Updated: Nov 4, 2020
There is a lot that goes in to creating your project, thus one of the most critical steps should be putting on the gift wrap (mixing). This is the stage at which we shape our sounds to their absolute best abilities.If you thought recording your tracks was like painting a picture, you were correct. Everything before this point is just a black and white drawing. This is the part where we choose the colors. It is no doubt the part in which we define ourselves as mixing engineers and not rush towards completion but instead take our time, making sure we go over every little detail. There is a good way to avoid running into problems and that's mixdown preparation. Its about setting yourself up for success.
The fist thing I do before I even touching a fader is get a detailed description of the mix. I want to know exactly how many tracks there are, i want to know what kind of tracks there are, audio tracks, midi tracks. i want to know BPM, Key signatures, special tunings and bit rates for the project.
I use a mix document that i keep with every project as can be seen here
Take out the trash
This involves removing dead tracks (ones that are not being used). these should be hidden and/or archived to avoid confusion and free up resources. If you are sending a mixing engineer your tracks they should be one full clip, not small fragments with fades still attached. Though every mixing engineer is good at putting puzzle pieces together, we are not mind readers and this becomes a frustrating task. All tracks should be "healed" or "Bounced" to one whole clip.and labeled properly. This is what we do not want (See photo below).
This is what we do want to see. Clips that have been healed (See photo below).
After you have chosen your best takes, unused takes should also be hidden from view or archived properly to avoid confusion.
Color coding tracks
Color coding can really help organize your workspace. It can help you identify tracks fast and easily.
Track icons can also be useful as well.
I would guess 50% of the time when we are navigating through tracks in a large project, we lose focus of where we are. This happens often and is distracting. As you can see by the figure above, my icons for main vocals are straight up, my background vocals are tilted 45 degrees. These cues really help in identification.
Setting up buses
One of the first things i do before starting the mix is set up instrument buses and FX buses. This is for routing purposes to have better control over each group. It's also a good idea to color code (and use icons if you prefer). It just helps with the visuals. As you can see in the photo below, each track is sent to different routing configurations.
Drums are routed to drum bus, guitars to guitar bus and so on.
Fixing vocal pitch
once you have a basic idea of the track, your faders will be approximately zero for now (just a rough mix for monitoring). we haven't even got into mixing yet, this is still pre preparation work. Next up is fixing your vocals using Autotune or Melodyne. Listen to clashing pitches, off pitch, wavering and fix them as needed.
De-essing/Hand limiting using automation
A lot of people choose the route of a de-esser. Personally i like to hand limit using automation as it allows me to control each and every sibilance. It becomes easy as time goes on and you know what you are looking for. you begin to see the waveforms as tiny little zippers where the SS's are. these can be dropped by -3 to -5 db depending on the severity of the sibilance using gain automation.
Now is the time to begin some gain staging, leveling out tracks. Automation can also be done in the gain staging portion of a track to level out how hard the signal is hitting the compressor
Creating FX sends to buses
Some people put delay, reverb directly in the FX box after stacked plug ins, this isnt always the best practice.
A better choice is to use an FX bus and route a send (a portion of the signal) to the plug in. this allows more flexibility and better control. It also allows you easier access to just the send automation. to use varying amounts of FX.
Using your own FX chain presets
You can save a lot of time by creating your own presets. These wont work for every style of music but they will give you a good foundation to start with. I have literally 100's of presets for every job. they are the equivalent to a socket set. each tool does a different job.
There are a ton of other things you can do to set yourself up for success in the mixing process. Things im sure i failed to cover here. Create your own templates and use them often. Make your job easier during this process and you will keep your creativity flowing and not be stopped by annoying issues.