Academy Dashboard Forum Production Mixing Pre-Mixing

  • This topic has 8 replies, 4 voices, and was last updated 7 years ago by Mark Warner.
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  • #11779

      Hi everyone.
      Was curious on what everyone's pre-mixing routine is?
      The longer I record and the more complicated the projects become the more I like to pre-mix.

      By this I mean I will sum stereo pairs to one track, sum large backup vocal sections, render software instruments, arrange, color code and clearly label every track, as well as any editing or auto-tuning before I even start to worry about mixing. Almost always I'll do all of the pre-mixing the day before so my ears are fresh to the song when I start mixing for real.

      My logic is the faster I can start to hear my changes to better the mix will be. From what I've heard this is pretty much the only way top mixers would do things. Also I'd rather get all of the grunt work out of the way, have a chance to decompress, then get going with the creative side of things.

      Another thing that this does is cut down on the track count. I find, for me, there is almost no project that doesn't fit into 90 or fewer tracks, with most being closer to 50 or 60. (This includes sub-busses).

      So back to my question! What do YOU do pre-mixing and what advantages do you reap from what you do?

      Excited to gain some insight into other's processes,

      Mark Warner

        Gosh, that is a huge question. For me it very much depends on where the journey started and what the destination is. With my own songs the recording process is hand in hand with writing process. At some point writing and recording stops and mixing starts. Usually gain staging, phase alignment, pitch correction, editing etc are in there somewhere. It's different if I am working on someone else's track as these would be the setup tasks. Although the boundaries blur again with a full modern remix where I might only keep the vocals and write/record entirely new music to go with them. I don't sum stereo tracks to mono though. In my DAW I can change the pan law on a track so I can treat a stereo track as two mono tracks even though they are in a stereo WAV. With my own songs I might leave mixing a month, go work on something else and then come back with new ears for the mix. A normal remix setup usually takes 30 mins to an hour. I still might take 2 or 3 days or more to keep the ears fresh. I tend not to rush the process. One thing I do is plan the mix. I listen to the track to plan and changes to arrangement and orchestration . I write down ideas I get while listening for reference tracks, target sounds or styles for instruments, changes or enhancements to transitions. I listen for things that clash or sound wrong, like a clashing note a dropped beat and change them as well. Listening also gives me an idea if things sound thin and need layering to fills gaps in frequencies. On the other hand sometimes I start with no set idea and just follow my ears until I get something I like. Cheers Mark

        Guido tum Suden

          Hi Adam, good question,

          depending on what I do, I have two to four stages.
          When I work with students (age 13-15, who never played an instrument) tracking is very weird. We often have to record every single bar independently or single drum instruments independently. I will get huge comping stacks. I edit and reduce them. Quantizing is also done in the step. Sometimes the DAW isn't able to do that and I have to "Strip Silence" every single note and drag them to where they should be. When exporting, it's important to name the parts and export them to subfolders. I usually use "01-DRUMS", "02-PERCS", "03-BASS", …

          I always put numbers in front of file names so they are sorted the way I want them. Same with "01-Kick In", "02-Kick out" etc. That way I never have to search for anything.

          In the second stage I still have MIDI Data. The file name of the song will end with "(edit)". If I have patterns, I arrange them here. Vocal recording and then melodyning 😉 is also done here. I clean up everything at this stage, do fades, sometimes reduce breathing and so on. Colour coding is important at this stage, too.
          In the end I export every single track, again into subfolders, named as above. I already use eqs and compressors before exporting and in case of amp emulations even some reverb or delays. I think of these tracks as something I would give to a professional mixer for final mixing.

          I only have this third stage when I record my own songs. I'll have another alternative of the song, the name ending with "(score)". Here I see that I get MIDI data of all tracks or patterns and make a printable version of the score.

          The last's steps name ends with "(mix)". I do have a colour coded template whith stacks that are busses at the same time, named like the subfolders above. Those can be collapsed. I use stereo monoizer on the tracks before I import them. Depending on how good the second step went this is mainly mixing and using effects.

          So, we're not so different there. I don't sum large vocal sections, but make sure all processing is done in step two, so the tracks don't need further plugins. I stack those tracks and the stack get's effect sends.

          I usually don't have many tracks. My guess is, that I never have any tracks, that I might or might not use. I don't record anything that will not be in the song. I also very rarely use duplicate tracks.


          Mark Warner

            I was just thinking about all this again as you posted your reply Guido. I have my first intern starting on Monday and I need to stop thinking and working as one person. One of his tasks will be to do the pre mix work so the next few weeks will see a lot of changes to my methods as I set out processes formally. If anyone has experience of working with a young intern then I would be grateful to hear about your experiences.

            Guido tum Suden

              I haven't, but I know DAWs and students ;-).
              I would guess one of the most important parts is to find out how far your intern is in working with DAWS and the DAW you're using.
              It's unbelievable how much we take for granted in knowing our DAW and the workflows we use. Also explaining DAWs gets tiring very fast for the students because you have tons of information in a very short amount of time.

              An example: You explain the transport part und the corresponding keys on the keyboard. For you it's "Ok, in this DAW the keys are there." For a student it could be "Ok, I just learned 8 keys and what happens when I press them. One even has a double function. Let me try this for 15 minutes, so I know how it works."

              Mark Warner

                I don't think he has much DAW experience at all yet so it's a clean slate. I might just go back briefly to pre digital for a day, just so he can relate to the recording and mixing process physically and then he might know what to look for in the abstracted world of DAWs.


                  Great topic! Here's another post on pre-mixing.


                    Mark, I think the assistants to (famous) mix-engineers are often the unsung heroes that can make a big difference in the mixing-process. One example is Ryan Freeland, who started assisting for Bob Clearmountain in the 90s on Aimee Mann records and now does all the recording, mixing and mastering on her last record (The Both).

                    Watching the Chris Lord-Alge Audio Legends course from Slate, it’s obvious a lot the mix-prep gets done by his assistant(s). If I had an intern I’d probably get him started on the first chapter of that course called “Mix Preparation” and perhaps give him a copy of the “Assistant Engineers Handbook” by Tim Crich.

                    Good luck!

                    • This reply was modified 7 years ago by tblizz.
                    Mark Warner

                      I agree. One thing I have learned from Warren is that if you get the recording process right, your mix prep' is greatly reduced. If I am not in control of the recording process I have been known to ask a client to re-record something if it's not right. Its not always fixable in the mix.

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