The Best Mixing and Mastering Tips and Tricks
I was thinking about how much people talk about mixing techniques and tips. But also remembering all the important things I've learned over the years that were not directly related to mixing. I decided to make a quick list of some of things I've learned or figured out, non-mixing specific, that I feel may be beneficial. Some people may disagree with some of these things, and that's fine. As always, discuss in the comments.
Start recording 2 bars in
First, always start your project 2 bars in. This does a couple things. It gives an 8 count click in (assuming you're working in 4/4) without having to configured your DAW for count-in measures. But more importantly, most musicians aren't mechanical machines that start EXACTLY on the beat in perfect time. One or more members may actually jump before the beat a hair. And if you're starting on measure 1 (or oddly - 0 in some DAWs), you're going to truncate that initial transient.
As such, I've always found it much better to simply have the musicians start playing on the 3rd measure in.
Another thing this does for you, is gives you two full bars of noise print for instruments like mics. With this noise print, you can more easily spectral denoise with tools like RX. This can be especially useful if you aren't using top notch mics / preamps. Or I have a ribbon mic that is really good, but you have to boost it in the preamp and it can add a tiny amount of hiss.
Bounce bus stems immediately when the project is completed
A really good practice to get into, is to bounce bus stems when you delivery the final mix. (or the "final final - for real - final )
I'm talking about Stereo stems for the core sub groups like:
There have been a few times where someone has wanted to revisit an old project and I've opened it up and realized that I don't even have the same plugins anymore. It's a lot easier if you have the stems from the mix readily available. It's just a good practice to get into. Also, it makes it a lot easier for things like remixes or remix competitions, if you can provide the final mix stems. Sure, having the original dry track stems helps too, but for a lot of remixes, it's nice to have the processed bus stems to simplify a lot of the work and keep the original mix tones.
Also, if you ever plan on having the music synced or edited to film, it can be pretty handy to have the core elements already split out for remix.
Also, and we all know this is true, the minute you move onto the next project, you're never going to go back and bounce the stems. Just do it while you have the project open!
And this leads right into the next item…
Bounce multiple versions of your mix out of habit
I have found that that there are a few different mix versions that are important to have:
Vox Up (+2dB)
Vox Down (-2dB)
Instrumental (no vox)
Karaoke (no lead vox, with harmonies)
Most of these are self explanatory. But where a lot of people question me is on the vox up and down mixes. Trust me, just do it. Especially if you're not mastering your own material. There's a couple reasons for this.
Sometimes the client has a slightly different opinion about where the vocals should sit. 2 dB is a subtle, but noticeable difference. I've had clients tell me both, that they like the vox up mix better and that they like the vox down mix better. Most of the time it's their vocal and they like the option.
After a mastering engineer has squashed the song and done their magic, sometimes everything is sounding amazing, but it'd be better if the vocal could sit slightly differently after all the mastering mojo. Bam. They already have the alternate version they can swap right out and see if it makes the final polish perfect.
Regularly train your ears
You get better the more you do something. And longer is typically NOT better than more frequently. You'll get more out of ear training if you do it for 20 minutes a day, than if you do it for 2 hours one day and then not again in 2 weeks. I wish I'd made this a habit earlier. I did tons of ear training in the beginning and then stopped (probably cause I got cocky - thinking I was in a good place finally). I'm now trying to bring it back multiple times a week at least and I'm already seeing great improvements again.
I like both pink noise and musical content training. I like the "train your ears EQ edition" program. It's pretty convenient for this.
I also train in music theory context (interval training) and such. but that’s for a different purpose. Audio engineer ear training is quickly to know what you hear (this instrument is lacking X frequency). Music theory ear training is to know things like "this is the minor" chord. Both serve a purpose depending on whether you're more focused on being a producer vs a mix engineer.
There are many more things, but I'm going to leave this for now and come back in a future post.