When Mixing On The Go Is a Dangerous Game
Take Everything You See Online With a Grain of Salt
We sometimes forget that many of these producers or engineers have had decades to develop their craft and workflow.
One of the biggest mistakes producers often make is starting their sessions by loading up tons of plugins and effects to emulate the people they look up to. There are a few problems here:
- Every mix is different, meaning a chain of plugins that one producer is using may not work for your mix
- People often miss the reasons behind the choices those producers and mix engineers are making, so they simply make them because they feel like they have to
Stop Filling Your Mix Bus With Plugins Right Out of the Gate
In reality, taking this approach to mixing is distracting and limiting. Plus, if your arrangement or mix doesn’t sound good to start with, trying to “finalize” it by filling up your master chain won’t hold any value.
We often master songs here at eMastered with very little headroom, which is typically a consequence of someone who left a compressor or limiter on the mix bus. These songs don’t leave a ton of room to work with, making things more difficult during the mastering process.
The Benefits of Separating the Processes
A professional mixing engineer will likely have a very different set of skills compared to a producer. While some skills may overlap, leaving the processes separate allows the track to blossom optimally throughout various stages as it moves down the figurative assembly line.
From a traditional perspective, the production cycle of a pop song goes a bit like this:
- Songwriting: Creating a central theme, coming up with a chord progression, writing lyrics
- Composition: Recording instruments
- Arranging: Placing recorded elements on a timeline, re-writing parts using various instruments or sounds
- Mixing: Combining the sounds within the arrangement so that they work together and sound great as a singular piece of music
- Mastering: Making final tweaks to prepare the song for release
We often like to think of this timeline as a funnel.
At the top of the funnel is the state of conceptualizing and creativity. As you move down the funnel closer to the mastering process, it becomes far more technical and detail-oriented.
The most important thing to note here is that each process is only there to enhance what came before, not change it. A producer, for example, is not going to change the chord progression given to them by the songwriter, just as a mixing engineer isn’t going to rearrange a track given to them by a producer.
If you write, produce, and mix your own music, you should aim to create boundaries for yourself. Tell yourself that you can only move into the next stage of the process once you have completed the previous phase. In this school of thought, mixing is a transitionary period moving towards song completion rather than an extension of the production process.
As a producer, separating these processes will help you commit to your sounds early on.
As we know, a song only begins to reveal itself as more elements appear and start reacting with one another. When we mix a song, we need a clear outline of those elements to guide any mixing decisions. If we don’t allow the song to reveal itself before making those decisions, how can we expect those decisions to work?
If You Must Mix On The Go…
If you’re sitting here thinking,
“I just can’t help it. I want to hear my perfect mix NOW,”
Then we might just have a solution for you.
The solution? A template.
When you start producing a song, use a pre-made template with routing and basic plugins like EQ, compression, reverb, and delay. In this scenario, you can mix as you go without having to overthink and distract yourself from the creation process. You’ll be able to hear something closer to what your mix will ultimately sound like too.
To make a template, think of the tools you constantly use when you’re mixing. For example, you might always have an EQ on your vocal bus with a high-pass filter and an 1176-style compressor to control dynamics. If you know you’re going to use these tools anyway, you can lock them into the vocal bus on your template and send your vocals to it after recording to get a ‘closer to finished’ sound right away.