Just completed an interesting task for the first time; mixing a song provided to me with a one hour time constraint applied. I gotta’ say, this was to be the quickest hour of my life! The learning outcomes were to practice moving quickly, identify shortfalls in your workflow / DAW skills and most importantly hone the ability to commit to decisions about your mix and quickly move on.
I began as I normally would, by arranging the session into a format that I am used to. This included:
- Grouping and colour-coding the contributing elements of the song i.e. Drums, guitars, vocals etc
- Creating auxiliary tracks that each group would then feed into
- Creating short medium and long reverb tracks
- Creating a Master track and bounce track
- Preparing all the routing (more on routing here)
Whilst this process is quite laborious it is imperative that any mixing session is begun by having everything set up correctly and does save time in the long run. Despite having performed these tasks in many sessions before it was only now under the pressure of the 1hr time frame that I realised how long it actually takes! I was already about 20mins into the task which prompted me to think that I need more practice?
The next stage was to balance the basic volume levels of all elements in the mix so that each could be heard, but that the most important ones (in this song the vocals especially), were occupying an appropriate place dynamically. This is just a rough balance and only took a minute or so. I always start any mix by focusing on treating the drums which in my sessions are always first from left to right in the DAW. I began by trying to get a tighter kick sound and applied some EQ and compression to this end. From memory the EQ settings were something like the below:
High and low pass filters were applied to get rid of the frequencies not required with a small boost at 200Hz and 1,500k and a cut at approx 500Hz. This gave me the tone I was looking for so I quickly moved on to the snare. From memory the snare was a little dull and despite the songs flavour, I wanted it to be more prominent. As with the kick I applied EQ and compression to the snare till I felt I had the right tone and the EQ looked something like the below:
These settings gave the snare more of a crack which to me sounded much better than the original signal. In retrospect although my mix received very positive feedback from both Guy Gray and my peers the one comment from one of my colleagues was that the snare had a bit too much ring in it for the genre which upon hearing my mix on better monitors I took on board gracefully!
The bass was next and I applied compression and EQ by cutting everything below about 70Hz and cutting slightly at 110Hz. I also deployed the Softube saturation plugin using a light setting which fattened the bass up somewhat and sounded nice. With the guitars, I did not apply much but removed the bass frequencies that were not relevant from around 200Hz and below.
I was running out of time fast with the deadline approaching at lightning speed and I still had not treated the star of this song, the vocals. I quickly moved onto the vox with 20mins remaining remembering that I had to have the song bounced out as a .Wav file and uploaded onto the Google Drive within that time also. I spent ten minutes applying EQ, some medium compression and also a de-esser to the lead and backing vocals and got them sounding amazing but had run out of time to apply reverb to any of the signals. The good news was that the elements I had treated sounded good and that the recording was quite professional in the first instance, so I was hoping this would be enough. Some quick panning of the toms, overheads, guitars and vocals to achieve some stereo imaging and I was on the bounce.
I was actually ‘printing’ to the bounce track and immediately started running into CPU overload errors forcing me to start again and again and as a result missed the deadline. FAIL! In retrospect, I should have bounced to disc which would have seen me make the time allotted.
What I learned
This was an interesting and enjoyable exercise and drove home the importance of being able to work to tight deadlines, moving quickly around the software and making important decisions quickly and committing to them. The feedback I received from Guy was excellent who particularly liked the balance of the elements and praised the vocal tones stating that he felt like he was actually in the room with the artist. The feedback from my peers was also favorable with only the comment about the snares ring making me rethink how I had EQ’d this element. Surprisingly, nobody commented that the lack of reverb detracted from the overall mix, but I would have liked to apply some and will have to allocate enough time when doing my next 1hr mix.