Last updated on September 28, 2018 by Rob Mayzes

Most things in mixing aren’t 100% consistent. Maybe there’s stuff you do in 90% of mixes, but every now and then you do it differently. Personally, there is one thing that I do in every single mix without failure.

You ready?

I prepare the mix before I start mixing. This may sound boring, and I think this is why a lot of people skip over this phase. I think preparing the mix is vital and sets you up for a great mix.

Watch now to learn what mix prep is, why it’s important, and how you can do it in your next mix.

 

Most things in mixing aren’t 100% consistent.

Maybe there’s stuff you do 90% of mixes but now and then you do it differently.

But personally there’s one thing that I do every single time I mix without failure.

You’re ready?

I prepared the mix before I start mixing.

Now, I know it sounds boring.

I think that’s why a lot of people skip this phase

But personally I think it’s vital and it sets you up for a great mix.

So, keep watching to learn what mix prepare?

What it’s so important?

How you can do it in your next mix in just 6 simple steps.

But first download the free mix prep cheat sheet that I put together for this video.

There’s a link on screen now or in the bio.

All right guys.

How is it going?

Rob here from Musician on a Mission.

Now, before I dive in and actually show you how to prep your mixes let’s talk about what mix prep is and why it’s so important.

The purpose of mix prep is to do as much as possible before you actually start mixing and get your static mix, because from that moment on you’re actually in the process of mixing.

You’re becoming less objective every second and if your monitors are too loud your ears are getting more fatigued every second as well.

For those reasons I see mixing as a race against the clock.

So, you want to do as much as you can to give yourself a head start.

So, here are the 6 steps you could go through before you actually start mixing.

Step 1 is organization.

Just making sure all the channels have the right name.

They are in the right order.

Adding markers that kind of stuff.

Step 2 is checking the tracks making sure everything is there and nothing is corrupt.

Step 3 is gain staging and making sure nothing is clipping.

Step 4 is checking phase and polarity flipping where needed.

Step 5 is applying surgical EQ where it might help.

And then, step 6 is automating the vocal or any other parts that you want to be really consistent and upfront.

Now, the common theme here is that all of these things can be done in solo before you start mixing.

So, you’re not listening to the full track yet which means it’s not starting to influence the way that you’re hearing it.

And I want to be clear that the goal here is to do as much as possible without making the track sound different.

As soon as you start making the track sound different well you’re going through the act of mixing.

This is a bit of a grey area when it comes to subtractive EQ but we’ll come back to that later.

Okay.

Let’s actually go through these steps now and prepare a mix.

So, step 1 is organization.

We just want to import the files or if you’re already working within a project just consolidate them down so that you don’t have loads of edits on screen or 50 different vocal takes.

We just want to clean everything up.

Make it really easy to move around the mix.

So, if you’re working with tracks that you downloaded online or that someone sent you like this.

Then you might also find they have weird naming conventions.

Instead of going through it manually renaming these you can use something like File Rename Pro which you can get on the app store.

And using regular expression replace which is going to find digits for example back slash D that’s the regex for digits.

So, before it was just like this.

We’ve got 1-1, and then underscore.

That’s the bit we want to get rid of, so that when we drop them in the DAW they’re already labeled properly.

So, we can do that by just going back slash D which is digit gets rid of that, underscore and then we need the other digit there.

And now, you can see before it had this weird naming convention after it’s just clean.

We can hit rename.

Done.

Quit.

And now that means when we drag these into our project everything is already named.

So, you might to then go through and rename some of these.

So, that it makes sense to you.

Whatever you need to do make sure the names are correct.

Now, if you’re working on your own music you’re probably not going to be going about this way.

So, what I’d recommend you do is actually export the files so that you can go through that process you just saw.

So, you start on your project with your mix or you can just consolidate them in the project.

Because if you’ve got loads of different takes that you comp in and you’ve been editing the track.

If you just start mixing in that same project it can be really tempting to keep editing and keep playing around with stuff.

