Mixing routine: how do I prepare a mixing session?
Everybody has a different way of preparing a project to mix. Likewise, everybody has a different routine while mixing a song.
I’ve always been interested in others’ daily routines because you can learn valuable perspectives from them. Some prefer to work 8 hours without not many breaks, some prefer to take a break every hour. While some prefer to prepare their mixing sessions with a color code, some like being messy. Also, some work in the morning and some prefer nights.
I’ve been reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey which explains the most known artists’ daily routines. I thought that it would be great if there would be a book about mixing engineers’ or music producers’ routines too. You can learn a little about it if you watch their tutorials but not every mixing engineer has a YouTube channel.
Nor there isn’t a book like that. But at least I can explain my routines on this blog. In this article, I will explain my preparation routine for a mixing session.
I don’t mix the day I prepare the session
I don’t do that because I need a clear mind to mix properly. If I have too many distractions like noises in the studio, off-time guitars, or pitchy vocals, I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing. If I can’t find the synth track for more than ten seconds I lose the flow.
I separate my mixing sessions into three days because of those reasons. The first day is for all the boring stuff like edits, pitch corrections, naming, and color-coding. The only thing that I do on the second day is to mix. I almost finish it on the second day, but I prefer to listen to it again with fresh ears the other day. I spare one to two hours while tweaking, and I send it to the artist on that day.
I begin with the rough mix
My work begins with listening to the rough mix. I always ask for a rough mix before they send me the multitracks. I listen to it a couple of times, and I write some notes. Those notes can be about the production or recording. I suggest using another drum sample, or a different synth sound. I also suggest recording the vocals again in a proper environment. This way I try to solve problems before I begin mixing.
I always think about reference mixes while I’m listening to the rough mix. I ask if they have any references in their mind. I can share my ideas if they don’t have any. I try to be sure that we’re on the same page. Plus, I ask for details if I don’t feel like that.
I take multitracks to my mixing template
After we agree on the production they send me the multitracks. I import them into my mixing template. I don’t have any tracks in that template but I have bus groups and effects.
I start by listening to them one by one a little bit to be sure that there aren’t any problems. Sometimes there can be a peak distortion or forgotten reverb on a track. I ask for an update for those tracks if possible. I do gain staging at this stage and I change their names to my liking while listening to them. I take notes into Logic Pro’s note section if I want to remember something about the tracks.
I have a structure that is followed from top to bottom in the session respectively by drums, basses, pads, keys, synths, guitars, background vocals, and lead vocals. I put the tracks in their places with that order. I give them colors in groups. And I send them to their buses. I start to understand the arrangement better while I’m doing this tidying up process.
I delete all the silences in the tracks manually. It sounds scary but it takes mostly just five minutes. I also delete room noises while I’m doing this. I put a fade-in and a fade-out to every clip.
I take lead vocal tracks to iZotope RX
Most of the time there are audible noises in those tracks. I want to fix them before I start mixing because I don’t want to be disrupted by a stupid noise while I’m in the flow state.
RX has excellent features. Mouth De-click is my favorite because it fixes almost every mouth clicks and splashes naturally. I also use Voice De-noise, Spectral De-noise, and De-hum if necessary. I wish everyone records their vocals in a well-treated room, but I can handle the room reverb with De-reverb if they recorded in a bedroom.
iZotope RX also has features for sibilances and breathes but I think they are not perfect at it.
I manually edit sibilances and breathes
I still can’t find a better way to deal with those. It costs me a little bit more time but again, I don’t want to think about these little things after. If you try to deal with sibilances of a bad recording with just de-esser plugins you will end up spending the same amount of time anyway.
Briefly, instead of struggling with de-esser plugin settings, I edit every sibilance by cropping and decreasing their clip gains. I also use de-essers while mixing but it’s just for 2-3 gain reduction.
I also handle breaths by editing. This is a new technique that I added to my workflow. I take all breaths to another channel. This way breaths don’t get affected by compressors and I can change their volume by just a fader anytime. This gives me the power of control -the most important qualification that I need while mixing.
I make a rough mix by listening to their rough mix
Sometimes they send me the Logic Pro session but most of the time they send me multitracks. When they send me multitracks I have to create a rough mix from scratch. I can do that by my likings, but I can also do that by listening to their rough mix. I think sticking to their rough mix is better because they had a vision before they sent me the song. Ignoring it only will cause them to give revisions to make the song like the rough mix again.
Michael Brauer explains it deeply and shows his technique in this Mix With The Masters video. He starts by listening to the rough mix and he points out the areas that he can make it better. After that, he tries to match his mix to the rough mix. And finally, he starts mixing after he is sure about it.
I thought about it a lot and I decided to stick with their idea from start to finish. Because it’s their song, and I’m here to help them. I can help them just if I can realize their vision. So, the last thing that I do before I start mixing is to match it to the rough mix. This doesn’t mean that I don’t change it ever. I change anything afterward if I think it’s necessary.
I know it seems like a lot but this method gives me concentration and control in the mix. This way I can mix a lot easier and faster. You can always come back to older decisions and dive into details anyway.