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Tips & Tricks #4 Quick List of Mixing Approach

Below is a list of mix approach that may help you to get started in mixing. You can apply any if these mix approach as you mix along but if you are a beginner I do advise you to try out one approach at a time just to understand how it works. Ultimately, there isn't a hard and fast rule in mixing. As long as your mix sounds good, no one is going to complain.

1. Top Down

First playback all your recorded tracks and do a quick mix(5mins) just by using faders. No EQ, No Compression, nothing. Once you achieve some kind of mix, listen and decide on what are the important instruments you want to feature in the mix.

For example; a pop song may require the vocals to be on top of the mix or an instrumental rock song may require the guitars to be on top of the mix.

With that in mind start advancing your mix by creating automation, adding EQs, compression, effects if needed. Do not solo an instrument and work on it for more than a minute. The whole concept revolves around mixing the song while listening to all the elements in the song at the same time.

2. Listen and React

In a nutshell, this approach is basically 'if it ain't broken don't fix it'.

Similar to the top down approach, you will playback all your recorded tracks and do a quick mix(5mins). Don't be distracted by small details at this point, only focus on what you hear and react to those elements that you want to change. And remember if you don't hear anything bad that requires any fixes, don't over analyze it.

This approach works well with analog mixing without the use of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Partly because there is not visual distractions that will go against what you are hearing. This is also a really good approach to train your ears in critical listening.

3. Round & Around Mixing

First push up the faders of the instruments that will be the center of the attention in your mix.

For example; a pop song may require the vocals to be on top of the mix or an instrumental rock song may require the guitars to be on top of the mix.

Now slowly blend in the instruments that will be supporting your most important instruments.

For example; a pop song may require the acoustic guitars or piano to support vocals in the mix or an instrumental rock song may require the kick and snare from the drums to support the guitars in the mix.

Finally blend in all the rest of the other instruments that supports or adds colors to the mix.

As you progress through each step, you need to pay extra attention to how your 'center of attention' changes. It could be change in tone, frequency balance, clarity, focus, etc. When that happen you need to apply some form of processing to carve a space for your 'center of attention'. This could be applying subtractive EQ or dynamic processing or even reverb to allow your instruments that are the 'center of attention' stands out.

4. Mono Mixdown

In this approach, you will leave any stereo panning till the later stage of your mixing. Basically you will mix all your levels, EQ, dynamic controls, delays and reverb in mono.

Once you are satisfied that there is nothing else you can do to make the mix sounds better. Start panning instruments around if you need them to be in stereo. Every time you pan something always check your mono mix and notice what changes and how can you create a compromise in your mix between both stereo and mono field.

A good free plugin to insert on your master bus for checking mono is the Brainworx Bx_Solo

5. Mix as you record

This is approach have the longest history and my personal favorite method. If you have some experience in recording & mixing you may want to try this out.

In this approach you need to do is to have a clear idea of how our final product is going to sound. This is because during recording you have to pick the right microphone for the right job.

For example: If the drummer have a set of cymbals that sound bright and thrashy. You might want to use the microphones that is less bright. Or if the guitarist's tone is dull and muddy you might want to try microphones that have bright sounding character.

The next step is moving the microphones around the instruments to find the 'sweet spot'. This work hand in hand with choosing microphones. Combining this two process you are effectively 'EQing' and creating a sense of space (Reverb) for your mix.

If you go through this process with all your instruments when you are recording, by the time you are done with the recording, you should already have the sound close to the final product. All you need to do now is the blend/mix it to make sounds cohesive.