So, once you’ve done that check the names.

Put them in the right order.

It really doesn’t matter what order you use just try and keep it consistent.

So, I tend to go vocals, then drums, then bass, then everything else.

Once you’ve done that you can add some markers.

So, we might want to find just the last chorus of the climax of the song because that’s the best place to start mixing just loop that.

So, we can add some markers here just to that chorus and maybe some other verses.

Just make it easy to move around the track.

And then, the last thing I’m going to do here is just create some busses.

So, that my group busses are ready to go.

I can add plug-ins to the whole drum kit if I want to and that kind of stuff.

So, for me this is enough but you might have some more complicated signal flow channel routing going on.

You want to do that now.

Have everything done.

So that when you’re mixing you can just send stuff to the right place.

Okay, so that’s step 1.

Just organizing everything and making sure it’s going to be easy to move around when you’re mixing.

Step 2 is to go through and check all of the channels.

Make sure there’s no audio missing.

Nothing is corrupt.

Make sure everything is there.

Just look out for any potential issues.

So, looks like everything is good here.

I was worried that I was missing the vocal but this is actually an instrumental, so we’ve just got this kind of weird vocal intro.

And that’s the kind of stuff you tend to look out for is just are there weird clips where it looks like there’s no audio or like it’s been exported wrongly that kind of stuff.

Because you don’t want to get distracted later on when you’re in heat of the mix and everything is going really well.

And then, suddenly you realize oh shit the snare mike is missing.

It happened to me a few times and it’s always really annoying because then you have to just stop find out what happened and it’s just a complete bawling.

So, get that out of the way now and make sure everything is there.

Step number 3 is gain staging.

And this really shouldn’t take that long.

It’s just the case of going through making sure none of the tracks are clipping and adding a gain plug-in if they are.

So, what I’m going to do here is just go to the louder section and hit play.

I’m actually going to turn my monitors right down, so you’ll still hear from them.

But I don’t actually need to hear.

I’m just going to look for channels that are clipping.

So, yeah we’ve got a few here.

Now, you can go about this a number of ways.

If you think you’re going to be using lots of saturation.

Lots of tape emulation that kind of stuff then you want to shoot for that minus 18 sweet spot.

If the channel is kind of sitting around minus 18 here then that’s the best level for those kind of plug-ins.

If you don’t do that kind of stuff then the quickest way to gain stage is to just add a again plug-in to that output channels that are clipping.

So, here the drum buss is clipping, so I can just cut that by 5 to 10 dBs and I can just copy this onto the stereo out as well and this means none of the channels are clipping.

So, this kick is a little hot as well.

We want to be careful with that because if started adding compression for example,, and we are playing with the output volume we might end up clipping.

So, anything that’s really close to clipping minus 5 or closer to zero than that then we want to cut a few dB on those as well.

Equally same here on this guitar channel.

And we can just copy that across onto the bass channel as well.

So, there we go gain staging done.

We’ve already covered a lot here and we’re only half way.

So, again make sure you get that cheat sheet to actually reference and go through each of these before your next mix.

Okay.

Now, for step number 4 which is checking phase and polarity.

Now, I’ve always been really bad at this.

And I’ll forget to flip the polarity on the bottom mike of a snare or to check the phase on a multi mike kit something like that.

And the reason I was quite bad at this is because I thought it was more complicated than it was.

But it really doesn’t have to be that complicated.

We just want to focus on two things here.

First of all, polarity and then phase.

So, polarity you just want to check that there are no mikes facing each other.

So, if you’ve recorded it you’ll know that and you just want to take a mental note anyway.

But if you’re mixing something else then you just want to look for snare up and snare bottom that’s the most common one.

I wouldn’t call these up and down.

I would call them top and bottom.

Here they’re called up and down, so we just need to figure out does up mean the mike pointing up and maybe we can change that name.

So, that’s actually the snare bottom and that’s the snare top.

So, what we want to do now is solo these.

And let me just give you an example because the polarity might have already been flipped.

