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8 things that will help your mixing that have nothing to do with mixing

Having a clean workspace

An organized space reduces stress and helps you to focus entirely on the task at hand…. making good records. Clean up your desk, throw out that old McDonald’s cup and Doritos wrapper, and pick up that gross pair of underwear. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you can think when you have a clean work area. Spending just 5 to 10 minutes prior to mixing, making sure you don’t have a messy desk and floor is a great way to get your brain ready to focus.

Organizing sessions

I’ve mentioned this in my post 5 mixing mistakes I used to make and how to avoid them, but it’s so important that I feel it’s worth stating again. Make sure you’re set up for the session before you even get started on mixing. Bring up your tracks (preferably on a day you’re not going to be mixing) and set things up as if you are your own assistant. Label and color code tracks, make sure your edits are clean with crossfades, print tracks you need to be printed, and set up your effect returns and your buses. You should have all of this done prior to getting started. This is easy when you have a mix template set up and ready to go.

Preparing beforehand

Make sure you know you won’t have to do anything during the time you set to work. I also like to set a start and stop time. This helps me keep myself disciplined as well as safety protection for overcooking a mix. I know I do my best mixes within 4-5 hours. Since I know this, I like to stop after 4 hours and take a long break so I can reevaluate the mix after with fresh ears.

Most of us mix at home in our bedrooms. Working at home is difficult because you’re at home and you’re easily accessible to all your distractions. Your roommate calls for you, your kid starts crying, and your favorite TV show comes on… things can be distracting but not if you make sure you put away all of these things beforehand. This brings us to…

Turning off distractions

Turn off your phone, or TV, lock your door, barricade yourself in– whatever you have to do to ensure that there is nothing there that can distract you. It’s a luxury to get to work in a separate studio environment. Having a separate room to work in lets your brain know that when you’re in this room, you are going to be working rather than working in a place like your bedroom where you eat, sleep, and do “other” things. Your brain likes habit, and if it’s used to working in one place, you’ll be able to focus better.

Getting plenty of sleep

It’s easy to take sleep for granted. The older I get, the harder it is for me to go without sleep. The more sleep you get, the easier it is to focus for more extended periods. You’ll also have more stamina which will allow you to work longer and, in turn, will make you more productive.

Taking breaks

Every hour or two, I like to take a 5 minute break and step outside and give my ears a break. I like to freshen up my ears by listening to new sounds and hearing something a bit different. I don’t listen to music or like to talk too much, but if it’s nice out, listening to the birds chirping or even just the cars passing by allows me to reset my ears so I can get back a fresh perspective.

Minimizing your sound intake before

Other than reference tracks, I try not to listen to music on a day I will be mixing to keep my sound intake to a minimum on mixing days. I don’t listen to the radio, and I tend to make sure I keep volumes low for everything until I’m ready to start mixing.

I will admit I like to start mixing louder than most people. I like to feel the drums and bass when establishing initial levels. Eventually, I’ll switch over to NS10s and lower the volume to a more reasonable level to fine tune and do a majority of the tweaking.

Setting the mood

It might sound a bit silly, but dimming the lights, turning on your lava lamp, or lighting a candle can do wonders for the mood and vibe of your studio or mixing space. This allows you to feel more creative. I’m not a superstitious guy, I don’t believe in ghosts or aliens, but I do believe in being able to feel and sense a vibe. Mixing is all about feeling and making sure you have a good mood set with appropriate lighting, scent, or whatever else it is that really helps you connect and feel the music. A better environment will allow you to achieve better mixes.

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5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them

Posted on Leave a comment

5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them

5 mixing mistakes that I used to make… and how to avoid them
Huge Pro Tools Session

Not properly preparing

Having your sessions prepared for mixing will not only allow you to mix faster and more efficiently, but you’ll also free up your mind to make more important decisions. Edits should have crossfades, vocals should all be comped, backup vocals and multi mic’d instruments should be grouped or bussed appropriately, etc. Every time you make a decision while mixing, it taxes your brain, and it becomes harder to focus on the more important things. By preparing beforehand, you don’t have to worry about which vocal take you want to use but instead can just focus on the more important aspect of how that vocal is sitting in the mix.

Make a list of everything you need to have done to adequately prepare for a mixing session. Pretend you have an assistant and ask yourself what you’d ask your assistant to do before you needed to mix, then do that.

Monitoring way too loud

Get an SPL meter and start checking at what level you’re monitoring. About a year ago, I had my first real scare when it comes to my ear health. I woke up one day with an ear infection which turned into tinnitus which turned into asymmetrical hearing loss. Your ears are fragile, and you should take care of them.

My hearing issue was a blessing in disguise. I was habitually monitoring at loud volumes, I wanted to “feel” the music. It wasn’t until I was told that if I continued, I could further damage my ears that I was forced to monitor at lower volumes.

I’ve always heard people say it is better to monitor at low volumes, but every time I tried, I’d still find myself slowly raising the volume until it was back to 100db. After my hearing issue, I had no choice. I couldn’t risk further damaging my ears. It turns out everyone that said monitoring at lower volumes is better was right. Not only does it save your ears, but it is also great for leveling purposes because you can hear transients better. More importantly, the lesson I learned is to try new things that are difficult because you’ll always learn something.

Having my phone out while working

Text messages, email, Facebook, Instagram… These things only inhibit my workflow by distracting me and making my work take longer. Breaks are essential, but distractions will stop your thought process and make it difficult to keep focused on the task at hand. For example, say you’re mixing a song, and while you’re listening to the song, you say to yourself, I want to tweak the EQ on that guitar. Then you get a text message from your friend, Joe, who starts asking you how to deal with a problem he’s having with his girlfriend, Rita. When you finally get back to work, it’s likely you’ve forgotten all about how you wanted to tweak the EQ on that guitar.

Not listening to references or rough mixes

I used to purposely not listen to rough mixes or reference mixes because I didn’t want them to “distort my own original ideas, man!” Okay,  I never said that or I’d have to kick my own ass, but I did still feel like listening to another mix right before a session wasn’t a good idea. Time and time again I found my mixes coming back with revision requests. But why? They weren’t down with my creative ideas? Didn’t they realize I’m the next Chris Lord Alge?!

No– the reason is that they’ve been listening to a rough mix for eight months and I just gave them something back that sounds completely different. The human brain appreciates habit and what it’s used to. If you give a client back a mix that’s completely different from what they’ve been listening to then it’s likely they won’t like it solely because it is different than the rough mix. You shouldn’t make a mix that’s exactly like the rough, but you should use it as a reference point.

Adding a mix bus compressor last

If you want to compress the mix bus, don’t slap one on after fine tuning everything without one. That goes double for when you’re inexperienced and don’t know what you’re listening for. It takes years to really understand and hear compression and a few more years on top of that to understand mix compression.

If you’re going to be adding a mix bus compressor, do it in the very beginning. Once I have two or more elements going through my mix bus, I will insert a mix bus compressor. This allows me to mix into the compressor rather than get my levels and then completely destroy them by adding a compressor that wasn’t set properly.

Mixing into the compressor and giving the mix movement and life makes it sound more interesting. If you don’t mix it into compression, then you probably shouldn’t add it later. Leave that up to an experienced mastering engineer.

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The “your mixes sound bad in the car”