What makes a Killer Mix...and how do you build one?
You've tracked all your parts. Or you've assembled your musicians on the stage. How do you get a Killer Mix? Mixing is the process where you tweak and massage your tracks or live instruments with all the tools of the trade like volume, pan, EQ, compression, noise gates, crush busses, autotune, delay and reverb to build the final product that people get to listen to live or on a recorded mix.
It's such a fun process to use all those cool tools to build together a mix that you'll be proud to share. But with such a dizzying away of lights, knob, buttons and faders...it can be a little overwhelming.
Where do you start?
I've always taught that the process of mixing is a three part one. Fix Problems, Build a Rough Mix, Polish the Mix. The first one is obvious enough. We should go through each channel and see what we have. Maybe a guitar track has a bunch of noise on it. Throw a noise gate on it. Perhaps the bass guitar track has a lot of dynamics in it...the levels are all over the place. Throw a compressor on it. Perhaps the vocal has a nasally quality that you want to reduce. Scoop some kids around 1K out of it to hide those artifacts.
What's the Goal in the Rough Mix?
In the second part of the mixing process, the goal is to spend as little time as possible getting the mix to 80% or so of the way. Bring up all the faders, spread the backing vocals out. Buss all the drums together with a subgroup or a DCA. Add some slap to the lead vocal. Drop the lead vocal double down 6 dB. Pan the toms out. Basically do the simple work that needs to be done on virtually every mix to get it into the ball park.
How do you Polish a Mix?
Here's where you start to get a little more technical. I normally break down the entire mix into chunks. Rhythm section (drums & bass), then I'll add the lead vocal and balance those 2 "chunks" together. You can then add the supporting cast together around that core of rhythm section and lead vocals. Guitar are another layer. Keys are another layer. Backing vocals are another layer. He's where I'll have fun with subgroups and DCAs and muting. Listening intently on each chunk of the mix and polishing each separately. Mixing in this stage is less about drastic changes, rather a hundred small tweaks that work together for the good of the song.
While I have section in Mixing in our Ultimate Home Recording School and our Ultimate Live Sound School (both in their 2nd editions), the Masterclass in Mixing is a full 3 hour course specifically in building mixes which takes you step by step through the way I have approached Mixing with Whitney and Michael Jackson and the thousands of live events I have mixed.
The course also comes with complete source files of 2 songs that you can download and import into your own DAW to follow along with.
As a BONUS, there is an Exclusive Interview with Clark Hagan (Grammy Award Winning Audio Engineer) who has studied under Elvis's long time engineer. Yours free with the course.
Read more about the Masterclass in Mixing here.