But basically when two mikes are pointing each other they are going to be completely out of phase and they’re going to essentially start to cancel each other out.

So, what you want to do is just load up a plug-in that has a phase flip.

So, in Logic the stock gain plug-in has a phase invert.

There are loads of plug-ins out there that would do this.

Most DAWs would have a plug-in that can do this.

So, you just need to figure out which plug-in.

And now, I’m just going to hit this button a few times until it sounds better.

That’s it.

Because it might have already been inverted.

So, I’m just going to flick this few times.

This is a great example.

You can actually hear it really clearly.

When I don’t phase invert which means this is already been done.

The snare sounds quite full and it has lots of low-end.

But it seems I hit that button and flip the polarity or invert the phase what it’s doing it cancelling out all of that low-end, and it just sounds really thin and weak.

And now have a listen again.

So, this is without.

Which means they’ve already flipped the phase and this is when I flip it back to what it would normally be like.

So, if your snare sounds something like that you need to invert the phase.

Because it’s already been done on this snare and that was probably on the preamp when they were recording it they did that.

I just get rid of that plug-in.

So, the next thing is to then check phase.

And this is where we’re not necessarily looking at mikes that are directly facing each other.

But mikes that are going to be slightly different distances from the same sound source.

So, if you’ve got two mikes on a guitar or if you’ve got a vocalist where you’re recording the vocals with a mike like this.

But you’re also recording the acoustic guitar at the same time, which means there’s going to be a second mike that’s picking up the guitar.

But there’s going to be loads of bleed from the vocal if they’re done together.

So, these two mikes are going to be slightly out of phase.

And what that means is the signal going to the second mike is going to be slightly delayed because it had to travel a longer distance.

This can cause a range of issues.

To put it simply it’s going to have a similar effect where it starts to cancel out certain frequencies and just make it sound worse.

There are going to be these big gaps in the frequency spectrum of that sound source.

So, here we’ve got two mikes on the electric.

I’m just going to turn these down a touch.

And now let’s have a listen.

So, it sounds like that one might be a room mike.

So, they have quite a different tone.

So, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on here.

It could just be two very different sounding mikes like a dynamic and a condenser.

It could be one of them is on the back of the amp.

It could be one is just on the different point on the speaker grill.

But we can do is actually check the phase of these.

So, I’m going to go here.

I’m just going to zoom in really far let’s say and just look at the waveform because it’s distorted the waveform is quite messy but I think we just going to have to work with.

So, we’re focusing on these two channels here.

Let’s zoom in and we just want to look at the waveform.

So, it looks like they pretty much line up.

Sometimes what will happen when you zoom in is this one will be slightly out like that.

And if this is the case then they cancel each other out quite a lot.

You can see this dip here correlates with the peak here, and because we’ve got a dip and a peak combining we’ll put them together and you’ll get zero.

So, it’s going to start to cancel out.

So, this is what it would sound like.

We’re losing a lot of that low-end again.

Now, I’m going to move it back so that is in line and we can just drag it like just so that it’s pretty much in line like that.

Let’s listen again.

So, before.

And now after.

Big difference, right?

And this is something you can spend the whole mix trying to fix.

You’d be like dam why does this guitar sound so weak?

So, you try EQ, you try compression all these crazy stuff when in reality you just have to check the phase.

So, this is important.

You won’t have to do it in every mix.

But you just want to make sure you actually remind yourself to check the phase, check the polarity and make this part of the mix prep process.

That’s the tough stuff out of the way.

That’s probably the most difficult part of this.

So, now we can move onto the more fun stuff.

Step 5 which is surgical EQ.

Now, I didn’t actually start doing any EQ as part of the mix prep phase until a couple of years ago.

But I think it’s a really a great way to again save time when you’re mixing because quite often surgical EQ where you’re just removing nasty stuff it doesn’t really make things sound different.

You don’t need the context there.

You just want to get rid of the noise in the low-end or get rid of this really nasty resonance on the tom something like that.

