June 16, 2021
It’s always exciting when a song is ready for final mixdown, and most of us want to rush in and get going. But it turns out a little judicious preparation and organization can make mixing faster, easier, more enjoyable, and most of all more effective. After all a cluttered, crazy, mix can be a nightmare.
So, here are a few tips for getting your mix organized right from the start, so you can get your best, most efficient results.
Modern DAWs all have a way to color code tracks. Whether its drums in red and guitars in green or vocals in fuchsia and bass in hot pink, it doesn’t matter what you pick, so long as it makes it easier for you to find stuff.
Most DAWs allow you to create track folders to group tracks together that go together. Folders are plenty handy for their ability to clean up a cluttered screen full of 100 tracks, but their real power lies in allowing group actions on tracks. You could mute all the backing vocals or all drums with one button, for example. Even better, most DAWs let you edit groups of tracks together. So instead of marking, cutting, and splitting 24 percussion tracks one by one, you could split them all at once.
In addition to folders, placing tracks and/or folders in a logical order makes finding them much faster during mixing, and can save hours of fumbling around. Organizing tracks that are likely to be worked on together close to each other is helpful, as is putting tracks in the order you’re going to work on them.
For example, you might put the drums on tracks 1-8 because you’re likely to work on those first. Many engineers actually put bass on track one because it’s likely that kick and bass will be worked on together. Do what works for you but keep it consistent from song to song so you don’t have to think about it.
Speaking of consistency, DAWs offer templates for exactly that reason. You’re likely to work on many of the same basic kind of song, so building templates saves you the time of arranging tracks, plugins, folders, and color coding from scratch.
Markers make navigating a song’s timeline way faster and easier, and they make it easier to know just where you are. It’s wise to set up markers at the chorus, verses, bridge, and end – but also at other significant moments in the song like the pre chorus or a special breakdown measure.
Often a session includes several parts that occur rarely in the song, like a one-time pad sweep or a special effect. You might have several of these that don’t overlap, and would require very little processing, or similar processing. It’s helpful to comp these together into one track so you have less to manage in the final track list.
When you name tracks, you can call them anything you want, but it’s best to name them so that they make sense. Shorter names are better as well, because they’re more likely to fit in the small area reserved for track names. For example, “kick” is much easier to read than “123-kck-drm-d112-t2-7797”. Similarly, avoid using band member names in track names. You may know that John is the lead guitarist but another mixer you get to help may not and translating “John” to “guitar” in your head can slow you down over time.
Similarly, when you export mixes or save sessions, name the files wisely. Try not to use the phrase “final mix” or similar. Instead, use the name of the song, revision number, and if you want, date. Many engineers also put the tempo in the filename. Pro tip: put dates in year-month-day format – this makes them appear in order in file lists both in Windows and Mac.
Finally, you may want to save session files as new files before you start a bunch of new revisions. It helps to be descriptive in those file names, and it can also help to number them so you know which one is the latest. You may remember now but in a year you may not.
It’s relatively easy to get in the habit of doing these simple things to organize your mix sessions, and although it may take a little bit of time at the outset, good organization will save you lots of time in the long run, and ultimately make your mixes better.
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