How to Start a Music Mix

Here are the videos:

And here’s the script:

This seems to be a common question for new audio engineers. This is what comes after mix prep. I have an in depth tutorial on how to prepare a mix already, which is linked down below.

First, make sure that your session sample rate matches your files. Then, save your project.

Next, turn your audio interface software faders up. When mixing, you should not peak past around

-8 dBFS on the meters. So, they’ll need to be louder than when mixing to mastered music or internet videos. Otherwise, you will lose headroom.

Instead of adjusting your software faders a trick I do is to put Ozone on IRC I mode or LoudMax on the master and set the threshold control to -10 dB. This way, the overall volume of the mix is

brought up by 10 decibels. Then, I just make sure my track peaks don’t go past about -8. It’s important to use a limiter that doesn’t sound too good, so IRC mode I is what I go with.

The kick drum is usually the track hitting the highest peak. You save the volume raising for the final steps.

Reference 4 or ARC is then put as the last plugin. I could put it on the monitoring FX panel but it’s easier to disable it on the master channel.

Everything is done in mono at first with no spatial effects. Reference’s mono switch works in this case. Some people swear by disabling one speaker and moving the active speaker to the center spot. I’m usually fine with dual mono though.

At this point, drop your vocal track in. I’ve found that doing tracks one by one is less intimidating than dropping say 40 tracks into a session all at once. It keeps you focused on the task at hand.

I prefer to start with lead vocals because they are the most important element in most mixes. They should be the center of attention. People tend to sing along to songs more than they play air guitar or air drums.

Trim the volume down if necessary then EQ for clarity, a couple compressors plus tape and console emulation plugins. Reverb, delay and other plugins like that will be added later.

After the vocals are sounding good. Enable volume (pre-FX) automation. Lower the software volume control so that you just barely hear most of the lyrics. The goal is to be able to hear every word at a low volume.

Add background vocals next and give them the same treatment. Solo’d at first and then add the lead vocals in.

Next, add the second most important element of the song. If you or the musicians you’re mixing for can’t decide then go with rhythm guitars or piano. That’s because I’ve found these elements tend to have frequency clashes with vocals the most. I like to solo this track at first and then add vocals in once I get EQ and compression sounding good.

Start at the final chorus or crescendo of the mix where most if not all tracks will be playing simultaneously. Again, we’re only going to use equalizers, dynamics and saturation processing for now. The goal is to be able to hear every note along with the vocals.

Your third most important element goes next. In a typical mix, only three elements can usually be heard loud and clear. For a rock mix, lead guitar usually comes next. It can clash with the rhythm guitars and vocals pretty easily. Again, at first I’ll solo the track, EQ and compress to get it sounding good and then I’ll bring the rest of the tracks in one by one starting with vocals.

Bass comes next. Once again, start solo’d then fade it up with the rest of the mix. This reinforces the rhythm section and tends to stay out of the way. You should be able to hear most bass notes without a subwoofer. If not, check out my tutorial on how to make this happen linked below.  

If you have synth parts I’ll usually put these next.

Next, drums. Maybe put a sidechain on the bass that is triggered off the kick drum. Make a bus for the all buttons in 1176 trick (Slate Digital Monster is a free effect that simulates this quite nicely).

Everything else. Again, start at the busiest part of the mix which is usually the final chorus. Everything should sound pretty good when completely dry. This ensures the greatest amount of track separation. When the dry mix sounds good in mono, it’s time to start adding reverb, delay and panning to the equation. Post effects fader adjustments will be necessary.

Automation is the last step. This should take about 1-2 more hours and it adds life to the mix. It adds variety. It lets parts stand out. When less tracks are playing, they should sound bigger.

Author: Adam

Adam is a professional photographer, videographer and audio engineer. He started Real Home Recording back in 2011 and in 2017 launched Don't Go to Recording School.