Mixing By Subtraction

2011 Jan 21, 2011

When it comes to mixing your song, there are a million different philosophies to take. Regardless, the goal is simple: bring all the tracks together to create one cohesive and inspiring piece of music. That can’t happen when tracks are fighting each other for space in the mix or when you don’t have a nice balance of low end to high end frequencies. That’s where EQ can come in to play for example.

But one of the simplest things you can do to speed up your you mix workflow and save yourself hours of frustration is to start taking things out of your mix. Either getting rid of certain musical elements in a part, or cutting a track entirely. Sounds crazy, but it works.

Via Dave Dugdale Flickr

Remember The MUTE Button

For some reason most of us think that if a track is in a session then it MUST be used in the mix. I’m sure it was recorded with great intentions to help the song, but honestly just not every part has to be included. In fact, actually familiarizing yourself with the almost forgotten MUTE button in your DAW will go a long way to helping you sculpt a better mix.

Listen through your session and start muting tracks one by one. Does the song lose something instantly? Or does it actually open up? Or can you not tell a difference? As a mixer you need to have a reason for every single musical element in the mix. If a part does not serve the song in some tangible way, mute that sucker! Seriously guys, don’t be afraid. The mute button is free, and it is your friend.

Eliminate For Dynamics

Another big reason to mix by subtraction, is to create a more interesting dynamic. If you have a keyboard part that sometimes ducks in and out of the song, your ear will pick up on it and it will create pockets of simplicity and then pockets of energy throughout the song. The most engaging and dynamic tracks are the ones that aren’t just static parts playing the entire time through.

So once you’re getting a good static sound in your  mix, start to think about how you can automate or mute out certain tracks at certain parts of the song. Play around with different options and you’ll begin to hear the mix in a completely different light. Ultimately you want all the tracks to serve the main melody, lyric, or beat in some way, not just exist in the mix for the sake of being there.

Less Is Truly More

If you haven’t noticed already there is a trent here that less in a mix can truly be more. When you mix you want to keep things simple. One way to do that is to use fewer tracks in the recording phase. Another way is to have really thought out your arrangement before hand so every part has a purpose.

Just remember that in the adding of effects and automation in a mix, it’s important to actually subtract things so you can uncover the song itself that can sometimes be buried in a see of plugins.

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