I’ve mentioned before how beneficial it can be to set limitations for yourself in the studio. I’ve done the One-Hour Recording Challenge, I’ve told you how I limit myself to finishing a mix in four hours, and just recently I showed you how to get a great-sounding rough mix in 30 minutes. (You can watch the replay here.)

So what did I learn from my 30-minute mix session?

1. Time Constraints Force You to Focus

Once the timer is ticking, you’re brain immediately begins to focus on the most important aspects of the mix, and you automatically discard all the less important components.

It’s nothing magical. You quickly realize that if you spend 25 minutes tweaking your kick drum EQ, that leaves you with 5 minutes to finish the rest of the entire song! Not good.

So, while my 30-minute mix isn’t perfect, I realized that the most important elements of the mix should be the primary focus of your mixing efforts. If you have 30 minutes, that’s all you have time to focus on anyway. If you have more time, then you can focus on the little “extras” (tweaking delay settings, dialing in the EQ and compression a little more, automating volumes, etc.)

2. The Importance of Well-Recorded Tracks

One comment that kept coming up in the chat room while I was doing the mix was how good the tracks sounded by themselves. It’s true. I did a fairly good job of recording the tracks to begin with, and that enabled me to build a good-sounding mix quickly.

Remember, it’s immensely important to get it right at the source. Don’t just expect to fix it in the mix.

3. Less is More

Due to the time constraints, I didn’t have the luxury of auditioning a bunch of plugins and plugin settings. I found myself skipping out on a lot of things I would normally do.

One example is on the drums. Normally I EQ and compress the kick, snare, and overheads. Then I’ll work on the room mics, toms, and high-hat (usually just with EQ). Then I’ll run the drums through an aux and compress the entire kit (or perhaps try some parallel compression).

However, during the 30-minute mix, I spent a little time on kick, snare, and overheads, then I listened and moved on. I thought about trying out some compression on the entire kit, but guess what? I was already happy with the way it sounded.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Only add elements to your mix if you think you need them, not because you simply think you should add them.

Your Turn

  • What kind of time constraint will you be adding to your next session? It doesn’t have to be “30 minutes to mix a song.” Maybe something easier, like “Comp the lead vocal on two songs in an hour.” Let me know what you’re going to do by leaving a comment. I need 10 comments before I’ll post again. (I mean it. I didn’t post yesterday because the last post was sitting at around 8 comments.) ๐Ÿ™‚

Also, if you’d like to dive deeper into mixing, join MixWithUs.com.

[Photo by julianlimjl]

  • Bob Sorace

    I need to focus on “less is more”.
    I’ll spend all night adding all of these plug-ins, duplicating tracks, comping tracks and when I think I’m done I realize it sounded better before I started!

    Thank God for “revert to saved”

  • Kevin Hilman

    Exactly Charlie,
    I get so excited to hear what the end result is going to sound like that I get tracks laid down as quickly as possible. Then after spending too much time comping away the errors I sometimes feel that the comped track lacks life so I end up re-recording parts anyway. My time will be better used preparing on the front end a little better.

    • Joe. R

      I agree…. Pre Production is crucial!

  • Andrew Shook

    I’m really having to force myself to make EQ cuts instead of boosts. I’m getting better results by cutting out the unwanted frequencies as opposed to boosting to try and make it sound like I want. It seems by cutting out the unwanted frequencies you get a more pleasing, natural sound. It’s hard to break old habits though! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Ciao Andrew!
      I’m agree with you: when you cut you put off some frequencies your track has; when you boost you are “adding” something… of course I often boost some freq, but I normally follow the rule “cut narrow, boost wide”.
      Ciao ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Steve Rohlfing

    All I know is that I spent 10 hours today determined to get at least one song close to a state ready for mastering. I got the one song to the point that I’ll listen to it on different systems, make notes, tweak off of the notes only, and call it ready. I’m with you on the quit buying gear and get busy with real production. Learning a lot too.

    Thanks Joe.


  • Charlie

    I hear ya Kevin.
    I used to quickly lay down multiple guitar parts (acoustic, elec clean, elec distorted, etc.,) excited to hear the final result.
    Now I spend a one block of time to get the tones and recording levels right.
    Then I practice all the parts for a particular guitar sound (e.g. lead distorted) for several songs, plan out my tracking sessions on paper, then record.
    Repeat for each guitar sound….

  • Good point Joe R.!

    Often, every take after the first couple has less “soul” inside, it become stiff.

    Probably it would be good “practice” something similar – same mood, but different ideas – while we are searching the sweet spot (I’m thinkin’ to the acoustic guitar tracking) of the source we are micing: in this way, when we have found the sound we like, we are ready to play the part with soul and groove, because we are not bored by repeating the same “patterns”.
    Simo ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Joe R.

    I am also trying to get it right at the source.

    One thing I have learned about me is: The longer I take to lay down tracks the more mechanical the song sounds. So I have been laying down all the tracks while I still feel the song. The performance may have mistakes, but still sounds better than mechanical. My newest song has more energy and life than all the others. So far I like this method.

    This has me spending less time tracking, more time for Mixing

    I do like the idea of finishing a mix in 30 minutes, but I am also still experimenting with EQ.
    I am however ready to focus on whatโ€™s needed, and whatโ€™s not.

  • Kevin Hilman

    “Getting it right at the source” needs to be my new point of focus. On my existing tracks I’ve spent waaaay too much time comping numerous tracks together when my time would have been better spent practicing the part first and getting it closer to perfection before recording.
    Along the same lines…I ned to get better at taming ambient noises in my home studio so that I spend less time worrying about EQ-ing out the computer fan, air conditioning, etc… I really look forward to getting my dedicated room finished complete with sound treatment. ๐Ÿ™‚