There’s a reason why you might struggle to get a great mix. And it has nothing to do with your mixing abilities.
In fact, your mix was already determined long before you dropped in a single plugin or moved a fader. Indeed, for better or for worse, your mix’s fate was sealed on recording day.
I Had The Formula Backwards
For years I didn’t understand this basic truth – that your mixes are determined by your recording quality.
Sounds obvious, but in reality I worked in the studio as if it weren’t true.
I had a “formula” for making records but it was completely backwards. It went something like this:
Quick Recording + Long (i.e. Complicated) Mixing = Sonic Success
I would literally record as swiftly as possible.
Not wanting to “kill the vibe” I would pick a mic placement and go. After a couple of takes I would move on. No real thought was given to tone, arrangement, or dynamic.
Just capture the recording cleanly and move on.
Then when it came time to mix, I would brew some coffee and prepare to dig in for many hours. Mixing (in my mind) was where the song came to life, and I was determined to give it all the time it needed to really shine.
Turns out this was the complete opposite way I should have been working.
A Pro Mix Exposed
The frustrating part about this process was that mixing was like surgery. Plastic surgery at that.
I was trying to use every tool, trick, and tip in the book to construct something beautiful out of something deformed and broken at worst, and incomplete at best.
No wonder it was painful, time consuming, and exhausting.
But one day I was watching some interview with some famous mixer and he had opened up a Pro Tools session of one of his mixes. He bypassed all the plugins so we could hear the raw, naked tracks.
My jaw dropped.
These tracks sounded amazing without any plugins!
In fact, they didn’t sound much different than the final mix.
What the heck?! Was the mixer even doing anything?
(The answer, BTW, is yes – but that’s the simple secret to mixing).
In that brief moment, I was so informed about the reality of great mixing (and likely all the great mixes of our time): great mixes are actually won (or lost) in the recording phase.
For me the bar was instantly raised and my formula for sonic success was in question.
Weight It Heavy On The Front End
These days I have a very similar (yet completely different) formula. It looks something like this:
Slow, Intentional Recording + Quick, Big Picture Mixing = Sonic Success
Do you see the change?
I’ve simply shifted the bulk of my time and effort from the mixing phase to the recording phase. I’ve weighted my time and energy more heavily on the front end.
Now instead of simply trying to “capture” a performance, I think through which microphones and instruments will compliment each other better. I think about arrangement with more intentionality than ever before. I’m carving out EQ holes in the recording phase, rather than waiting for mixing to take care of things.
There is a LOT you can do in the recording phase to end up with tracks that virtually mix themselves – and I bust my butt to make that happen.
Mixing can be done quickly and effortlessly. And all with a better sounding result.
Who wouldn’t want that?!
Later this week I’m going to share a few of my biggest recording mistakes so you can avoid them yourself. And next week I’ve got something super amazing to share with you, but for now I want to know: how much time do you tend to spend on recording versus mixing? Are you happy with your results?