Coming off the heels of a month long mixing tip marathon and listening back to a lot of the videos I did, one point seemed to keep coming up when I would explain a mixing tip: you need to have an interesting arrangement to have a great mix.
If you have the opportunity to actually record the track that you’ll end up mixing, then do yourself a favor and record with the end in mind. Don’t wait until the mixing phase to create an interesting and dynamic arrangement. Start at the very core of the song, the instrumentation, the mic placement, actual performance!
Via Early Novels Database Flickr
Choose Instruments That Will Cut Through The Mix
If you have any say in the matter, choose instruments (tones really) that will compliment each other and cut through the mix. This isn’t as hard as it might sound. If you have a very percussive acoustic guitar part for example, then match it with a smoother (non percussive) lead guitar or string part. If you have a lot of washy synth pads going on, then find a rhythmic and percussive element (piano, percussion, picking guitar) that will compliment it well. Come mix time, things already have separation and purpose.
Choose Your Microphones and Placement Wisely
What mics you use and where you place them is one of the most important decisions you can make for your recording and eventual final mix. Microphones have different flavors (EQ curves) and can change the sound of a source dramatically. Would a dynamic mic sound better than a condenser on your lead vocals? Try it and find out. It might just allow the vocal sit better in a mix made up of parts all recorded with condensers.
Also, simply shifting the placement of a given microphone will drastically alter the sound going “to tape.” Think about the way you want the source to sound in the mix and move the mic until you get that sound. Here are some example scenarios:
- Acoustic guitar sounds really boomy? Then move the mic back a foot instead of reaching for the EQ when you mix.
- Kick drum doesn’t have enough click? Simply move it further in the drum shell or point it more directly at the beater head.
- Guitar amp is too bright and shrill? Shift the mic off center of the cone and you’ve instantly got a smoother tone, no EQ needed.
The big idea here is you are already creating your “mix” in the recording phase, so be intentional with what mics you use (if you have choices) and where place them (which we ALL have control over). It will make your job much easier come mix time.
Capture The Absolute Best Performance You Can
The final thing you should do when recording with the end in mind is to take your time and work hard at capturing a great performance. Please don’t be that typical lazy home studio guy who just tracks a few takes of something knowing that he’ll simply “fix it in the mix” later. That’s not real recording, that’s just demoing.
If you want a top notch mix of your track when it’s all said and done, then it starts with having a top notch performance to mix! It sounds simplistic, but most people miss this. If you capture a moving, powerful, and dynamic performance (be it vocal, drums, guitar, etc) it will instantly play better in a mix and the entire song will come to life much faster and with minimal effort.
Do Yourself A Favor
Honestly, if you don’t do the things above then you are only hurting yourself. Do yourself a favor and record with the end in mind. You want to spend less time mixing, right? This is how you do it.