I'm mixing. I'm putting out an EP in a few months called If We Were, and for the past few weeks, I've been mixing. I'm making such a big point of it because I used to HATE mixing. As soon as I was done writing and recording, everything else would become a chore. All I wanted was for someone else to be able to step in and do it. Someone who could mix as well as I do the other things I do, cause I certainly can't.
Why is it so hard? Well, mixing is kind of like therapy. When you mix your own music, it's like trying to analyze yourself. You know something's wrong, but you can't get out of your head long enough to figure out what it is.
So you think about bringing someone else in. But it takes them forever to even begin to understand you, and man, the whole thing is so frustrating! Aargh!
Luckily, I'm into self-analysis, and I've begun to understand how to step out of myself, and gain a little perspective. And after working on my perfectionism a little bit, I've actually come to really enjoy the mixing process! It's really rewarding to bring something down just .5 dB and feel it lock in. It's that last frontier of getting the sound you want, making sure that things happen just the way you hear them.
With that in mind, I've come up with some Rules of Mixing. Really, I'm posting them for myself when I inevitably run into trouble again, but you can read them too.
1. Mixing is easy.
Doing things you have no proven skill at can be terrifying. But if you've got good ears, and you like to learn, putting together a mix that does what you want it to do is easy. Making a great mix is harder, but that comes with time.
2. Make decisions away from the mixing desk.
Every day when I leave the house, I listen to the work I did the night before. I write down the things I notice in a little notebook I carry with me, maybe listen again, and that's it. No pressure to actually make it happen, so I'm free to write anything I hear. And when I get home that evening, I have a nice to-do list written out for me.
3. Isolate the problem and fix it.
I do tech support for my day job, and I like to code every once in a while, so I have a strong bug-fixing mentality. I've already done the creative work on these songs, so the mix doesn't need to add anything new and creative. I'll listen to a section, ask myself what I was going for, and then ask myself how it's different. Sometimes it's easy, like "I want to hear all the individual harmonies more clearly." So I'll pan them all out a little more, maybe carve out EQ niches for them, and mess with their volumes. Sometimes it's something more complicated, like "this doesn't flow well from the chorus to the bridge." But by listening to different groupings of tracks together, I can tell which parts flow nicely and which ones don't. Maybe I'll edit a part, maybe I'll just change the levels. There's always something specific I can isolate and fix.
4. Take it piece-by-piece.
When I'm just about to start mixing a new song, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the mountain of things to fix. So I make a list. And I work on one thing at a time, checking them off as I go. Just the 1st verse. Just the drums. Just the drums and the bass. Etc.
5. Don't be afraid to break the rules.
If it sounds good, it is good. Even a little bit of reverb on the vocals makes them sound washy? Get rid of it. Out-of-tune harmonies more emotive than the tuned ones? Keep 'em. (But never ever release the stems. Seriously, yikes.)
6. Mixing is refining, not building.
This is the most important one for me. I've already built these tracks; I already love them. All mixing has to do is bring out the things that need to be brought out - help tell the story that the music is already telling. Make sure you can hear everything clearly, make sure all the arrows go in the right directions (both the little track-sized ones, and the big flow-sized ones.)
It's been going well for me; I just finished mixing La Da Da Dee, and it sounds great! It might need a few tweaks here and there, but all in all, the bits that need to sing are singing, and the bits that need to bounce are bouncing. And most importantly, the transitions are transitioning. Whoo-hoo for mixing!