The new technology in audio recording and mixing is amazing. A new parade of plugins, consoles and outboard emulations appeared in the last few years to revolutionize the field and help us.
Personally, what I like most from the modern audio recording process is the flexibility that it gives us. The chance to combine different EQ’s, compressors, and effects until you create your perfect chain within your chosen DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). But sometimes too many options can be overwhelming and take you out of your creative “zone”.
Something that I’ve been looking for when mixing is how to replicate the best of an analog workflow within modern DAWs. How to add the warmth and tightness of analog mixing in a way that won’t drain my creativity by having too many options to choose from.
That’s why I’ve come up with a list of 7 recommendations that will help you to be more creative and focus while mixing “in the box”.
1. Boring things first
Before you start the mixing process, do all your edits and housekeeping first. This includes: creating markers, color coding your tracks, “comping”, time aligning, noise reduction, pitch correction… This way you can then focus on creating a journey for your mix and navigate easier through your session.
2. Create a “Master Tape”
Once your editing is done, commit your tracks to the length of the session. By doing this you will be creating a “Master Tape”: a group of audio files of the same length that can be imported to any DAW for mixing. This includes rendering your Virtual Instruments to audio. This won’t just help your housekeeping, but will also allow you to share the project with collaborators, and ease your computer’s processing.
Remember that for the computer it is much easier to read one audio file instead of multiple audio files from a virtual instrument. You will be saving computer resources for your mixing process.
3. Create Your Virtual Studio beforehand (or several of them)
Back in the day, you might have had access to one studio at a time, with one console, with a limited number of channels and a limited amount of outboard equipment. But nowadays your DAW comes with a virtually infinite number of tracks and you probably have an arsenal of plugin emulations of different EQs, compressors, channels strips or effects at your disposal. All these options, as good as they may sound, can interrupt and block your creative process by having too many options to go through. Especially if you build your session as the mixing goes by, adding tracks and browsing through your plugin library. Instead, why not create your dream “Virtual Studio” beforehand?
Most DAWs nowadays allow you to create a template session with tracks that you can import into other projects. Take advantage of this and create a template session with tracks populated by your favorite plugins, Groups, VCAs, and your favorite FX tracks, you will create a dream “Studio” environment in your DAW, ready to receive your “Master Tape”, and start mixing straight away.
You can, in fact, go a step further and create different “Virtual Studios” in your DAW, based on different plugin combinations, styles of music or number of tracks. Then save them in different templates so you have a pallet of colors to choose from when you start mixing.
4. Get a Console for your studio
A console does not only allow mixing different audio signals together. It adds a sonic character and cohesion to the mix. It’s the soul of the studio. Why not get one (or several of them) for your Virtual Studio.
Using plugins like Britson or Satson across the tracks in your template will create a console right in your DAW. This plugin will not only glue and add rich harmonics to your tracks, but will also allow you to have better control over your whole mix using groups and gain staging capabilities.
You can even create a hybrid console by using both plugins in different tracks in your template!
5. Set Limits
It’s tempting to add 20 instances of the same plugin across your session because you can. Instead, try to limit yourself. Think like you are in a real studio and you have a limited number of compressors, EQs, or effects units. You can vary them across your different templates and end up in different setups depending on which “studio” you are mixing in. That will help you to be creative with the tools at hand, get to know your plugins better, and get the most out of your resources.
A good option that I personally like is the use of channel strips for your tracks. These plugins can provide everything you need for mixing available in one instance. Just like a real console!
The Satson CS can be a good option for this since it even allows rearranging the order and number of elements of the channel strip without leaving the plugin.
6. Time yourself
A mix might never be completely finished and it’s tempting to spend hours and hours crafting it to the most minimum detail. Don’t fall into the rabbit hole! If you are tired you end up going through the same corrections over and over again.
When you are working in a real studio you don’t have an infinite amount of time for mixing, and that can be very powerful.
Set a fixed amount of time for going through the whole mixing process, allocating breaks in between. Then step out, rest, and check your mix the next day. This will help you listen to your work with a different perspective and make your workflow more efficient.
7. Print instead of bounce
Bouncing is an invaluable tool within DAWs. It saves us time for committing tracks, allowing us to save processing power, and create our “Master Tape”. But when it comes to your mix: why not try to record it in a separated audio track in your session instead. Route your mix bus to an audio track and print it. This way you will take the time to appreciate your mix as a whole from start to finish. Also, it can help you by having your different mixes organized by playlist and even make comps out of the best of them. Just like it used to be done with tape!
These are my seven recommendations to bring some of the analog workflows into your DAW sessions. What do you think of them? Were you using some of these already? Are you going to try to incorporate them into your workflow? Let us know by leaving a comment below and share any of your own personal tips for more creative workflow.
Carlos Bricio, Music Producer & Sound Engineer