Have you ever felt stuck while trying to work on your mixdown for your tracks? Do you feel like you aren’t as effective as you want to be? Then this guide may be for you.
This article contains a few pointers on how you can improve your workflow while mixing your music. In order to keep this as short and sweet as possible, it won’t go into too much detail.
Every producer knows the feeling of sitting up late at night feeling like your song is the best one you’ve ever made, just to wake up in the morning to hear the mess that you’ve created the night before.
This is a common problem that happens when you’re listening to something over and over until your hearing is getting used to the sound of whatever you’re making. This is called ear fatigue.
To battle this problem you should always try to mix your songs in the mornings, or as early in the day as possible. By doing so, you can be sure that your hearing is fresh from a good night’s sleep and you may hear things that you might not have heard otherwise.
In order to hear what you are doing, you need to have a quality set of studio monitors or headphones. Laptop speakers and iPhone headphones are not the optimal listening devices since they can’t reproduce all the frequencies that your production consists of.
Some people argue that a pair of studio monitors are a must in order to create a great mixdown, but this is not 100% true. Many artists produce and mix their tracks on cheap speakers or studio headphones. Just take Porter Robinson for example;
The secret to get a high quality mixdown is is to know your gear. You need to be comfortable with how your gear sounds and what weaknesses they may have. Some headphones may for example boost the low end, while others may exaggerate the high end. Make sure to get to know your speakers or headphones by frequently listening to music and try to analyze how it sounds.
When you’re working on a production with a lot of different plugins and instruments, you might get some problems with your CPU being unable to handle the workload. Instead of fighting with your CPU, you should render all of your channels to audio before starting the mixdown process. Since a small audio file (WAV) puts way less stress on your computer, you’ll definitely have a much easier time getting that mix just right without any trouble.
Another advantage with this method is that you have to commit to the different sounds that you’ve made and the MIDI that you’ve programmed. This will help you since you won’t be able to go in and tweak those parameters and wasting 10 hours on something that probably won’t make the song better. If there’s something that you feel you really have to change, you can always go back into your old project and bounce out new versions of those elements and sounds.
The third advantage with audio bouncing is if you’re using a lot of reverb and delay on your sounds. Those reverb tails can get longer than you would expect, so to see the waveform of the sound is really helpful. This also gives you the option to easily cut those tail and make them shorter.
Okay, so now you have all your audio files bounced neatly in a folder on your computer. This is the time when organization will be highly important. When importing the audio files into a new project, you have to make sure to name the different audio files to the name of the respective element. What I mean by this is that you should name the kick track to “kick” and the bass tracks to “sub bass”, “mid bass” and so on.
By having your audio files and channels named, you will have a much easier time knowing what elements you’re working with and this will help you save a bunch of time. The project will also be organized and ready to send to possible collaborators that you may work with.
This is another very important step in your workflow. While naming the different audio files you should also make sure to color code them. Different producers follow different color codes, so you could set up your own style and system to use in your projects.
I personally follow a color code similar to this;
The more experience you get as a producer, the more recognizable the different colors will be. This means that you right from the beginning should make a habit of organizing your elements by certain colors.
Just as grouping together elements by color, you could route elements together into groups in the mixer. By doing this, you can post-process these elements all at once which can make them sound more “glued” together. You can also make sure that none of the separate elements in a group is way to dynamic in contrast to the others.
Another reason to do this is if you’re going to have your production stem mastered. When sending files to a mastering engineer for stem mastering, they often want to have between 8-10 different audio files with elements grouped together. If you already have these grouped bounced together, you will save a lot of time and hassle.
As we all know, sidechaining is a highly important part of electronic dance music production. Some people like to use a different sidechain setting for all separate elements, but sometimes you might want to sidechain a group of elements together.
In some projects, I use a “small sidechain bus” and a “big sidechain bus”. Just as their names, the small one is getting less sidechained and the big one is getting more sidechained. You could of course use as many sidechain busses as you want if your production needs it.
When producing a track in any genre, you will be using reverb and delay in some shape or form. By using just one or a couple of different reverb and delay effects per project, you can make sure that the whole track sounds like it’s played in the same space. This will make the whole production sound more glued together.
All DAWs are able to route one channel’s audio signal into another channel. By setting up one channel with a reverb (or delay) and set it to 100% wet, you can control the amount of audio signal that goes through this channel and therefore the amount of reverb used for the specific element.
By using only one or two reverb and delay plugins per project you will also save some CPU power.
To visually see how a specific element sounds frequency wise, you can use something called frequency spectrum analyzers. These are plugins that shows the frequency content in sounds neatly in a graph.
In order to mix properly, using these kind of plugins is a must. Some sounds may have peaks in certain frequencies that you would like to reduce, while other sounds may have low end that needs to be removed. You may also notice other kinds of things that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed if you weren’t using these tools.
There are a bunch of free analyzer plugins to download, so make sure to take a look at some of them by clicking here.
We all know the feeling when working on a mixdown and feeling like it sounded way better a couple of working hours back. To fix this problem you might want to keep multiple versions of your mixdown in separate projects.
Most DAWs have a feature to save your projects as new versions, so make sure you use of this feature ever so often. It could really be a lifesaver in some cases.
The last and final tip is to listen to your finished mixdown on multiple audiosources and keeping notes on how it sounds. You might want to check the mix on your phone, in your car and maybe on your home theater, to make sure that it sounds great everywhere.
While doing this you should use a notepad (or audio notes on your phone) where you keep track on how the mix sounds. Then when you have taken notes on every mistake you can hear, you just have to go into the project and fix the problems that you have written. By doing this you will end up with a final product that sounds amazing everywhere and on all devices.
I really hope this small guide helped you in some way. By using the methods mentioned above you will hopefully see an improvement in time management as well as workflow.