Kenny’s Tip of the Day - Pre-Mixing
Pre-mixing is the idea of preparing to mix. Obviously. Very similar to pre-production, it is a very important part of the eventual process. In this case, mixing.
If you don’t prepare to mix before you dive in, you will be wasting valuable time that is very difficult to get back. What I mean by that is that I consider mixing quickly to be one of the most important parts of mixing. It is essential that you have a fresh perspective when you sit down to actually mix. If it takes you 8 - 10 hours to mix a song, your ears are no longer fresh. Your decisions will be compromised.
A new listener hearing your song or your mix for the first time will be hearing things very differently. And this tends to be the most important listener to please. If they don’t like it the first time, they probably won’t listen again.
The longer you work on a mix, the longer you get used to what you’re hearing. So things that jumped out at you as problems at first, may be ignored hours into the process. Instead, you’ll be focusing on the instrument track in front of you. Losing sight of the overall picture.
Because of this, it’s very important that you mix as quickly as possible. And the best way to do this is to prepare to mix. Much like a chef puts all of the ingredients in those tiny little glass or metal bowls, all measured out and chopped into their preferred size, we must do the same.
I like to start by renaming all of the tracks. Hopefully the producer or the engineer already did this for us but usually it’s not how we’d prefer. I have no use for tracks named “Audio - 01” but I also have no use for tracks named “Bass - Take 2” or “Vocal - U47 - No Pop Filter”.
Those extra words serve the engineer in some way but at this point, we need to see our tracks as quickly as possible. So simple names like “Kick”, “Snare”, “Bass” and “Vocal” will be very easily recognized in a dense mix.
Next I like to organize my tracks in a very usable way. Putting all the similar tracks together. Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals etc.
I also like to organize them based on when they enter the song so that I can work through the mix from beginning to end. So if there are 15 synth tracks, the “Intro Synth” will be first, while the “Outro Synth” will be last in the order of our tracks.
I will then give each of these groups a color. Again, with the idea of making it very easy to locate a track or a group of tracks while in the middle of a mix.
Then I’ll import my mixing template into the session. This will contain all of my effects returns. It has 2 or 3 reverbs already set up, about 6 or 7 delays and a few other special effects. The idea being that this will save us time when we need those effects. As opposed to creating them from scratch.
I’ll also import my master buss FX at this time. 2 or 3 compressors, a multiband and a limiter. I prefer to have these in place before I start mixing. So I can mix into these effects.
Then I’ll set up some groups. I’ll usually create some Folders (REAPER) and VCAs for all of the similar types of tracks. Drums, Bass, Guitars etc. I’ll create a crush buss for my drums, along with an exciter buss and a normal buss to perform parallel processing.
Everything usually winds up on a buss at some point making it easier to make broad strokes to any group of tracks. I’ll slap an EQ and a compressor on each of these but start off with them bypassed. But this will make it very easy to make all the guitars brighter (for example) in one place. Instead of fifteen separate places.
Once this is all worked out, I’ll start listening to the song. I won’t dig in and start mixing it yet but I will get myself more familiar with what I have. I’ll push the faders around a bit and pan certain things but I won’t completely dig in. My only goal at this point is to notice anything that might give me trouble. But more importantly, figure out what is working and never lose sight of that.
Once I have a very good idea of how I’m going to approach this mix, I do something very important. I STOP!!! I’ve probably taken an hour or so to prepare this and I need to take a break to clear my head. I’ll do something completely different. Not music related. Maybe take a bike ride or go for a walk.
And when I come back, I will attack this mix as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
You can learn more by watching my mixing tutorials at www.groove3.com
I hope this message finds you well. Kenny Gioia.