Why I Gave Up Mixing While Producing or Recording – And maybe you should too.

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22 Responses

  1. Floyd Kelly says:

    In my first few years of creating music it took me a while to learn that whatever I hear when I’m composing is not going to somehow magically change when I do the mixing process. Once I understood that my music flourished. Granted, in mixing, I’ll discover tones, instrumental nuances or phrases that do not work, so I go back to the drawing board and do what is needed. Then go back and start from scratch sometimes until I get it right. The wonders of mixing is beyond belief, but still, if the composing is not right, the mixing won’t help a whole lot in some respects.

    • Kevin Decock says:

      I see your point. And well, indeed, obviously composition comes first. That’s a given. Mixing isn’t there to magically fix anything you do wrong when composing, which is why you should aim for an amazing composition in the first place. However, I do feel that going back and forth between mixing and producing is going to be counter productive. There’s just gotta be this moment where you call your song finished and move on.

      The point I’m trying to bring across here isn’t that you should treat mixing as a way to fix things that were wrong, rather that you should not be mixing and producing and editing and recording etc at the same time. This means that when composing: focus on making the best composition possible. When recording: focus on the best recording possible. When producing: focus on the best production, and so on. You won’t be able to do any of these things perfectly if you keep yourself distracted by doing it all at once.

      It’s kind of like trying to build a house by just taking a bunch of stones and cement and doing it wall by wall while you’re also painting each wall and putting furniture in each room once it’s completed, before anything else is done. I.e. you need a plan and you need to follow it. That means that you shouldn’t be doing everything at once.

      Does that make sense?

  2. Ginny says:

    would you ever consider doing a post wherein you outline the step-by-step process you take (or would, were you doing it 100% solo, which you could be) to write, record, produce, and mix a song? it would be really interesting to see a “start to finish” skeleton to compare my own strategies to. i know this isn’t entirely on topic but hearing you talk about how some people fall into the trap of attempting to tackle all parts of the process at once, it’d be valuable to see the process as a whole, fanned out, for guidance.

    • Kevin Decock says:

      Hi Ginny, thanks for your comment.

      I think this is an excellent idea. I’ve been gathering ideas for an elaborate guide that I can offer to everyone who subscribes to the newsletter and this is exactly the sort of thing that I could write about.

  3. Richard says:

    I cannot believe it! You started off on a tape recorder too, and you also used a Yamaha keyboard to record songs? I did those same two things when I started making my own music!
    Our stories are surprisingly similar!
    Anyways, great points in your article. I pretty much try to separate the mixing and mastering from the producing, although I sometimes add a few effects to a plugin while producing (maybe not a good idea.) I don’t know, but it seems like doing this is sometimes essential to the producing if an effect or an automation is a big part of the song. Of course, I won’t mix everything perfectly until later, but if I have an automation idea or something, I don’t want to lose it.

    • Kevin Decock says:

      Hi Richard,

      I wouldn’t worry too much about adding plugins during production — if it’s done for sound design then there’s not a thing wrong with it. The point is not to try and do any real “mixing” during the production phase.

      e.g. a lot of the time delay is something that’s used not to blend in a track with the rest, but for creative effect. Same goes for reverb or chorus or lo-fi or,….

      Don’t worry about adding plugins at this stage – as long as you export your tracks at the end and move on to mixing it’s fine ;-).

      Also: go tape recorders! =)

  4. R. Rivera says:

    I think you nailed it perfectly. What you described in the mixing as you go mind set is exactly what I do. Micro managing the song along the way and getting caught in those traps you described has been the anchor slowing me down. It’s ironic that I ran across this post when I did because I have been wondering about this exact thing. I have always recorded my own “demos”, but I have either been the engineer or the musician when doing an actual full on “production”. Like you stated, this approach might not be for everyone. But I think that I am going to give it a shot. I appreciate the fresh outlook. Keep doing what you’re doing bud. You have some good ideas.

