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The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

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The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby CS70 » Tue Aug 11, 2020 6:05 pm

I've often thought of why when I mix other people's stuff, it doesn't take long but with my own stuff it seems to take much longer. Perhaps I found the answer today :)

Have a song which the band started recording in January, and it went thru a number of bumps (coordination of sessions, jobs coming in the meantime, sick people, you name it). I did the drum first and - being curious - couldn't wait and started mixing in the parts as soon as they came.. vocals, guitars, bass, leads etc - over a couple months.

Just adding stuff as it was ready.

The mixing was unexpectedly difficult (it's not a complex song) and when I was done, by mid March, I felt like I had been fighting it all the time.. an unusual feeling, and not a fun one, especially since the song is made to be super-easy to play and it's - well - should be - straightforward to mix.

I ended up with gazillions of effects, lots of micro-rides, too much EQ for my liking and while the result was listenable, it did not have that immediacy and natural feel that the song deserves - and that exists when we play it live. I was a little nauseated. So by then, when the drummer asked to "move the drums a little on the left", I got.. let's say, bored, and dropped it (managed to keep the expletives at bay, but barely).

I then proceeded to pick up one of the songs I'd invented in the meantime and produced that, and - coronavirus and lockdowns taken in account - was the usual fun process.

However, the first song is good - I do like it and people loves it when we play it live, so today I picked up the session, didn't even push play and proceeded to strip absolutely everything out. Nothing was left - not even the panning or the basic gating of the drum kit. All faders at zero, all channel gains at zero, all the automation deleted - just the properly aligned tracks.

Then I started with gain staging for every track, beginning with the vocals, getting a good sound. Added a room, added drums, bass, then guitars and leads.

Total time, half an hour. The mix doesn't make use of more than a handful of effects, very little EQ, and none of the problems that had beset the previous mix appeared. Things flow easily, the band loves it, and the mix is going to the mastering engineer this evening.

What was the difference?

All the tracks were there, ready to mix. No preparatory work, no editing, no comping - all had already been done - and all I had to do was to focus on the mix. Especially no "ok I don't yet have the second guitar but let's put the first in".

By having all the material laid down in the session, all I had to do is basically to gain stage, raise the faders, and concentrate on the micro-balance. It's amazing that what took almost 3 months for a result I wasn't really satisfied with, took half an hour now for something that I can happily put my name on.

So, lesson for next time: don't even think of starting a mix until all the parts exist, are comped, edited if necessary and all laid down in a session. Works a treat!

Now if only I could have an assistant to do all that... :D
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby RichardT » Tue Aug 11, 2020 6:24 pm

I mix as I go but I also do a final mix when all the musical and technical issues are resolved. I agree it doesn’t take very long and is usually quite easy. But the hard work is resolving those issues first!
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby CS70 » Tue Aug 11, 2020 8:23 pm

RichardT wrote:I mix as I go but I also do a final mix when all the musical and technical issues are resolved. I agree it doesn’t take very long and is usually quite easy. But the hard work is resolving those issues first!

Yeah in my case that's not usually a big issue as I record the band myself and they know the material.. the only work is the comping of vocals, but I usually take three takes and that's it for both myself and my singing-guitarist so it's no big deal.

Normally I just make a guide demo, and then use that to record drums, bass and then overdub guitars and vocals in rapid succession.

This one had taken much more to record the various parts, so I had started to faff with the mix while parts were still out because of impatience.. much better to do nothing before you have everything - at least that the lesson I learned :)!
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby paddy2424 » Tue Aug 11, 2020 8:51 pm

Very interesting! I’ve had pretty much the same experience....and thankfully (eventually!) the same realisation! Not that I’m much of a mixer, but I too realised it’s much harder when you don’t have everything in because you don’t have all the parts to reference/balance against. I also applied more extreme fx and bigger EQ boosts/cuts etc...Stuff like trying to make a guitar bigger than it ever needed to be...because there was no vox in there yet, so I think I was was overcompensating to fill up the space.

On the flipside, I’ve recently tried to minimise using any fx/mixing when writing....making sure the writing and arrangement is sounding as good as possible before adding anything to sweeten it. Again, not an expert by any means, but it forces me to try and e.g. minimise overlapping parts in the same frequency range, and to choose sounds that complement each better than I have done in the past.

And in theory that should in turn help make the mix easier. In theory! If only I had Mozart’s talent...
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby CS70 » Tue Aug 11, 2020 8:58 pm

paddy2424 wrote:On the flipside, I’ve recently tried to minimise using any fx/mixing when writing....making sure the writing and arrangement is sounding as good as possible before adding anything to sweeten it.

Yeah, the philosophy I use to pick among my own material is that it must sound good - and especially original, at least to me - with just my guitar and voice.
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby blinddrew » Tue Aug 11, 2020 9:23 pm

I tend to mix as I go as well for solo stuff because I'm also writing as I go. But I'll frequently save a new version and do a faders-to-null* and rebuild it from there. I think I've only had to do a complete strip out of everything a couple of times.


* as opposed to phasers-to-stun, sorry.
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby DC-Choppah » Tue Aug 11, 2020 9:30 pm

Good point!

Tracking and mixing are different hats.

When you try to multitask, you come out way behind in time and quality and fun.

This has actually been researched well: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/scie ... esnt-work/
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Aug 12, 2020 11:21 am

A salutary tale CS, and one that rings true with me as well.

Most of my tracks fall into place quite quickly, although some do benefit from some later 'tweaks', but I've had a few tracks over the years that have seemingly refused to get mixed nicely. I slog away trying to improve things, sometimes under headphones making tiny changes that incrementally work, but I'm still not satisfied with the end result, even though I can hear the improvement from a technical point of view.

One track was particularly tricky, and I put off finishing it for months as it just didn't feel right, but then my musical partner persuaded me to call in another drummer to add his feel. Because my ears regarded this as a 'new' track I sailed through the mix, even adding some more new ideas of my own, and was much happier with the result. It felt more immediate, and still had life left in it.

Lesson learned ;)


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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby MOF » Wed Aug 12, 2020 1:41 pm

In a way it’s no different to mixing before specialist ‘name mixers’ came into being. It would be the recording engineer who would do the mixing, so familiarity with the track at all stages would be there at the start of mixing.
Some engineers throw all the faders up and adjust all aspects of eq, level, effects etc, others build up from drums and bass guitar and then there’s the top down method starting with lead vocal then guitars, keyboards etc.
Frustrating for you I’m sure but equally reassuring that music recording is mostly an art form, not a science.
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Re: The value of waiting to mix until you have all the tracks..

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Tue Aug 18, 2020 3:04 pm

So much of mixing these days isn't really mixing, it's using the amazing tools at our disposal to try and get a good performance. Out of tune stuff, out of time stuff, generally badly played parts. People send you stuff to mix that isn't anywhere near ready to 'mix', actually, because it hasn't been properly sang, played and/or arranged. But when you do get some tracks that are properly performed mixing is a doddle!
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