How to start a mix

Today, I want to talk about how to get started on a new mix.

After you pull in all the tracks and get your busses set up, what do you do next?

There are many different ways to get started. If you’ve been mixing for a while, you probably have a method that you prefer. If you haven’t been mixing for long, maybe you’re struggling with this.

I’d like to show you the way I do it. Not because it’s the best way, but because it works for me.

If you’re struggling to get mixes started, try this out. It might help. It will at least give you some pointers on what you might want to try. In the end, the only process that is “correct” is the one that works for you!

Faders up!

I start the mix by bringing everything in. All faders up.

I do this for a few reasons.

First, I pull down the gain on the audio tracks so that they aren’t hitting the master fader too hard. They definitely should not be clipping. I like to have the output level averaging about -20dB on the master fader.

Second, I do a “static mix”. What this means for me is that I get the volumes balanced and make some panning decisions. I try to get the song sounding as good as possible without using any plugins or automation. Just volume and pan.

Down to mono

After I’ve gotten a good static mix, I typically switch to mono, where I spend most of my time. This is where I do the majority of my EQ and Compression.

At this point, I mute everything and then pick a track to start with. I often start with the drums, but that’s not a rule. It depends on the song.

I apply EQ and Compression to make that track sound good. Then I pick the next track, unmute it and repeat. I do not re-mute the first track. I layer the new track on top and EQ and Compress so that the two tracks sound good together.

I continue like this, layering on new tracks, until everything is in again.

I try not to use any plugins other than EQ or Compression at this point, and I try not to change the volumes too much (since the volume should already be pretty good). The goal here is to make it sound as good in mono as possible.

This is difficult. When a lot of tracks have been brought in, it’s hard to give everything its place in the mix and keep the tracks from interfering with each other. This is the point of working in mono. It forces me to carve out space in the frequency spectrum for all of the tracks.

Back to stereo

After everything is back in and sounding as good as possible in mono, I flip back to stereo and breathe a sigh of relief. If it sounds good in mono, it’s gonna sound great in stereo.

At this point, I’ll make whatever tweaks are needed, and add little extras like delay, reverb, and volume automation.

For most mixes, I also try to do something “cool”. I think of this as sort of like a signature. Add some creative input to the song. Maybe a reverse cymbal swell, or a drum intro to the beginning. Sometimes, I’ll do something like remove the acoustic guitar from verse 2, so that when it kicks back in for the second chorus, it sounds huge.

If you’re doing this for a client, keep in mind that they may not like what you did for this “signature” move. If that’s the case, just undo it. No hard feelings. But it’s worth being creative and trying to find ways to enhance the song as much as you can. Don’t go overboard, but try some things out.

Conclusion

I could say a whole lot more about each of the different stages here. I probably will in future posts.

But for now, I wanted to give you some starting points.

The most important points here are as follows:

  • Start with everything in – helps with gain staging and it’s fun to get a good static mix
  • Mix in mono – forces you to make good EQ decisions
  • Add your own creativity – find ways to enhance the song and provide your creative input

Until next time, happy mixing!

How do you start your mixes? Let me know in the comments!

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