Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass

When you are mixing, what is the first thing you should do? What is the last? (And what should you NOT do?)


An Audio Masterclass website visitor asks what are the first and last things you should do in a mixing session? Well, that’s not the average question, but I do have some answers…

Audio Masterclass website visitor Norris Turney asks, “At a mix session what’s the first and last thing you should do, and what should you NOT do?”

There’s a whole range of possible answers to these questions. The first thing you should do, clearly, is switch the equipment on (power amp or active monitors last), but that’s too basic an answer. So let’s rephrase the question as what is the first thing you need to do to lay the foundation of a good mix?

It’s amazing how many tracks people use these days. In the glory days of rock and roll, well let’s say the 1970s, people could record a complete song in 16 or 24 tracks, and that was ample. Now, forty, fifty, sixty tracks plus isn’t unusual, often with ten or more guitars.

So the first thing to do when starting a mix session is to organize the tracks. If you do this, then mixing will start smoothly and progress smoothly. If you don’t, you will be confused from the start and never be fully in control of the sound.

Personally, I like to put the drums to the left of the mix screen, then the bass, then the guitars, other instruments, background vocals and finally the lead vocal. I might put the vocals at the left if I feel like it, but I do like them at either one end or the other. If I were mixing on a conventional console then I would have the lead vocal on the channel that is exactly at the center between the monitors.

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Another essential is to give the tracks meaningful names. If you didn’t record the song yourself, this is vital. You can name a track according to its instrument, or its purpose in the song. Bear in mind that track names are often automatically shortened to fit into the space available, so the names will have to be meaningful even when this happens.

Once you have your tracks organized, you can start to mix.

Now, the last thing… Clearly this has to be to make multiple copies of the finished mix. Storage media are so fragile you can’t leave it to trust that your work will survive through the coming days, weeks, months and years.

Hard disks always fail eventually, so one way to protect your work is to have a copy on an optical medium. You should be looking at products such as the Delkin Archival Gold DVD-R. But don’t just use one brand – make copies on other brands of media just in case.

Another way is to use an online storage service such as Amazon S3 or Backblaze B2. While this is a good method of protecting your work it involves an ongoing cost for as long as your files are backed up.

A third way is to use a RAID hard disk array so that if one disk fails, the other(s) in the array still have a perfect copy of your work. The problem with this method is that burglars will find your array a very attractive proposition to steal, where DVD-ROM discs are not, and online storage is not prone to such an issue. Don’t forget to think about fire or flood damage at home too.

And what should you not do…?

Hmm… there are loads of things you shouldn’t do. But how about never considering that your mix is finished until you have listened again with fresh ears the next day?

Pro mix engineers can spend a whole day mixing just one song. An experienced mix engineer develops judgment that is so acute that it takes all this time to explore the possibilities. But even a pro mix engineer’s ears are tired by the end of the day. So listening again next morning and making any minor tweaks that are necessary is essential.

David Mellor

Sonic Dimension in Mixing

Sonic Dimension in Mixing

Greg Townley's mixing credits include films Sideways & Wedding Crashers, and artists Usher & Lil' Kim … Learn how Hollywood's Premiere Audio Engineer creates Sonic Space in his film and music mixes.

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David Mellor