One of the more common questions I’ve been getting from people lately has to deal with doing mixdowns for other people. How do I do it, how different is it from mixing my own songs, etc. So, guess what I’m going to talk about this week on the blog? 🙂
The first step is to talk with the client and help them get all of the stems to me in a form that I can work with the easiest. While I do have a couple of guides on my website outlining the process (http://innerportalstudio.com/mixdowns) there’s usually a couple of questions the producer will have about specific sounds and which effects they should keep on the tracks they are sending me.
In general I tell people that if they are using certain effects as part of the sound design process, they should print them with the stems. This covers things like chorus, EQ, distortion, delay, etc. However if they are using effects to try and fix mix issues or to help sounds sit better together, they should remove or mute the effects before printing stems. Mostly this applies to things like EQ and compression, or maybe any limiting they might have done. Having the raw un-EQ’d tracks just gives me more flexibility when I do the mix here.
Once I get the stems, I typically use a program called “Name Changer” to remove any unwanted parts of the file name. Some DAWs will append the song name to the start of all stems for instance, which means when I get them in the DAW all of the track and event names all look the same. Name Changer let’s me remove that song name from all the files in one shot, which gives the files much more meaningful names at a glance.
These days I’ve been mainly using Studio One for my mixdown work, since it has a lot of useful functions that save me time when I first import the stems into a Project. For instance, all tracks automatically take on the name of the stems I drag onto them. This way I don’t need to manually rename all the tracks myself like I would with say Ableton Live, which saves a lot of time. Studio One also automatically adds different colors for each track and event too, which makes differentiating parts of the song easier.
Finally, I’ll use the Strip Silence function to remove any part of the Events that has no audio. Not only does this make it easier to see the song structure at a glance, but it also reduces the amount of audio I’m streaming from the hard drive at any one time. In other DAWs (well, just Live actually) I have to manually cut out all the silent bits one at a time. Small features like this save a lot of time!
Once this is done, I like to layout the order of all the tracks in a way that makes sense to me. So I’ll put the drums first (kick, snare, percussion, then cymbals), followed by the bassline, the vocal (if there is one), lead synths, backing synths, then finally pads, strings, and fills. This is how I layout my own tracks so it just makes it easier for me to find my way around larger mixdown projects.
At this point, I’m ready to start the actual mixdown. Usually I mute everything except the kick, snare, and the bassline and work on those core elements first. I get a rough balance of those, and try to aim for the signal on the master channel to peak around -10 to -8dBFS. This gives me plenty of room to add in the other parts of the song, without having to worry about clipping the master channel.
Once I’m happy with those parts, I’ll bring in and balance the rest of the drums, then the vocals or main hook. At this point I’m probably not EQing anything yet unless something sounds really wrong, it’s all done with volume faders just to see how everything sounds with simple level balancing.
Usually around this point in the mixdown, I’ll start listening for things clashing in the core elements of the song. Are the kick and bassline sitting well together? Is the vocal too bright or dull? Does the snare need more crack to it to keep it from blending with any percussion? Once I’m happy with how those things are working together, I’ll unmute the rest of the tracks and finish getting everything mixed in a rough form.
At this point I like to stop working on the mixdown for awhile and get out of the studio for a little bit. Just to give my ears a break and to let me come back to the project with a new perspective on how the mixdown is going so far. After about an hour away, I’m ready to dive back in and finish up the mix. Once I think I’m happy with the mix as it is, I’ll run the whole thing through my mastering chain so I can get a feel for how it will sound once mastered and make any last minute changes.
The next step is the most important, I shelve the song for the day and come back to it in the morning when my ears are freshest. These breaks are really important to make sure I haven’t gotten too focused on any one sound or group of sounds the previous day. Once I’m happy with everything on day 2, I send the client a copy of the mixdown and see if they’d like me to make any changes.
Typically within 1-2 revisions based on their notes the mix will be complete, and I can do the final mastering and send the finished song to the producer. Average time for a mixdown here is 2-3 days, just because I like to take those breaks and make sure everything is perfect with fresh ears.
And that’s the process! If you have any questions or need any clarification, just post them in the comments and I’ll answer asap. Thanks!