Approaching mixing

Often there’s quite some discussion about understanding individual techniques or dealing with particular sounds in mixing – how to use compression, how to process drums, how to saturate bass, etc.

While an understanding of techniques is essential, it’s just as important to see the bigger picture – how to fit it all together, how to approach a mix.

The approach to take to mixing can vary greatly depending on style, taste and intent of the mix engineer and producer (with respect to the song itself!). It might also be affected by factors such as the available tools or project timelines.

The approach I use is to begin with the foreground sounds first – to start with the most important elements of the mix. This is usually the lead vocals and the drums. These are the principals, the centrepieces of modern popular music. The vocal provides the melody and emotion and the drums provide the rhythm and the groove. Once those large pieces are in place, I’ll work on the supporting elements – bass, background vocals, auxillery percussion, keyboards, synths, guitars. After that I add the final spice – background sounds, edits, automation, special effects.

I sometimes liken this to a process of fitting rocks in a jar. If the rocks are all different sizes, it’s best to start by placing the largest rocks in the jar, followed by the medium-sized rocks, and lastly the pebbles. You can imagine getting into trouble if you tried to start by adding the pebbles first and waiting for the the end before adding the largest rocks. You might have quite some rearranging to do! The same applies to mixing.

-Kim.

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