT your sounds. Think of it as if you were sending your tracks to a mixing engineering, they would all have to be audio files.
You’ll also want to group relevant tracks together into busses. Kick, snare, hi-hat, and cymbals into a drum bus, bass sounds into a bass bus, vocals into a vocal bus, etc. This will allow you to control and process multiple tracks at the same time.
Finally, you’ll want to set makers throughout your timeline to help you navigate the various sections of your song. It will help you navigate your sessions… And it just feels good!
2- Set Up Routing
Now you can set up all your mix effects aux/return tracks. Auxiliary, or return tracks, are signal busses that you’ll then load with various effects. These can be effects such as Vox Delay, Snare Verb, Parallel Comp which once set up, you can easily send a signal to.
The advantage of using a return track for effects versus placing effects directly onto a track is that you can send multiple signals to a single effect. This saves you precious CPU and, most importantly, allows you to process your effects independently of the source sound.
For example, you could high pass and low pass the reverb on a return track without affecting the sounds being sent to that reverb channel. How cool is that?
Once you’ve set up all your favorite mix effects, you can save it as a template. Then, you can import it to all your future sessions. Huge time saver!
3- Balance Levels
With the technical tedium out of the way, you can now focus on the music! Start by listening through the song with a rough mix to get a feel for the song and the artistic vision.
Then bring all the faders down and start from fresh. Bring the faders up one by one and get a quick level balance and panning of all the tracks. Listen through the song a few times and do some more balancing as you go.
Volume is such a powerful yet underutilized tool. You can get a long way simply by using volume automation.
Be sure to give yourself enough headroom as you do this. -10dB is a good place to start as an average
4- Process Tracks
This is where we start to whip out our fancy mixing tools such as EQ, compression, saturation, and anything else that will get the job done.
Start by fixing anything you noted upon your previous listens and any glaring problems. Then start processing the tracks one by one.
Also, use the Solo button very sparingly. It’s useful for zeroing in on a specific problem you’re trying to fix, but it’s very easy to get lost in adjusting something by itself out of context of the entire mix. Sometimes how something sounds in Solo won’t sound great by itself until it’s in context with the whole mix and POOF, magic, it sounds amazing.
As you’re processing, adjusting, and tweaking your tracks, start to add in effects as well. Reverbs and delays can add a lot of space and depth to sounds. This will also help you stay creative and keep things exciting as you start to approach the desired result.
Enhance the character of what you want to emphasize and remove everything that is unnecessary. Pay special attention to remove any masking frequencies!
Unfortunately, this step is often skipped by a lot of mixers. Automation is a really powerful tool that allows you to breathe life into your mix.
Automation is when you program automatic changes to happen to specific parameters of a track throughout a song. The most common automation is volume levels.
A great example is “riding the fader” of a vocal track. This is when your constantly making micro-adjustments to the volume of a vocal track to match the syllables and energy of the vocal. This is to make sure it always sits on top of the mix. It’s great to “feel” out automation with physical faders (midi controllers) instead of painful mouse-clicking.
Automation can create depth and increase the dynamic movement during transitions. You can also utilize it to emphasize the key elements of every section.
Plus, in today’s modern studio, you can automate pretty much anything. Get creative with it!
Once you’ve completed your automation moves, take some time to listen for any opportunities to add extra effects or special effects to the song.
This could be something as simple as a filter sweep or a bass drop, or it could be something more crazy and experimental. The key is that it serves the song and doesn’t take away from the experience.
SERVE. THE. SONG!
If you’re an experimental artist in general, you may have already included mixing effects, automation, and special effects into your song.
Otherwise, play around with delay, reverb, and any other special effect to add space, ambiance, and polish to your sounds.
The final step is to listen, make any final tweaks, and proceed to call it finished. Try to remove yourself from the driver’s seat and listen to the song as a fan would.
Set the mood, turn off the screen, sit back and listen.
After focusing on the details of every individual track for so long, it’s time to get a bigger perspective on the mix. How does everything feel together? Does it flow? Does it captivate you for its entirety? Does it make you bob your head? These are the qualities you’re looking for.
As you’re listening back, as tempting as it may be, don’t interrupt playback. If you notice something you want to adjust or tweak, make a note on paper. The focus is to listen to the song as a whole, not in separate parts.
Listen to it on different speaker systems, at different volumes, and move around to different parts of the room. Make any minor changes and keep listening until you’re satisfied.
A common practice is to check the mix in your car. Everybody spends a lot of time in their cars, and it’s a location you’ll intuitively know how things should sound. You can also compare it to a few reference tracks and see how your mix stands up!
Sleep on it. Upon waking, you’ll probably hear a few more things to tweak. Make a list, do a few more passes, then print your mix. Try not to second guess yourself.
I hope that helps clarify some of the steps behind a solid mixdown!
A workflow process will allow you to stay on track while working on a mix. It will allow you to stay in “flow state,” aka “the zone,” aka creative headspace.
If you are interested in learning more, check out my 7 Simple Steps To Take Your Songs From Start To Finish! Download Your FREE Pro Producer Roadmap PDF: https://www.metamindmusic.com/workflow
My name is Alex, and I help musicians produce themselves by developing their mindset, expanding their creativity, and connecting to their inner artist in a deeper way.
Audio Production, Keeping Track