Should You Mix While You Record?

2013 May 17, 2013

These days, everything in the studio seems to blend together. From recording, to mixing, to arranging, to songwriting. Some people are even trying to master while they mix. It can get confusing and convoluted. So the question for today will be: is it OK to mix while you record? And if so what does that look like?

In fact recently a TRR reader emailed this quandry, and I’m sure many of you can identify with his situation:

I might pan some of the guitars, turn them down, etc while I get ready to track another guitar, keyboard part, bass, etc. Is that normal or should I not touch anything on the mixer until the song is pretty much done in the recording phase? – Doug (TRR reader)


Via Jiahui Huang Flickr


What Is Your Definition Of Mixing?

The real question in my mind is, what is your definition of mixing? That will help determine the answer to Doug’s question. If your definition of mixing is balancing faders and setting some pan positions, I see nothing wrong with that. In fact I work that way. As I begin to record drums, bass, and guitars, I find myself loosely balancing them against each other in volume and pan to get an idea of how they mesh.

I’m not, however doing any EQ or compression. My definition of mixing has more to do with EQ and compression than anything else, because those are the tools that help all tracks sit together perfectly. It’s hard to know what EQ to apply if you haven’t recorded all the tracks yet. You don’t know what future frequency issues might creep up.

Are You Compensating For Bad Recordings?

Do you find yourself reaching for an EQ or compressor plugin after recording to “help” an otherwise lack luster recording? If so, you might want to go back to the source and re-record. In the recording phase you must act like there is no mixing phase. Pretend that mixing isn’t even an option.

This forces you to “EQ” as you go with mic placement and performance. You should be focusing on getting great sounds to “tape”, not using plugins to compensate for what isn’t working that day. Take your time, focus on your vision for the song and do that with microphones, not plugins.

Is The Plugin Part Of The Sound?

On the flip side of things, if you are recording through a plugin of some kind and that is part of the sound you want to capture, then by all means, go to town with that thing! Just do me one favor: record that effect into your DAW, dont’ leave a plugin open with a dry track running through it. Recording “clean” like this overrated and will slow you down.

Again, use the plugin like a piece of hardware: find the settings that really get the sound you want and commit to those sounds! Record them. Capture them. That’s the point of the recording phase. It’s OK to play with stuff in your DAW while you record just as long as it’s helping you capture a great performance, not fix a bad one.

Your Goal When Recording

Here’s my goal every time I record: capture tracks with the right microphone, in the right placement, with the right preamp/EQ/compressor settings, at the right volume level into my DAW. If done well, I should be able to pull all my faders up to unity and have a pretty kicking song with no plugins and in mono.

No big deal if I need to tweak some faders and play with pan, but in the end the tracks should stand on their own, no need to “mix while you.”

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