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November 3, 2012

Where Should I Begin?

People are always arguing about mixing workflows and what order should you approach the elements of a mix? Some say you have to start with the vocals, others like to build up the rhythm section before moving on to the rest of the instruments.

Please notice this text and finger pointing rightMy favorite way to mix songs is to start by listening to the rough balance once through and then immediately start working on whatever strikes me first. On some songs it's the vocal, others the guitar riff or maybe even the drums. For example: if I was mixing "Sunshine of Your Love" I'd probably start my mix with the guitar, if I was mixing "Pour Some Sugar On Me" I'd probably start with the drums, if I was mixing Beyoncé I'd start with her voice. As a producer, it's my job to create elements and moments both musically and sonically that catch people's attention so they'll pay listen to an artist's song when it comes on. As a mixer, it's my job to enhance and exaggerate these important elements of a production and make sure people can hear what they need to hear.

musical notes and gears in brain graphicThe main reason I like working this way is that I can focus my attention and inspiration on the tracks that make the song stand out and give those elements the size and space they deserve. These days it's harder than ever to catch people's attention with music, it's becoming even more important to grab people's attention quickly with something loud, clear, and catchy. A mixer's job is to put the final touches on a song and while everyone loves to make huge productions complete with 100 guitar tracks, 200 vocals, kazoos, castanets, kitchen sinks, etc; if it obscures the cool and unique parts of the song, it's gotta go, or at least turned way down (but preferably muted).

musical elements cartoon graphicBy starting with the good stuff, I know exactly how much room is left in my mix for all the other elements. If the mix feels awesome with just vocals and drums, then I know that no matter how many more layers I have to add, it needs to still keep the vibe that I had when it was more stripped down. Mixers, producers, and artists should really try to look objectively at their songs and try to identify the 1-3 elements that are really cool and stand out. If you have less than 1, keep working till you have one. If you have more than 2-3, pick your favorite few and relegate the others to a supporting role or use one on the first verse and the other on the second verse (or hit the mute button). If you are having trouble identifying and/or choosing the best elements of your production ask your peers for help or hire a mixing engineer to do it for you but don't freak out when you can't hear all 100 guitar tracks, he will most likely chose the couple that sound good and discard the doubles, triples, quadruples that you recorded to try to make the guitar tone huge.

Less is more, never forget that!

If you would like to see more, please go to Ben Lindell's blog