As engineers, musicians, composers and producers, navigating through the last 5% of a project is the most ball breaking, frustrating and and at times the most utterly self shattering experience to go through. Knowing a project is ALMOST there, but not quite there, can be a very large mental hurdle. The following outlines some methods I often use to help me past the hurdle when in a mixing rutt.
Whilst most of you may be expecting some magical plug in settings, technical process or bandaid solution for that last 5%, there is no such thing, every project is unique and has to be assessed on it’s merits and artistic direction. By using the following methods I’ve been able to address mixes from a fresh point of view and align my mentality and emotional connections to a song along ones similar to that of my audience. Ultimately helping me make a killer record.
1) Throw out all the technical knowledge and critical processes going on in your head. Try to engage with what you’re hearing on a purely emotional level. Ask the questions and write down responses;
What allows the track to move you?(Vocals, bass line, guitar riff, drum beat)
What is holding back or not working in favour of the track?
What has this genre and track set out to achieve and engage the listener with?
Use the answers to help guide your track closer to completion. Sometimes re-assessing what it is you’re actually trying to achieve can be a big aid in getting your head in the right space to finish off a record.
2) Listening to something new, nothing is worse than playing back the same song over and over again and chasing your own tail, listen to something else and ask the questions from method (1). Also use these answers to help guide your track through to completion
3) Keep it simple stupid, sometimes less is more. At times I find too much processing and fiddling with tracks can kill the vibe.
4) Use your mastering engineer, most mastering engineers I know and myself included are always up to providing feedback on mixes before they’re finished off and sent to us for mastering. This feedback is invaluable, mastering engineers are well voiced in what makes a good record great, as well as housing a neutral acoustic environment to help inform you about what is and isn’t translating pleasantly in your mixes.
5) Play it out, got a car, a hi-fi system, iPod, home theatre, computer speakers, laptop speakers or a boombox? Despite not being the most ideal mixing playback systems it can at times be useful to hear you’re mixes on what most people will be playing them back on.
6) Be ballsy, so often we get stuck into the subtleties of a mix and forget that sometimes despite sounding over the top to a mixing engineer an obnoxiously loud lead guitar can really grab a listener in, or that a really hard panned solo can pull a listener right into a mix. Don’t be afraid to make decisions that you may think unconventional, sometimes the most absurd & drastic mix decisions can add something to the music it just needs to finish it off.
Assuming you’ve completed that last 5% of your mixing and you’re 100% about how your mixes are sounding, you may need to get them ready for mastering.
The following are some guidelines on getting a mix ready for mastering.
- Make sure your highest peaks are somewhere between -3dbfs and -6dbfs.
- Export .wav interleaved files at the sample rate and bit depth of your DAW’s session.
- Have some lead in time to the start of your bounce to prevent accidently cutting that first note in too quickly or off completely, and don’t apply any fades, we’ll take care of that all in mastering.
- Name your files in an appropriate manner to make it easy for the engineer to follow.
02_Scorched to Ashes_Sarspell_[44.1k]_PreMaster.wav
Other FAQ’s when bouncing a mix for mastering;
Is it ok to have a limiter or compressor on the mix bus?
NO, generally this will restrict the amount of dynamics a mastering engineer has to work with. HOWEVER, you can have some creative compression on the mix bus. But make prints of the mixes with and without it on, this gives the mastering engineer more flexibility to choose with you which one is most appropriate for the record in the studio.
Is it ok to have an equaliser on the mix bus?
YES you can have some creative equalisation on the mix bus. But make prints of the mixes with and without it on, this gives the mastering engineer more flexibility to choose with you which one is most appropriate for the record in the studio.
Other good practices to get in the habit of are printing multiple variations of the mix and sorting through them with the mastering engineer to find which one sits best in relationship to the final release(Be it album, ep or single).
02_Scorched to Ashes_Sarspell_[44.1k]_PreMaster_Vox+2db.wav
02_Scorched to Ashes_Sarspell_[44.1k]_PreMaster_Gtr-1db.wav
02_Scorched to Ashes_Sarspell_[44.1k]_PreMaster_Bss+1.5db_Gtr-1db.wav
And remember if you’re unsure about anything in the mix or what the mastering process can offer your mixes feel free to consult with your engineer.
At the end of the day making great records is in the equal interest of the mastering engineer as well as yours.