  5. Matthew says:

    One of the best engineer/producers in the world mixes as he goes along, I know the because the company I worked for recently interviewed him. It can be part of the creative process, as long as you don’t get bogged down. In dance music its especially important the kick and bass are working together. In reality, with dance music anyway, your going to be mixing, arranging, mixing, writing, arranging. This is of course after you have the main idea down. Its impossible to focus on writing and mixing at the same time, your focused on one or the other at any specific time. The main thing is getting your idea down, and things should be sitting relativity neatly already so it doesn’t sound awful at this stage. This requires good sound selection to begin with, and quick adjustments of the level faders and maybe panning (This should be quick, and rough at this stage). So you have an idea and a rough mix, next for me comes expanding on ideas and arrangement. Once thats firmly in place, then go to town on more in depth mixing, EQ, Compression Etc. This article can be misleading, as it doesn’t state what he means by mixing. Are we talking just channel fader adjustments? Or more in depth, EQ, Compression which takes longer? Channel fader adjustments at idea stage IMO, are fine and necessary, as long as its quick and your not taking ages deciding on the volume of a hat. Ideas obviously take priotity over more in depth EQ, Compression. But it shouldn’t be sounding that awful that you want to reach for those if you’ve selected the right sounds in the first place!

    • Kevin Decock says:

      Let there be no more confusion then; by mixing I am talking about doing the entire mix, which includes final eq, compression, phase aligning, etc etc. You know, making all tracks sound good together.

      What you describe (fader adjustments), is nothing more than doing some levels. That’s not the mixing I’m talking about. Of course you’ll be looking to make everything sound as good as you can in the process. It’s the same when you’re recording. Look at the producing stage as analogous to recording: you’re trying to get the best possible sounds out of your instruments and getting them in your DAW. That means you can be messing with eq etc at the same time, but more with a mindset of sound designing. Not mixing.

      Afterwards, it’s beneficial to actually bounce all tracks to audio, and start a final mix from there.

      Hope that clears up a few points.

      • Polysixer says:

        Great article Kevin and I 100% agree after years, and I mean YEARS of spending far too long ‘mixing as I go’ then wondering why I always seemed to go in circles with no end in site and still end up, mostly, unhappy with my mixes. Lack of momentum and a ‘too long to the end’ mind set can really drag you down and make music not be fun anymore.

        FTR I write, record, produce and mix my own music and have done for around 20 years. What opened my eyes (ears?) finally was when I got the chance to mix SOMEONE ELSE’S SONG!! And WOW, I say anyone who disagrees with Kevin’s advice (and only if you DO have the problems we’ve had – otherwise continue with what works for you as not everyone is the same) try mixing someone else’s song that has already been well recorded and ‘produced’. The song in question had around 36 tracks, drums, bass, guitars, orchestra, vox and backing vox.. the usual for an “epic rock ballad” (in this case).

        When I mixed this song from pretty bad sounding starting point (as in all tracks were down the middle, many had completely the wrong gain and it was barely even what you’d say sounded like a good demo) I couldn’t believe how great I got it to sound, compared to my own stuff, why? Well as Kevin pointed out, all the minute details of *production* and recording were pre-done, I just had the mixer’s hat on and wow I was shocked to discover, after years of thinking I was somewhat… not naturally gifted at mixing, that in fact I was a damn fine mixer and got to compare my mix to many others (of the same song) and mine was in the top 5% easily!

        I found the choices I made during ‘just’ a mix phase which was enforced on me in this case were speedy, intuitive and drew from years of the technical stuff I’d learned but never had free room to apply cos of getting caught up in the much harder/in-depth way of ‘mixing as you go while producing and even recording bits here and there’ – honestly my mind was like a rat’s nest doing it that way, I could spend hours on a kick, or bass, or a vocal group, only for the next task to seem daunting cos there were SO MANY options, do I record that bass no for the chorus? How about go mix the over heads? etc… nightmare.

        Anyway, I don’t think anyone would truly see the benefit in this (or believe) unless they either try it without prejudice OR (esp) mix someone else’s well recorded track that has ZERO connection to you personally. We often can’t see the wood for the trees with our own personal projects!

