Make Mixing Faster & Easier by Focusing on These Two Things
Today, DAWs have unlimited numbers of tracks. Receiving a song ready for mixing with dozens and dozens of audio tracks can be frustrating and inefficient because the number of tracks is overwhelming, and it’s hard to tell where everything is supposed to go.
As you mix the song, it seems as if you’re never getting done. Because there are still more tracks to process and mix in. And once you mix in one more element, you suddenly have to tweak a couple of dozen other tracks again. And again, to make it all work together.
I’m sure you’ve been there, and so have I. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this complicated. Mixing can be quite simple. If you approach a song with the mindset of how it will be listened to in its simplest form: A groove and a melody.
Here’s how mixing can be done faster and easier by focusing on those two main elements.
1. The Groove
The groove is the combined rhythmic feel of all the rhythmic elements in a song. Drums, percussion, pluck synths, rhythm guitars, bass, etc. Anything that contributes to the overall rhythm of a song is a part of the groove.
Approaching a mix with the overall groove in mind makes processing and balancing easier and more time efficient. Instead of spending time getting every single rhythmic element to have a perfect dynamic range and smooth frequency response, the overall groove usually requires way less processing.
By first getting your main rhythmic elements (usually the kick and bass, and/or snare) to sound the way you want them to, adding in other rhythmic elements often only requires proper leveling and simple equalization. Of course, additional processing, like compression, can be necessary.
The point of focusing on the overall groove is that you mix a song based on how the listener will perceive it. Most listeners don’t care (or notice) how heavy your compressor is working or how much processing it took to get that perfect shimmer in the high-hats.
The common listeners listen to a song while thinking: Is this something I can dance or vibe to, or not?
Getting a good groove simply by doing proper gain staging and simple equalization, of course, require a good musical production. Sometimes you’ll work on songs that just doesn’t have a natural good groove. And then things might get a bit more complicated. Still, the mindset of getting a good overall groove can, in most instances, save you a lot of time and frustration.
The groove pops through everywhere
People listen to music on a huge variety of playback systems. Everything from hi-fi stereos that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to cheap phone speakers in mono with a terrible frequency range.
The thing they have in common, though, is that the groove pops through on all playback systems.
The groove is based on transients, and transients have a way of pushing through on pretty much any playback device because they are more volume/amplitude oriented than frequency and stereo oriented.
This means that hours and hours of fine tuning on every single rhythmic element doesn’t always result in a better song. Which is what mixing should be all about. While fine tuning and elegant details are surely very important, it’s still the overall groove that remains as the foundation for a song when listened to by the common listener.
2. The Main Melody
The second and probably most important element of most songs is the main melody. Whether it’s a cool chord progression, nifty vocals, a sweet el-guitar riff, or any instrument, really. The main melodic/harmonic element is what makes the groove into a song.
The main melody is the melody we hum in our heads when we think of a song. It’s the main melody that transmits the bursting energy. Whether happy or sad (or anything in-between), on top of a good groove. The main melody is sort of the story of a song, while the groove sets the scenery for the story to be told.
Think about one of your favorite tunes. You probably can’t recall every chord or every harmonic element. Most likely, you can recall the main melody, and maybe some additional melodic fills, or transitions, etc.
Figuring out the main melodic element of a song, makes mixing easier. Because you can then mix additional instruments around this main theme. This means that as long as your main melody is sounding the way you want it to, the other harmonic elements should compliment the main theme.
Just like with the groove, mixing elements around the main theme usually requires less processing and time. If the musical production is good, proper leveling and basic equalization often do the trick.
To sum it all up
The idea is to make mixing faster and easier. You can do this by focusing on the main elements that most people will pay attention to when listening to a song. This does not mean that balancing and equalization on all elements beside the main groove and main melody will always be sufficient.
Usually, you’ll need to do more complex processing to get that “professional” edge and give the mix something extra. But by approaching a mix with the mindset I’ve discussed, it’s easier to figure out the purpose of this more complex processing.
Because if you have the mindset that every song is made up of a groove and a melody, more complex mixing should have the purpose of further enhancing the groove and main melody.
For example, instead of making things more crunchy and loud, simply for the sake of making things more crunchy and loud, you can make elements just crunchy and just loud enough for them to compliment and work together with the groove and main melody of a song.