I’d argue that the most important stage a mix is the first hour. Not only is it when your ears are freshest, but it’s also when you get your first impression of a song.
You’re making initial decisions that influence how the rest of the mix will go. Once you set down a path, you’re committing yourself to a certain direction.
Here’s how I go about my first hour to make the very most of this crucial stage.
1. Listen To The Rough Mix
As I’m re-labeling individual tracks, grouping them, color coordinating them, assigning them to buses etc., I’m listening to the rough mix.
The rough is what the producer or artist thought was a good idea. The rough doesn’t tell you, “I want to sound like this.” The rough is telling you, “this is what the producer thinks is important.” Oh, the chug guitar is really loud — well — that means the producer feels it’s driving the track. The kick drum seems oddly low — maybe a big fat kick wasn’t as important as the movement of the guitars.
Truthfully, raw tracks can sound like almost anything. The rough is essentially giving you advice on the direction.
You might take all of that advice, some of it, or none of it — but at least you have a starting point. Side note: it usually helps to embrace the rough mix rather than fight against it. Your client will thank you.
Again: organize immediately! This gives you time to breathe in the record and also makes the whole mixing process easier.
For me, the heart of organization is labels, groups, and bus routing.
I use a short hand for labeling: “Country_Tune-01_20- Cutaway Kick” can really just be “Kik.” If you want to get specific, there’s generally a notepad or comment section in your DAW where you can put additional thoughts.
In terms of grouping, I use color coordination and sequential ordering. It doesn’t help if “Kik” is colored red at the top, and “Snr” is colored green at the bottom. The color choices are not vital, but I do what I suspect a lot of people do and tend to color the bass elements dark and treble elements bright.
Assigning buses is important because often times people will request stems. If you know how to divide the stems ahead of time, printing them will be that much easier. This will change from genre to genre and song to song, but think “what would a music editor for a TV show need to have individual access to?”
A general rock session might be:
• Vox Leads
• Vox Back
• Guitars Elec
• Guitars Ac
• FX Returns
This can also helpful when you’re doing fader rides. Most big moves can be done on group buses.