        So now? Yeah it’s tempting to still mix/produce/mix/record/mix as you go in one jumbled lethargic month.. year long struggle (over ONE track until you are burned out every few days) it’s tempting because we are (as musicans too esp) very creative and tend to get sparks of ideas that only come to us during an early mix and wish to add more, but…

        … Treat your first DAW project as the ‘production’ project! Anything goes here, like Kevin says, do NOT worry about any mixing, don’t worry about anything being perfect as far as end mix – just focus entirely on recording the source as best you can and shaping the sound as close to how you envisage in arrangement wise, record ALL PARTS – do not put vocals off until you have a great music mix (this was my worst crime as I love bare music too and spent hours honing a decent music mix only for it to mean nothing come vocals time).

        1. Record all parts
        2. Edit and “Produce” with only the roughest of mixes to hear what’s happening, avoid doing anything too ‘exciting’ mix wise or you’ll blow your enthusiasm for later stages. Go back to point one as needed until finally you have all parts in the bag sounding as good as they can without too much ‘fixing’.

        3. Edit and ‘fix’. Vocal comps, noise removal, gain levels on clips, tuning, all the ‘printable’ fx you may want (guitar amp sims, bass distortion etc) anything that isn’t particularly dynamic and real time (like automated delays which you leave for the final mix for example. After this stage….

        4. Dump all the stems (consolidate down where you can to have as little as possible while retaining mix flexibility). Import them into a brand new “Mix” project in your DAW and this is where you mix only. If you need to produce.. go back to your production mix, do what is needed then redump the stem and reimport to the mix project! Keeping this barrier between them really does help your mind stay focussed. It should be rare you even need to go back to the production project but it’s there – keep as a SEPARATE folder/project not just a different version name.

        When you start with your fresh new ‘mix’ project, knowing ALL THAT MIND NUMBING editing has been done and all the ‘creative’ production decisions (and non decisions) have taken place already beyond your new hat’s control.. wow. it’s liberating! It really is :)

        This is a mix project and you are ONLY mixing it. The enthusiasm and clarity you should feel when faced with such a simple project (that already has all nicely done vocals edited, all printable fx like tape/distortion etc already printed.. remember) means you can just pretty much not fail at making a good mix unless you have some serious issues with understanding EQ, Compression and bad monitoring.

        In the mix project, the number of plugins could be two thirds LESS than you’d normally have in an ‘everything’ project (in my experience). And the fact you don’t have busses and channels loaded with those NEEDED plugs for things other than pure mixing means your project runs faster, lower CPU, quality plugs where they count etc.

        The tricky part is containing your excitment as the artist early on and avoiding the temptation to mix it (too much) to ‘hear what it sounds like’.. I mean you can do this if you have a bit of time spare but don’t make it your ‘in production’ version – keep that basic and to the point – of production and recording.

        This does really make sense in comparison to the old analog way of doing things (from master multitrack tapes that were presented AFTER recording/producing usually if not always?).

        I can’t agree more with Kevin’s post. Two projects to rule them all – the Production Project where you can mess with your head till the cows come home, try all kinds of crazy tricks, anything goes so long as it makes EACH track sound good and suitable for the arrangement (do your arrangement here too and finalize it as best you can)…

        the MIX project – pure mixing, shouldn’t be a massive time waster now. You could spend around 30 minutes to an hour to get a pretty decent sounding first pass up that I bet sounds better than anything you achieved in 3 days doing it the ‘other’ way.

        I will never go back to mixing while I record/produce. It is a dead end, a red herring and a complete was of time for the most part. It can be done that way but it’s simple, for most, not the best use of your time as a multi-role human being with limited time and a life to live.

        all the best

  6. Matthew says:

    Of course, there will be a final mix, even for producers that mix as they go along. I still think advising that mixing as you go along as a bad idea, its advice that is not needed, because its what works for the individual. As i mentioned in my first post, one of the most prolific producers/engineers in the world who can write, mix, master a track in one day mixes as he goes along. Its works for him, and has been doing so since he started in the early house scene in the 90s. The guy i’m talking about is Dave Parkinson. His interview can be found here – https://soundcloud.com/freshlysqueezedsamples/dave-parkinson-interview

    It would be interesting to hear what you think of the interview

    • Kevin Decock says:

      I totally agree that not everyone would benefit from this approach. But quoting counter examples is something you can always do, and it doesn’t really change my view of that doing everything at once (or circling between different hats) is actually detrimental to most people. Note that I say most people, because as I stated at the end of the article:

      “I know why you would think that this mindset isn’t the best for everyone and frankly, I agree. Possibly not for every single soul on this planet.”

