How to Mix a Song: Mix Prep Checklist

By May 28, 2016 July 22nd, 2017 Mixing

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

Click here to check it out!

Today, I want to share a complete breakdown of my mix prep process. I’m blessed to know an amazing engineer named, Neil Devereaux who just happens to be a Facebook chat message away from any project that comes my way. Neil lets me hire him for editing and prep work and I can’t say enough nice things about him. If you’re looking to learn how to prep a session, the below info is for you. If you’re looking to get creative quickly, click on Neil’s name and hire him to take this off your plate. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my mixing career. 😉

***Many of the tools I use are listed below. While these are huge time savers, you can do just about anything I’ve listed here manually inside of your DAW.

Mix Prep/Session Management

-Receive the files from the client

-Rename client’s folder to “Song Name [Client Files]”

-Value your time? Check out Stereo Monoizer.

-Create a new session in your DAW (stay with me)

-Place newly named “client files” folder into the session folder

-Import client’s files into your DAW (be sure to check the sample rate and bit depth)

Did you receive a rough mix from the client? If so, import that in and slide it to the right of your tracks and call that track “REFS” for references. This is also the track you could place any mainstream songs you’ve been given by the client or chosen yourself for referencing while mixing. Some people (myself included) prefer to reference along the way while others may reference towards the end of the mixing process. You choose what works best for you. 🙂

*My go-to plugin for referencing is called Magic AB and it’s made by the good people at Sample Magic.

Next up, use your trim or gain plugin to set all files to -15 (this step is totally a taste thing, but I do it on every single mix… You may prefer to skip this, but good gain staging is crucial and too many songs come my way recorded too hot. This helps me to start on the right foot.)

*I use Clip Gain in Pro Tools (using a third party plugin called Defaulter). 

After I set my gain staging, I’ll select all of the audio tracks, create a group called client audio, and pull all of their faders down to around -20 or so. Some mixers prefer to have all of the tracks off when they start their rough mix, however, I prefer to have everything audible (at least slightly when I begin to push the faders up and feel out the song).

Once the initial gain staging is complete, I’ll check for the session’s tempo. 

You could request this from the producer/artist, but it’s just as easy (most of the time) to tap the tempo in your DAW and check it using a click track. 😉

Next up, I’ll place markers beginning with “Song Start” followed by V1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus/Hook, V2, Bridge, etc… All the way through to the end which I’ll label “The End”.

All labeled and ready to go? Awesome! You’re officially ready to push up the faders and start your rough mix. 

Do you have your own process? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Jurado says:

    Ive been trying to understand gain staging and this advise is awesome thank you! I have a method but there is something Im not sure about. I will play the whole song so to find the peak levels of all tracks then using the pre-fader gain I will turn each track up or down so they all peak at -18. What Im not sure about is what if a track peaks at say 10 but only briefly yet for the most part the track sits around 0? Hope that makes sense

  • Wilgo says:

    In the gain staging proces I come across instruments/ vocals that still sound loud after I put a trimmer on -15 or -18…!!!
    What to do with those???

  • James Thatcher says:

    What has helped me recently with gain staging is Klanghelm’s VU meter and trim plugin: it really makes it easier getting a signal ready before going into an analog modeled plugin and you can grab it for less than $10.

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