The Quick Mix
Before I ever even think about doing a final mix, I always run off what I call a quick mix for reference. Its handy as well for documenting the end of a days work or to archive progress in a particular session. Its also a way to give a client something for the moment without spending a lot of time on minute details. When I speak of a quick mix, I mean a mix which has a nice balance between the instruments and vocals. A little verb maybe, and some EQ and compression where its really needed.
I actually discovered this technique one day when I was trying to mix a track and just couldn’t get a handle on it. I just knocked all the faders down, panned everything center, turned off the verb and EQ and decided to start from scratch. I turned my monitors up to a comfortable but not blaring loud. I set the master fader on my mixing board to 0 or unity.
The first step was to bring up the kick drum—flat—keeping the level 3-4 db below 0 on the meters. Next, I brought up the snare to a level that was relatively equal to the kick. Then I added in the hi hat just enough so I could hear it keeping time, but not "in your face".
Once I had a nice mix going on the basic drum track, (sans cymbal crashes and toms) I brought the bass up—again flat. Just enough so I could hear it locking with the kick and making a bed. I listened to the low frequency energy of the bass and compared it to the kick, making sure not to drown the kick drum out. As I progressed, I checked the output meters on the board. I saw no clipping there and the individual channels were running clean too. So far, so good.
Once I had the drum/bass mix balanced, I proceeded on to the guitars, both the rhythm and the lead/fill electrics. I started with the rhythm guitar, bringing it up enough to start driving the track, but not louder than the bass or the drums. Just enough so it helped establish the groove. The lead guitar was doing occasional riffs and fills and I mixedthat so it was a tad hotter than the rhythm—that’s all.
Finally, there was a piano track. I pulled it up and tried it at varying levels, since keyboards can consume a great deal of sonic territory. I found a place where it sat in the mix without cancelling out the guitars. It wasn’t very loud, but it served its purpose at a low volume.
With the basic bed mix working pretty well, I went back to the toms and crashes. Having established a relative volume setting for the other parts, it was now easy to hear where the toms and crashes needed to be in relation to the rest of the parts. In this case, the cymbals were mixed back a bit and the toms were mixed a little bit louder. It was all working, but still dry and still mono.
At this stage, it was time to add the lead vocal. I was surprised by how easy it was to determine how loud to turn it up once the other instruments were mixed. In about 30 seconds, I had that step done. The vocal was clear, intelligible and full, without burying the instrumental mix, and the track was really starting to sound good. I then added in the harmony vocals, one at a time, making sure they were at a somewhat lower level than the lead vocal.
The song was basically mixed at this point. Only a few things needed to be done. First, there was one passage in the vocal track that was pretty loud. I patched in a compressor to tame those loud peaks and moved on to panning. I put the two guitar parts at 3 and 9
o’ clock and left the piano in the center. I panned the stereo cymbals and toms hard left and hard right.
I played with some EQ briefly at this point, adding some 5K to the vocal for presence. I did a slight low cut on both guitars, and boosted 100 on the bass just a bit to fatten it up. I turned it down a couple db after the EQ and it was working well.
Finally, I added a bit of reverb to the guitars, snare, toms and vocals. Not a bunch, just enough to give them a bit of space. I used more on the backgrounds than on the lead vocal too.
I checked the meters—still no peaking, which was good. I printed the mix for reference and it sounded pretty darn good! All in all, about 20 minutes. No fader moves or panning, effects changes, etc, but solid.
It wasn’t what I’d call a finished mix, but it was decent and provided me with a model to listen to as I got familiar with the sound of the tracks. It’s a valuable to skill to have, especially when you don’t have time for diving into a complete mix—those times when you want something to hear in the car or a demo to give to a client for review, etc.
Since I don’t ever hear this being mentioned, I just thought I’d post this for fun.