How To Spend Less Time Mixing

2010 Dec 17, 2010

Most home studio owners I know (and readers of this site) tend to struggle with many of the same issues. One of the biggest is just how long and difficult the mixing process is for them. Much of this can simply be attributed to lack of experience. Like any skill, the more time spent practicing it the better you become.

But more often than not, the big reason why people are spending so much time trying to get a mix to sound good is they didn’t spend enough time on the recording end.

Via Chris Potter Flickr

Bring Balance To Your Recording Process

If the process of recording and producing music in your home studio were an equation, many of us have a lot happening on the “mixing” side of the equation, with not much on the “recording” side. You really want to have a healthy balance. Instead, if you are like me, you tend to think of all the things you will do in the mix to really bring the song to life and make the tracks stand out. In theory the equation would equal out (half record, half mixing), but we end up doing all our heavy lifting (and spend the most time) on the mixing side of the equals sign.

If that sounds like you, then perhaps it’s time to bring some balance to your workflow. Try to double how much time you spend on the recording phase and see if it cuts your mixing time in half. Some practical examples would be:

  • Spend more time tuning the instrument (or voice) and changing strings (or heads) to make sure you get the best sound out of your instruments
  • Spend more time “treating” your room as needed. Grab some blankets, mattresses, pillows, or closets full of clothes to help kill the potentially challenging sound of your room.
  • Spend more time experimenting with mic placement. First listen to the source with your own ears and find its sweet spot(s). Next put your mic(s) where the sweet spot is, record a bit, listen back, analyze, and adjust as needed. Rinse and repeat until you have an amazing sound.
  • Spend more time thinking about arrangement. Maybe get a different instrument to play a certain part, or rewrite the song to have more interesting parts. All arranging decisions go a long way to “improving” your mix even before you ever mix anything.

Pretend That There Is No Mixing Phase

Sometimes I need to tell myself that there is no mixing phase. I’m pretending of course,  but I create some false pressure to really get things sounding right going to “tape”. If we typically are the same ones mixing our recordings then we can get too lazy and just want to “fix it in the mix.” I really can fall for that and tell myself that I’ll just make it better…later!

Instead, make it your job to capture the most killer sounding raw tracks possible. If the drums don’t sound amazing, then start over. Reassess everything (not gear, just technique). If the guitars are wimpy, do something about it! This is the art of recording, so get after it!

You Are Only Helping Yourself

Remember, the more you accomplish on the recording side of the equation, the less time (and work) you’ll have to spend on the mixing side of things. It’s just a fact. So on your next project, shift your thinking from plugins and mix technique to mic placement, room acoustics, and performance. It might seem slow going, but it will be worth it in the end.

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