So, that when you’re mixing you can focus on how to shape things tonally with EQ.

How to make them sit better in the mix.

For those decisions you need context.

But for anything you could do in solo.

Anything that’s a bit more objective.

You can do that now in the prep phase.

I find myself doing this most commonly on vocals.

But here we don’t have a proper vocal part.

So, instead I’m just going to scan through each of these to see if there are any major issues on the drums, the kick, the snare, the guitars stuff that we could fix now.

Not to make things sound different but to kind of just remove that nastiness.

Remove this layer of grit that’s sitting on top of them.

We just want to try and clean the channels up.

So, we’ve got quite a ringy snare.

We could try and find that and reduce that.

You could use multi-band compression to tame that.

But for the sake of simplicity I’m just going to leave it with EQ because that sounds great to me.

And we could then tidy up some of that low-end as well.

So, this is before.

This is after.

So, it doesn’t sound different.

It just sounds cleaner and that’s what we’re trying to achieve here.

Just make sure you’re only removing nasty stuff not necessarily making things sound different.

Don’t spend too long on this even if you find that you are really going in-depth of the EQ then you’re probably doing too much.

It should just be a quick little subtraction here and a subtraction there.

I prefer to use these kinds of notch filters here to find the ugly stuff.

Those really strong frequencies and just get them out of there.

Last but not least, we have step 6 which is vocal automation.

I’m going to have to open up a different mix for that because we don’t have a lead vocal part here.

This track is slightly different.

It’s going to sound horrific because no mixing has happened at this point.

I’ve let you just import the files.

But have a quick listen, so you can get an idea of the style.

So, it kind of in default very vocal focus.

So, with these kind of tracks whether it’s like this or whether it’s more electronic part any genre where it’s really the key element.

I think it’s worth going through and actually automating it now as part of the prep phase.

So, that when it comes to mixing to vocal is already super consistent and you can just focus on EQ, compression that kind of stuff without having to spend loads of time automating to vocal.

It’s not perfect because it is often nice to have the context when you’re automating the vocals to know which words are going to get lost in the mix.

But I still think there’s more benefits to doing it now as part of the prep phase, and then you can go back and tweak it later on.

So, what I used to do is literally go to vocal and look at every single word.

Bring up the quiet words bring down the loud words, so that it was just uber consistent, so we can just get a rough idea.

We need to actually listen to this.

But you can just see from the waveform already which words are going to be too loud and which are going to be too quiet.

Make sure you’re doing this in solo and you could just go through and do it this way.

It kind of gets lost there.

It gets a bit loud there.

A bit lost there.

If you have the time to go into this much detail then I do recommend it because it will have a huge impact on the end result.

Having said that, what I find myself doing more commonly now is using a plug-in like Waves Vocal Rider that basically does this for you, and then you can tweak it afterwards.

So, if we get rid of all that automation, and then we just use Vocal Rider and tweak the sentence now again in the prep phase right into the channel, so that when we’re mixing we don’t have to worry about this.

Now that we tweaked the sentence a little bit we can set the channel to right and actually get this onto the channel itself.

Now what we can do is actually tweak this.

So, I can go through – just listen and catch these bits where it does it a bit too much and manually edit it.

So, that’s step 6.

Automating the vocal so that when it comes to mixing it’s already consistent.

It already sounds great.

It’s going to be easier to balance, and then easier to compress EQ, etc.

So, there you go 6 mix prep steps.

It’s better to mix fast and preparing the mix extensively like this really helps with that.

So, if you actually want to go and implement this I highly recommend you get the cheat sheet that will walk you through each of these steps.

You can use it as a checklist to make sure you’re covering all of this not missing anything.

And it’s completely free.

So, just head to the link on screen now or in the description to go and download that.

And if you’re new around here don’t forget to subscribe and hit the notification bell.

So, that’s all from me.

I’m Rob from Musician on a Mission and remember Create Regardless.

 

Audio professional, musician and founder of Musician on a Mission.

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