So you just finished downloading another session file or a zip file of .WAVs from your client. After opening a new DAW session and dropping the files in, you begin to group, label, and assign tracks to your pre-made busses and finally your stereo mix. If this story sounds familiar to you, then good, you have the beginnings of a workflow down! If not, you might be able to pick up a few tricks that I like to use.
1. Know your processing chain
First of all, as I have said before, you need to really understand your setup for mixing inside and out. What is your signal chain of processing? Do you have a simpler is better approach to things, with only a few plugins on your tracks? Or do you find yourself putting 5 different vintage hardware compressors on a vocal channel in parallel processing for just that right amount of sonic nirvana? Whatever the case may be, TEMPLATES are your friends.
They save you time. Time you can’t get back.
Time is money.
Let me say that again, time is money.
Therefore, TEMPLATES = MONEY.
So, be smart and save some cash. It took me a lot longer than it should have to learn this lesson. Even if you don’t use your entire template for each project, it saves you from having to spend 15 minutes or more routing your tracks to wherever they have to go.
2. Choose an order
What genre of music are you working on? Loud rhythm oriented styles, or melodic vocals with soft accompaniment? The session you are working on needs to have a natural progression to it. Everyone has their own style, but I think you should pay close attention to the things that are in the forefront of the mix FIRST.
For example, if you are working with vocal centered genres, I would focus on the vocals when your ears are freshest in the day. You will be able to hear much more detail between takes, pitch issues and (for me) sibilance problems. However, if I spend the first part of the day working on perfecting drums, then I beat my ears to death with volume. All those loud crashes and thumping kicks reduce your ability to hear vocals right the first time. I know I’m not the only person who has worked on vocals late at night (thought they were killer) and then end up coming back the next morning thinking, “What was I doing?”
Just like muscles get fatigued from exercising, likewise ears get fatigued from no breaks and repetitive use. Choose an order before you start mixing, and when you listen to it the next day, you just might still like your work.
3. Disable notifications on your phone
When you are in the studio, you are there to make mix a song. Not wasting time down some rabbit hole, endlessly scrolling on your mobile device. Just try this one thing next time you pick up your phone. Ask yourself, “What am I looking at this for?” And if you don’t have an answer, you don’t need to be picking it up.
Give your full attention to a project to increase your productivity and ultimately make you more professional. Would you be picking up your phone and looking at your Facebook while your client was watching you? I didn’t think so.
4. Organize your samples
There is nothing worse than having inspiration for a song, and then swiftly killing it by trudging through library after library of seemingly random samples. Know where your sounds are and how to track them quickly. Our creative brains don’t retain ideas forever.
My absolute favorite samples for drums are the guys over at iwantthatsound.com. Dustin Burnett and Paul Mabury are absolutely killing it. Check their stuff out. For other instruments, I love using strings and pianos from 8dio, Acoustic Samples, and The Giant by Native Instruments.
5. Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have done it. You keep beating yourself up because what you are trying to do isn’t working. You can’t get the sound that you have in your head to come out of the speakers.
Stop, and step outside.
Take a break, put the project aside. Take a walk. Go to bed. Do whatever you have to do to be refreshed. 9 times out of 10 you will conquer your problem after a break. You can keep your sanity, your ears will hear better, and your client will thank you.