What if the way we think about mixing is all wrong?
What if our collective obsession with plugins, post processing, and “doing stuff” to audio might actually be working against our goal of delivering a butt kicking mix that has punch, power, and musicality?
What if actually doing less in the mix gave us more of what we crave?
Same EP – Two Different Ways Of Mixing
Let me share a little story with you about an EP I mixed earlier this year. I believe my experience will prove helpful for your future mixes – and ultimately that’s what this website is all about.
On this project I decided to do a little experiment.
Now, when I experiment on client work I have to be careful – the end result still has to be amazing. So sometimes I end up losing time, but gaining valuable experience and insight. This project gave me just that.
I decided to mix a few of the songs one way, and a few another.
Specifically the first few songs I mixed involved a lot of sophisticated processing. From lots of plugins, to parallel processing galore, to clever layering and blending techniques – I threw everything I had in my bag of tricks on these mixes.
The result? Some pretty good mixes.
The client was happy – and therefore I was happy.
But I was curious about something – could I get a similar result on this same artist’s material with a very different mixing approach?
Only One Rule – Do As Little As Possible
With the remaining songs I decided to approach them with a very simple mantra: “Do as little processing as possible while still getting a killer mix.”
That was it, the only rule.
I wasn’t interested in mixing style or specific techniques or methods. All I wanted to see was what kind of mix I could get if that was the one guiding principle throughout the process.
Would it take longer? Could I even match the previous mixes?
Let’s just say I had lots of uncertainty.
What Does This Song Need?
So in practice here is how I moved through the mixing process while keeping faithful to my one rule.
I simply asked myself the question: “What does this song need?” over and over again.
I began with my 10 minute mix. Balancing the faders and pan pots while looping through the song. I extended this to 20 and eventually 30 minutes – only moving something if I felt the song needed it.
Once I felt I had the best possible static volume balance, I asked the question again: “What does this song need?”
I felt it needed a bit of punch and “glue” to give it some life. I reached for a mix buss compressor and dialed in as subtle of a setting as possible.
It helped a little.
Then after bringing in a good reference track I felt that my mix was a little dull and muddy compared to the pro track. So I reached for my favorite mix buss EQ trick to open up the mix just a hair and bring it closer to the reference.
At that point the mix was sounding better, but I asked the question again: “What does this song need?”
This lead me to focus on the kick and the snare to give them more punch. Eventually I moved on to tightening up the bass sound, compressing the vocals for a more even and up front sound, adding some subtle slap delay to put the band in a space, and to subtle carve out some EQ holes that gave each instrument a bit more separation and clarity.
The Shocking Results
In the end here is how things shook out between the two mixes.
This “do as little as possible” mix approach allowed me to get a mix using 26% fewer plugins and in half the time!
Using over a quarter less plugins frees up my CPU (and reduces that annoying fan noise) and mixing in half the time gives me hours of my life back and effectively doubles my hourly rate!
But that’s not even the best part.
The songs that I mixed this way (doing as little as possible) actually sound better than the others.
Specifically they have more depth and punch with an almost 3D quality to them in comparison to the first few mixes.
Where the first handful of songs sound solid, well balanced, and rock pretty well – these minimally approached tracks sound (to my ears) on a whole other level – literally like they broke out of a box and reach out to grab you.
Do No Harm And You Will Be Rewarded
Now, I’m not that smart of a guy when it comes to technical things.
But in my hands on experience it seems that the more “stuff” you do in a mix, the more processing and plugins you employ, the more signal degradation you bring to the table.
Do you know the Hippocratic Oath that doctors and physicians supposedly ascribe to? “First do no harm.”
Well whether or not it’s true that the more plugins you use the more you “harm” your audio in the digital domain, it sure seems that way.
If instead you try to do as little “harm” to your audio, you tend to be rewarded with a more musical mix that has more impact.
In my experience doing less, truly does give you more!
Let me know your thoughts below!