Getting The Mix Done

Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a time management system developed by David Allen. His book is highly recommended and his system has spawned a cottage industry of tools and techniques. You can learn more about GTD here and here.

I have used the Outlook add-in but I find that being tied to a single computer is counterproductive particularly as I work on both Macs and PCs.

There are a number of web-based alternatives and I am currently giving Vitalist a try. Vitalist offers a free, ad-supported version as well as a subscription service with no ads and a few other features.

I have put up a couple of recording projects on my Vitalist account. I am in the mixing stage for one project with a pretty tight timeline. The way I approach GTD is to describe the project, give it a context, and outline the next actions I need to do on the project.

I have ten songs to mix on this particular project. And for each song, I have a set of tasks. I have broken the project down into a list of next actions. Although I know the drill, having a plan of attack keeps me focused particularly when I enter really busy times. Like right now.

So what does it take to create a candidate mix? I generally spend about 10 hours a song prepping a candidate mix. My workflow follows these steps:

Backup

As soon as the tracking work has been signed off, I make two sets of backups for the project: one local and one offsite.

Mix Session File Prep

I prepare a Pro Tools session for mixing which includes in-the-box and outboard effects, parallel compression, and comprehensive markers.

I generally mix with 5 reverbs: vocal plate, drum plate, large hall, short gate and long gate. I also use 5 delays: 1/4 and 1/8 note delays for voice and for instruments, and 1/2 note delay. Other effects include split harmonizer and flange. Depending on the song, I may add additional effects.

Parallel compression is setup for the drums. I bus the kit to a clean aux and to another bus which is heavily compressed. When mixing, the uncompressed and compressed signals are blended.

Aside from marking locations of a song (Intro, Verse, Bridge), I use Pro Tools markers to show/hide tracks. I have markers that show Everything, Nothing, Drums only, Bass/Drums only, Active Mix tracks only and whatever else I think I need to stem the mix. When I am working on the mix and I want to work on a subset of the tracks, let’s say the drumkit, I can press a memory location and, like magic, I see only the drumkit tracks. And, by pressing the Active Mix tracks, I can see the full mix. Very, very handy.

Mix Prep

After the sessions have been prepped for mixing, I begin the process of editing and cleaning tracks, setting up channel processing like compression and eq, preliminary pan and effects settings. I also check on things like latency although with automatic delay compensation, I usually check multi-mic sources for phase alignment.

My approach is to listen to each in track in isolation to ensure that any extraneous noise has been eliminated and that any track edits have been cleaned properly, in other words no popping or clicking sounds and smooth fades on any cuts. I consolidate tracks so that I am not working with hundreds of discrete regions. I will set up mutes for the tom tracks and work with other tracks as appropriate for any gates or mutes. I won’t set up automation at this point and I won’t program and fader changes.

I bring faders up by logical grouping, bass and drums for example, and begin setting up channel processing, pans and effects. I will also have a pretty good idea as to channel level settings as well.

Candidate Mix

With the session ready to go, I prepare a candidate mix for review. The candidate mix will have all the basic elements of the song ready for review by the producer. After this, there may be dozens of iterative changes as we focus on song dynamics and automation, any last-minute overdubs or changes, and any other creative changes to the production. Obviously, time and budget constrains the effort on this part of the mixing process. A recording project never ends. It just stops.

Mix Master

Once the release mix is approved, the finals are cut as required. TV mixes, performance tracks, radio mixes, and mix stems. Everything gets backed up again and a fully documented version of the mix is created for the mastering stage.

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