Well, it’s a new year, and like many of us, you’re hoping 2020 is the year for recording, producing, and mixing your best stuff ever! To help with that, the team at Visionary Music Group has put together 20 mixing tips (specifically for Pro Tools) that each take no longer than 20 seconds to read. Try each of these out, and see if they don’t help make mixing music easier and more enjoyable than ever!
1. Save As
As soon as you open your mix session, use the “ Save as “ command. Add an extension to your original name (like the date or a version number.) This lets you keep the original session intact and make all your changes in the new session.
If you make a mistake, or go too far with any idea, you can just reopen the original.
2. Color coding
You can color code your tracks to help you quickly locate elements in your mix session.
Use something that makes sense, like matching color letters to instrument letters: green for guitars, violet for vocals, brown for bass, etc. Or find your own system. During the mix, just scrolling up and down through the session can slow your process down. Color coding will make your session easy to navigate, especially if you record a lot of parts.
3. Track order and placement
Organize your tracks in the same order, every mix session, every time.
My drums are always at the top, then percussion, basses, guitars etc. Within each group of instruments I have the same order – kick, samples, snare, snare samples etc. If you know where things are, you can usually find them with ease.
4. Clean up your tracks
Imagine after all your tracks are in and your huge mix session is done, you listen close and hear clicks, pops, noises, bleed. Clean all your tracks at the start of every session, delete the junk that shouldn’t be there, and you won’t have any surprises later that will stop your creative mix process
5. Clip Gain to balance levels before you automate
Pro Tools has a great function called clip gain. Let’s say the vocals are very quiet in the verses and very loud in the choruses. You can separate them into regions and adjust your clip gain fader to bring them closer in volume. This will you get your levels more balanced before you engage the automation.
6. Making Playlists to save your butt
Before you start cleaning and chopping up your audio, duplicate your playlist and do all your edits in the new playlist. If you mess up you can always go back to the previous playlist with the unedited audio.
7. Using Aux channel sub masters
In a session you might have two kick mics in & additional kick samples. You can create a Kicks aux submitter and buss all the kick elements to it. Then you can add EQ & compression to the overall kick blend. Now you can touch one fader or compressor and quickly make adjustments to all of the parts that make up that sound.
8. Using VCA masters
VCA masters let you have one fader control a group of instruments. For example, you can have all the drums on one master, basses on another, guitars to a third and so on. If you have an 8-fader controller, all the parts you’ll mix are all right there in front of you.
9. Using markers to help navigate
Markers are great to find your spot in a song’s arrangement, but there is another great use for them. You can set up markers to only view certain tracks. If you have a hundred-track session, set up a marker to view only a certain group of instruments. When you are working on this group’s internal blend, this will reduce the screen clutter and help you focus.
10. Take advantage of auxiliary sends & return channels for effects
Don’t insert your effects on every channel as an insert. Its hard to manage and will take up all your processing power. Just set an aux channel for each effect. Insert the effect on the channel and assign a buss to the input.
If you have a vocal reverb, insert it on an aux channel and send a blend of all your vocals too it via a buss / aux send. Super helpful, and it won’t slow down your system.
11. Use Aux channels to send and return to parallel effects
This is the same theory as the effects send and return auxes, but just using compression and EQ. Let’s say you have a great compressor for parallel drum crushing. Insert it it on an aux and send your drums to it via an aux send. If you don’t want the cymbals in the drum crush just send the drums.
Since they are all parallel, they don’t affect the original signal, and you can just blend it in to taste.
12. Make a mix template
You may be thinking, “How am I going to set this up every session and then get any mixing done?” It’s easy: make a template! This is a really big time-saver. You can have all of these components ready to go in your mix session template. Just import and drag your audio to the correct tracks!
13. Use Hi and Lo pass filters
You should have an EQ with Hi and Lo Pass filters ready on each channel. This allows you the opportunity to cut high or low frequencies out that are present in the track, but not necessarily musical (such as rumble, hum, etc.)
Imagine how this adds up with a hundred or more tracks. You can also continue this to help with overlapping frequencies, like the low end of the guitars and bass or kick and bass.
14. The Solo button
A mix that sounds great may still have tracks that, when soloed, might sound horrible. So don’t spend all your time soloing tracks when you are mixing.
The solo button is a great tool for editing, hi and lo pass filtering and zoning in on specific problems. But also remember that no one listens to a song this way. They hear the complete song with all the instruments playing.
15. The Bypass button
When you add something or make a change, listen in context and then bypass it. Listen and decide if you really improved it. If not, sometimes less is more.
16. Low volume when mixing
If you can make your mix sound loud at low volumes it will sound loud at higher volumes. If you can make your mix sound exciting at low volumes it will sound exciting at high volumes. You can work longer and save your ears.
17. Take breaks
Your ears are important and having them not be fatigued will make the outcome of your mixes better and extend your mixing career. Set up a timer and take a five-minute break every 40 to 45 minutes. You will have a new perspective after each break.
18. Mix focus – three element max
Studies have shown that the mind and ear can only focus on three elements at a time in a piece of music. So you should prioritize your time and process accordingly.
In most rock/pop songs, the vocals will be the main focus, then the snare. Depending on the song, the third part could be a guitar or keyboard. This will vary from song to song, or even section to section. But keep the focus on no more than three elements at a time, and your mixes will sound more professional and more musical.
19. Automation is your friend
Work to have a great “static” mix (with no automation yet,) that you, your band or your client really like. Then, start using automation to bring the song more life and more personality.
Automating can bring out intense emotions in vocal take, or bring more width and impact to a chorus. It’s also a great tool to tuck or feature parts, like a band member stepping center stage in between a vocal line to play a lick.
20. Work like a sculptor
Sculptors work with a large rock and chisel down in broad strokes. As the whole starts to take shape, these strokes get finer and more precise.. Stay focused on the big picture when mixing, like the emotion and the story of the song. Broad strokes to start, then the finer details.
BONUS TIP: 21. Metering & References
Use other pro tracks to reference. It will help you hear balances, EQ compression and compare. Remember pick references of similar genres and match the volume levels. A great meter can help you visualize all these elements too. I have been using the Plug in Alliance ADPTR. It does all these things and more!