For the next 10 days, I’m going into “mixing” mode. I’ll be posting a BUNCH of articles and videos on mixing. Why?

Well, for one thing I love mixing. It’s such a fun, creative process.

Secondly, I’m launching MixWithUs.com again. It’s happening on Monday, April 19th. For those of you who don’t know what MWU is, it’s a mixing community, where I, over the course of 10 weeks, give you the multi-track audio files from my entire album I released last fall, in addition to training videos on how I mixed each song.

I’ll be posting more details later…but get ready to join. It’s gonna be awesome.

Okay, on to today’s topic:

How do you know when you’re ready to mix?

You’re working on a song. You’ve recorded all the main parts. You’ve recorded all the fun little extras, like percussion and background vocals. You’ve tracked the lead vocals…so…is it time to start mixing?

How do you know when you’ve got all the tracks you need? How do you know if you need to add a few more?

Pre-Production to the Rescue

If you’re not sure if you’re ready to mix, then there’s a chance you didn’t really do much pre-production on the song. I’ve talked about the importance of pre-production before. Pre-production is simply a fancy word for planning.

Do you record demos of the songs you’re working on? Do you listen to them in their simplest state before you start tracking everything? You should.

I know some styles of music don’t lend themselves to demos as much as others, but with any project, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you take some time to make a plan. You don’t have to know exactly what you’re going to do for everything on the song, but you need to have a direction for how the song structure will be and how you want the finished song to sound.

If you don’t have any sort of vision, you’ll just keep adding random instruments and parts, hoping to land on something that sounds nice.

I’m not saying you don’t need to experiment in the studio with different creative ideas, but at some point you should have some sort of idea of how you want the finished mix to sound.

Once you’ve added all the parts you need for that final mix, you’re ready. (Sounds obvious, right?) If you begin with a plan, then you’ll know when you reach the end.

Does it sound close?

If you’re doing a good job of capturing the source well, then your session should sound pretty good, even before you start mixing. Is it sounding full and “close” to the finished project you imagined? If so, you’re probably ready to mix.

Does it sound like it’s missing a lot? Then you’re probably not ready to mix. Mixing won’t make up for incomplete production.

Does it sound tight?

Is the performance a little sloppy? Are there some out-of-time parts?

Chances are you need to do some editing before you’re ready to mix. I recommend getting all of your editing out of the way before you start mixing. Beginning a mix with nice, clean tracks keeps you from being distracted by a little edit here, a little nudge there. (Check out Understanding Editing for specific training on how to edit your tracks.)

You might be ready.

If you find yourself trying to come up with stuff to add to your mixes just for the heck of it, you might be done. Listen to what you have. If there aren’t glaring empty spaces, then you may very well be ready to mix.

I would suggest getting out of “recording” mode once you start mixing. Sure, I’ve stopped a mix to record a quick background vocal part, but normally I try to be completely finished with recording once I start mixing…otherwise it will take me forever to mix it, because in the back of my mind I’ll know that I can always go back and record some more parts if I need to.

Burn the bridge. Once you’re done, be done. And have fun mixing!

Comment Question: How do you know when you’re ready to mix? Leave a comment and let us know.

[Photo by kevindooley]

  • Matthew mplus

    Thur am still a beginer in production but I always start with adding effects to my drum, snare, bass, string and other. I hav nt mixed a job, so enlighten me let me know d effects I can use in editing beat and vocal.

  • I usually know that I’m ready to mix when I start harmonizing EVERY guitar part, haha. Harmonies are great, but if you do it to everything it sort of takes the impact out of it. Also, I’ll sometimes find myself adding a couple extra measures of the chorus/verse/bridge/whatever just to try and work a solo in. I do this regardless of if I’ve done pre-production. And seriously, I don’t think I’m that great of a soloist and I don’t have an ego! Le sigh.

  • Lukas

    I never start mixing until I have all the edits in place. There’s nothing more distracting than having to stop while you’re arms deep into mixing mode just to perform one or two cuts, nudges and fades or whatever else it may be. I used to throw an eq or a compressor to tweak the sound a little bit while I was still tracking, but later discovered that it was slowing me down way too much, so I abandoned the idea. The temptation is still there, but patience can be really rewarding. Another great post, Joe!

  • Marco

    Great thoughts Joe. Funny you post this, because lately I’ve been experimenting with just the opposite method: I had the song all planned out. Arrangement planned, parts rehearsed, plus the important part – a vision for how I wanted the mix to end up sounding. Then I started tracking instrument by instrument (starting with drums), but getting a near-final mix as I went. So I’d do the drum track, and then mix it to sound like I imagined, then recorded bass, mixed that in, being sure to leave EQ room for the other instruments, then did the same for guitars, keys, percussion, etc. Basically, I was finishing as I went, building it layer by layer.
    Now, I’m quite familiar with my tools and setup, which allowed me to work this way on this particular track. Of course, I’d have to go in and make small tweaks on things, but for the most part it was done in a much more linear approach than I’m used to.
    Of course, I’d never do this if I were recording somebody else’s music.
    Just wondering if you’ve ever tried this?

    • Yeah, mixing as you go can be really fun. I do it quite a bit. But I normally “start over” a bit when it’s time to really start mixing.