I started final mixes this past week-end on a project that started last February. The process of mixing combines fairly tedious housekeeping activities with wide ranging creative effort.
The tedious housekeeping activities include:
- Chopping – I go through all of the tracks and take out any unintended and unnecessary noises such as guitar amp hiss, clearing of throat sounds, etc.
- Consolidating tracks – During tracking, individual tracks are often split into separate regions for overdubs. I consolidate or flatten all of the tracks so that I have one “final” region per track prior to mixing.
- Deleting unused regions – not unusual to have 50 or more tracks per song and yet, when it comes down to mixing, maybe a third of those tracks are not going to be used at all. They may be multiple takes of a vocal or a guitar solo. I keep all of the original takes but for mixing I want to focus on the keepers so I remove the unused regions.
- Prepare sends/returns – there are stock effects that I use when mixing. I usually have four reverbs, one harmonizer, and four delays prepped for each song. There are obviously individual effects that get applied to each track but each session will need some or all of these effects.
- Align tracks – I check for alignment between kick and bass, background vocals, drums and percussion and I make adjustments as required.
- Documentation – I ensure that each track has basic comments in terms of its content. For example, I will identify the signal chain, instrument, contributor on each track. I also prepare a Pro Tools Interchange document for the session to allow someone else a running chance at remixing the material at a later date.
- Backup – I prepare a premix backup of the material on a separate firewire drive. This helps ease my anxiety over catastrophic loss.
So, before I even move a fader or automate a mix, I have spent several hours just getting the session ready for mixing. I will often spend between 10 and 20 hours to mix one song.
The creative side requires a lot of technical knowledge and experience to correctly apply mixing techniques against the program material. I always tune my ears by doing some reference listening prior to mixing. I admit that having somewhere over 25 years of experience in audio does help the process along a little bit.