Is late at night the only time you have to mix? Trying to get great sounding tracks without waking the family or neighbors? Read on.
In part 1 of this little series we touched on why having to be quiet while you mix is actually a blessing in disguise. We also addressed the “non” issue of lack of time. Today I want to give you the final two steps to creating great mixes late at night.
Via Sean Reay Flickr
Step 3 – Tweak In Headphones
If you have a choice, always choose to do the bulk of your mixing on speakers (studio monitors). Why? Because headphones can trick you, both with exaggerated stereo image and separation and EQ hype.
If you read Part 1 of this series then you know you can and should totally mix quietly on speakers. But you shouldn’t ONLY mix on your monitors. You’ll need to do some tweaking with a simple pair of studio headphones.
The two things you’re listening for on headphones at this stage are noises or other sonic problems you may have missed when mixing on speakers with the volume low, plus details in the reverb and delay tails. This “microscopic” view of your mix will help you tighten up any trouble spots (like pops, clicks, lip smacks, bad edits, etc) and dial back the verb or delay as needed.
The “hidden hack” of switching to your headphones at this point is that it forces your ears to reset and “wake up”. Remember our ears get used to whatever they are hearing so we lose perspective quickly.
Step 4 – Reference Mixes On Your Monitors
After making any necessary tweaks while listening in headphones, it’s time to go back to your monitors for the home stretch.
At this point you should have a balanced mix, with proper EQ and compression, tasteful reverb or delay effects, and you should know if there are any trouble spots or noises. The final task is to make sure your mix will translate out in the real world and hang with other pro mixes.
One of the most underused mixing hacks around is to reference a pro mix right inside of your DAW. The beauty of this technique for the late night mixer is that you need some point of reference when mixing so quietly and what better reference than a pro mix you love?!
Pull it in, drop the volume so it’s level matched with your mix, and go back and forth between the two. What do you notice? How does your top end sound like compared to the reference? What about the bass? How do the vocals sit in your mix verses the reference? And so on.
Make any slight tweaks you need on your mix in order to bring it closer in line with the reference. Your mix will never sound JUST LIKE the reference, merely closer to it. And that is the goal. To be in the ballpark of a pro mix, tone and balance wise.
Final Step – Walk Away
OK, so there is one bonus step: and that is to render out your MIX 1 of the song and walk away. You’ve done all you can tonight. It’s time to come back during the day and listen to what you’ve done (maybe in the car on your way to work).
You need to hear it with fresh ears out in the real world and take note of any changes you’d like to make.
An important note here: you should expect to notice things you want to change. This is normal and healthy. Think of this process as your first impressions after mixing. They are generally spot on and worth paying attention to.
Make the tweaks you need to later that night, and then rinse and repeat the process until you feel you are ready to call the mix done and move on.
If you really want to make great mixes, and late at night (or early in the morning) is the only time available, then just do it. Most of us are in the same boat as you, pressed for time. Most of us don’t get to do this for a living. Even I have other commitments with family, business, or church that don’t allow me to mix when I’m at my “freshest.”
We all have to fight for the time we want and just get after it. There are no excuses any more. You have the gear. You have the ideas. You can MAKE the time.
I want to hear from you: what is your new late night mixing schedule going to look like from now on? What time(s) will you be mixing and how much will you get done in a given week?