      — and to be fair, I don’t agree with the fact that I shouldn’t be giving this advice. Because doing everything as you go without a clear separation of stages, is actually the most natural way to do things. And I want to show people that may feel like they’re not getting anywhere with that approach, that there is another, more structured way of going about it.

      I don’t want to tell them they absolutely HAVE to work this way — just listing the benefits I get from working in a more structured approach :-).

      And I’ll definitely check out his interview! It’s always nice to hear from other people’s workflows.

      Thanks for your critical view, by the way! Always nice to have a bit of a discussion about these topics :)

      • Polysixer says:

        Kevin, You are spot on. Take it from someone who’s ‘been there done that – almost went insane and nearly gave up on music more than once due to the immense time sink mixing while you record/produce can be’ that your advice is golden.

        If people resist it’s because they have found it CAN indeed be OK, and maybe defensive of their methods, but logic alone, let alone bitter experience, dictates the less tasks you take on in one place at once, the better the outcome of the task you did take on will be (and usually much much faster! win/win!).

        The pros are not here countering you much because they are out there mixing and moving on to the next track, so I’d not worry too much that you got negative comments from your articles and I DO agree that you should spread the word on this even if it helps one frustrated guy somewhere who just can never finish a song because he gets so caught up in the muddle, then it was worth it. Those who protest it’s not for them really should be off making music too instead of debating it no? :) thanks!

        • Lois says:

          I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same hihgrg-ade blog post from you in the future also. Actually your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own site going now. Really blogging is spreading its wings and growing fast. Your write up is a great example.

  7. Adrian says:

    I’m totally with you man. I wasn’t interested in producing with a DAW until 2012 and I have to say that I never wrote less music in these years because I was doing what you just described, playing with the EQ and compressor on crappy tracks, even short, shitty loops. Luckily, my mindset changed since 2016 and I get my stuff together and be less “excited” about this stuff. Nice page, down to Earth info here by the way. Keep it up. Best, Adrian

  8. todd says:

    I too once believed that my mix-as-I-went mixes were good…until just for fun, I decided to mix from scratch on a track I completed a week prior. I zero’d everything out, removed all the plugins (everything was rendered to .wav) and started from ground zero. I A/B’d this mix with my first “mix-as-you-go” mix and the mix from scratch was significantly better. In fact, it almost sounded like it had been mastered.
    I found that I was better able to focus on the mix as a whole rather than being divided between the creative composer mindset, and the…”I just need to get it done” mentality you get towards the end of a production, where you stop labeling things and automation gets a little crazy. My ears were not fatigued and I found that I was much more objective with the track. My original enthusiasm for the track was back.
    So after that experience, my workflow is different. I have some quick generic settings for eq, and compression setup in a template. I don’t even group/buss tracks during the composition phase. I focus on the creative side – get the ideas down with rudimentary “mixing”. I keep a notebook next to me and when Ideas come up like filter sweeps, sample slicing, or any in depth -processing to do on a particular part, I insert a marker, number it and write the idea down.
    When the track is done from a composition/sound design perspective I prep it for mixing – remove all the generic processing, create the groups/busses that make the most sense for that particular track and gain staging. Leave it alone for a week and work on other music…come back and focus on the mix. For me I find this approach to be faster in the long run, with better results.
    I realize some people can work magic as they go…but unless you’re sure of that…test that theory out.

  9. Jake says:

    Im sorry that you have had to explain yourself sooo much…
    I too believe in mixing very much after the song is created..
    I mean,you wouldn’t eq midi tracks before rendering to an audio file right??.
    To thumbs up mate!..

  10. Roman says:

    I always knew that. I always felt that mixing as you go is not for me. 10 years ago I was making a track on a few days when I didnot care about the quality… then I saw that “superstar” dj’s mix as they go… and the war for “quality” had begun… ear fatigue. Mixing into mastering template… trying to eq and to compress every little noize. result- one track in a few months and I hate it. Recently I decided to let my feelings flaw and to understand what distracts me from music making. I googled and found your article which describes what I feel. When my master bus is empty. When I don’t try to eq every sound… I become mooore creative. Thanx from Russia!

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