The following is a guest post from my friend Rob Mayzes, an audio professional, musician and educator who has helped thousands of home studio owners produce better music and mixes through his website Musician on a Mission.
Every mixer needs a system.
A mixer without a system is like a football team without a game plan.
You could aimlessly run around the pitch, slowly working your way towards your goal (sure, you’ll get there eventually)…
Or you could have a strategy – a set of guidelines to follow – to help you score faster and with less effort.
The simple system that I’m about to reveal will allow you to mix with more confidence and speed, so you can produce better mixes in less time.
As an added bonus, I find that this system also makes mixing more enjoyable.
Slow Focus Mixing: The Easiest Way to Mix with Confidence and Speed
Many people start their mix with the foundation (the kick drum or bass). Then they bring in the other instruments one-by-one.
I suggest doing the exact opposite. Leave smaller details like the kick drum to the end of the mix.
Start with the bigger picture – then start to slowly focus on the finer details as the mix progresses.
Begin with balancing and muting. Throw the faders up, work on instinct and be bold.
Consider the track as a whole. Think about the vibe and character of the music. Which instruments are the most important? Which channels aren’t needed?
Don’t focus on fine details yet. After all, how can you adjust the tone of the kick drum without knowing the role it plays in the song?
Starting with the bigger picture allows you to mix fast, stay in the moment and remain excited.
The Entire Mixing Process Step-by-Step
Here is a breakdown of the Slow Focus Mixing concept applied to a complete mix.
Phase 0 – Preparation
Before you start your mix, spend time checking your levels and organizing your project.
Next, create group busses for instrument groups (this bit is important). For example, send all of the drum and percussion channels to a new stereo buss called ‘Drums’.
Phase 1 – Bigger Picture
Start the mix with the faders up and everything panned center.
Go through and start balancing the mix and muting unnecessary channels.
Bring up the most important parts. Mute any instruments or channels that don’t add something to the music or mix. Be bold.
Spend more time on balancing than you think necessary. The bulk of your mix happens here.
Phase 2 – Group Processing
Remember, you’re starting with the bigger picture and working down to the finer details…
So why not apply processing to the mix buss (master fader) first, then the group busses, and the individual channels last?
This is an efficient way to mix that can save you time and energy. You can get more done with less plugins.
I call this Backwards Mixing, as it means working from right to left in your mixer (rather than left to right).
Graham has a very similar strategy called Top Down Mixing.
Start with the mix buss. I recommend using a reference track here to compare the overall tonality of your mix with a professional record.
Apply EQ to your whole mix if needed and take a big step closer to your end goal.
For example, if the entire mix sounds muddy, try a 1dB cut around 200-500Hz. I also tend to apply a subtle top end boost to give the whole track some brightness.
Then apply some light compression to the mix buss. This will add glue and character to your mix.
Now you can move to the group busses and apply EQ, compression – and anything else that is needed to start shaping your mix.
Phase 3 – Individual Channels
Some instruments and parts need individual processing. For example, if you only have one kick drum mic, it will need individual processing on the channel.
Go ahead and apply any processing that couldn’t be applied on a group buss. This also includes panning.
The lead vocal is another great example of a part that generally needs processing on the channel itself. I recommend processing the vocals last, just before the next phase.
Phase 4 – Decoration
Now it’s time to add some interest and movement.
Volume and panning automation can be used to enhance the music. This is a vital step – a good mix is a living, breathing thing.
Effects can also be automated to add interest and character. Try adding delay throws to the vocal by automating the send level.
Phase 5 – Finishing Touches
Take a long break. Come back, turn off the screen, have a good listen and write down a list of problems that need addressing.
For example, you might write down that “the kick drum is too loud in the chorus” or that “the overall mix sounds too bright”. Then go through and fix each problem one-by-one.
Repeat this process a few times until you are happy with the mix.
Give It a Try and Improve Your Mixes Today
If you DON’T have a mixing system, give Slow Focus Mixing a go in your next mix.
If you DO already have a system that works for you, still give this approach a try – you might prefer it.
If you want to follow this entire system step-by-step, the following diagram will help you to visualize the process.
(Save this image to your computer and use it as a guide.)
Applying the Concept Elsewhere
Slow Focus Mixing can be applied to other aspects of the mixing process.
For example, try applying it to the way that you process individual tracks in your mix.
Start with the tools that will make the biggest impact (like balancing), and work downwards to tools that focus on the finer details (like automation).
What other elements of production can you apply the Slow Focus concept to?
Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
The 3 Steps To Starting Your Mix
Before you go and implement this mixing strategy be sure you’re actually setting your tracks up to sound their best in your DAW with this simple 3 step formula.
Watch the free video and then you’ll be ready to take your mixes to the next level!