How to Mix a Song: The Rough Mix Checklist

By August 22, 2016Mixing

***UPDATE: I turned this blog post into a proper PDF guide!

Click here to check it out!

Below is an excerpt from my resource page called How to Mix a Song and My Mixing Checklist. Please enjoy!

Rough Mix

Push the faders up starting with the lead vocal, the drums, moving on to the bass and other instruments until you have a basic balance taking shape. This process also includes your basic panning decisions. Don’t stress too much about EQ, compression or any effects at this point. We just want something to listen to so we can build a vision for our mix.

Now that we have some music happening, let’s evaluate the song and the files we’ve been given. I find this to be a crucial step, especially when we’re dealing with home or project studio recordings. 

Identify the strengths and weaknesses either via pad and paper, or my preferred method, via a free app called Wunderlist. (This is also the app I like to use for both my revision notes and the clients. You can share the list with them and keep in touch all within one app. Did I mention that it’s free?) 😉

Wunderlist in the app store

Wunderlist for Android

Some of the initial questions I’ll ask myself about the song are:

What are the main elements that need to stand out for this song? Vocals? Drums? Any main instrument lick or part that carries the tune? 

Vocal quality? Can I give the song a hi-fi vocal or am I going to have to get creative with effects?

Low end… Is the song calling for the kick or bass to dominate the low end? Maybe both with some side-chain compression or leveling via something like Wavesfactory Trackspacer or Fab Filter Pro MB?

Am I going to replace the drums? Blend samples? I’ll take care of this before moving on as well.

Do I have any instruments where I’ve been given a D.I. and need to create guitar or bass tones?

What is the arrangement like? Busy? Well arranged? Is there anything that just doesn’t belong and can be muted? 

How’s the tuning of the vocals? Do they need pitch correction? If so, have you discussed whether it would be an added cost with the client? If not, remember this for next time. Be sure to have the conversation about any editing during the mixing process up front. Be clear on your website and in communication BEFORE you begin “mixing”. 

How do the drums and other multi-mic’d instruments sound? Getting the phase relationships right (or at least better) up front can prevent some mixing headaches.

For drums and other multi-mic’d instruments I use Auto-Align from Sound Radix.

I prefer to handle any production/recording correction changes (phase, guitar amps, etc.) BEFORE I dive too deep into the mix. These things tend to create a distraction for me personally when I try and address them as I go, so I find making a list and knocking them out up front can help smooth out the actual “mixing” part of mixing.

Continue reading the complete breakdown here…

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