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10 Tips for Creating Better Mixes (Part 1 of 5)

Jonathan: Hello, and welcome! I’m Jonathan Wyner, and we’re coming to you from the headquarters at iZotope in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the critical listening room, and I’m here with Enrique — wait, Enrique Gonzalez Müller, and we’re going to talk to you about all things mixing. Or many things mixing, maybe not everything mixing.

Over the course of the next number of video segments, Enrique, in case you haven’t already heard of him, is a producer, a mix engineer, recording engineer, arranger, composer, and he also is a fan of really good food. I can attest to that. We’ll talk more about that later.

Enrique: It’ll come up again and again and again.

Jonathan: Food analogies. They’re always good.

He’s worked with artists you’ve heard of, such as Kronos Quartet. Or if you haven’t, you should. Nine Inch Nails, Los Amigos Invisibles —

Enrique: Excellent pronunciation.

Jonathan: Well, I stumbled on that a little but, but I’ll work on it. Latin Grammy winner. Yes? And also teaches at Berkeley college of Music in the Music Production and Engineering department, but also cross-college. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Enrique for many years. He’s a wonderful teacher.

It’s true.

Okay, now enough about you.

So, we’re going to string together a whole bunch of short-ish segments around the topic, Top 10 Tips for Developing Good Mix Habits. I do also like to phrase this as Top 10 Tips of Successful Mix Engineers, because I think many of the things that we’re going to talk about over this series of videos apply very broadly to moving into and maintaining good habits, so that you can work towards your goal, which is compelling and good music.

Enrique: Excellent, and thank you for the introduction. May I compliment your r’s on “Enrique.” It was nice.

So when you guys asked me to do this, I compiled what I thought were 10 great tips that I do in my mixing, and I just want to say, that if sometimes, they seem like they’re a little bit proprietary to me, I invite you guys to just think of the concept that we’re talking about.

I will underline it, but if something looks very specific, just try to go and see again, what is the concept? The overlining concept that we’re trying to underline here?

So yeah, awesome.

Jonathan: I think these top 10 tips that we’re going to outline, we’ll move through them in some way, shape, or form in a logical or chronological order. The map or workflow that you use?

Enrique: I set them up so that we could build as we go. One of the things that I find is that a mix sometimes feels like being dropped in a forest.

Jonathan: Amen.

Enrique: And you’re trying to make sense of where you are, and you have all of these elements, and all you’re trying to do is just cross the forest, and successfully come out the other end, so I’ve put these together so that we can build from one up to ten, and by the end of ten, we will have a clear map on how to make sense of everything, and get through the forest of confusion.

Jonathan: One of the things that I think folks will really appreciate about your approach is that you try to attach decisions to things that I think people can really connect with, or at least that you can connect with. To deconstruct, or make them less confusing. To demystify some of the decision making, which is awesome.

So with that, I’d like to suggest that we move on to tip number one.

Before we dive into this, I’d like to mention the artist and the name of the song that we’re going to be working with over this series of videos, and this is an artist actually that we’ve had the pleasure of working with. At least one of the band members around iZotope, the name of the band is The Rare Occasions, the name of the song is Future Proof, and this is something not unusual maybe that somebody brings you this session and says, “Here, I’d like you to mix this for us.”

Enrique: In this instance, you guys gave me this session, but I also want to underline that for people at home, if you guys are working on your own sessions, it’s the same process. It’s the same feeling.

So tip numero uno is for me, you might get some tracks, you might be working on some tracks, you’re either coming off it completely fresh, or you might have lost your objectivity going into a song, and the first thing that I do is actually take a break. I just take a moment of pause, and I remember that this thing that we do is super technical, but it’s also art.

So the first thing that I do is assess the intention of this piece of music. If I’m getting a track from somebody else, I literally hit play and have the song just wash over me as I take notes on what do I feel as the different sections go by.

So that’s the very first thing that I do. If I’m going to work on somebody that I have been working a lot, I still do that, but I need to take a break before it, of course.

Jonathan: I love this, and we’ve talked about this before, and I do this also in mastering. I talk to my students about this when I talk about mastering. There’s something about when you come to something fresh in that first moment that you hear a song, or a mix, or whatever it is, you know, you’re thinking about the music, you’re thinking about the tone, you’re thinking about whatever the thing is that you think you’re going to want to address in that first moment, that first impression is like gold.

Enrique: Yeah.

Jonathan: There’s that sort of instinctive, “Oh, I have an idea of what I want to do here,” and by recording that, it’s something you can refer back to. It kind of almost becomes a compass point.

Enrique: It’s a map. To me, it’s an emotional map, and the thing that you’re really getting is intention. So again, tip number one is assessing intention. You see what the artist wants to do, you see what the music wants to do, and then you’re trying to decide later how you’re going to maximize that.

So let’s listen to the song.

Jonathan: Great. Yeah, I think people should listen to this song, and maybe you can talk to them a little bit about what the intention was that you —

Enrique: Yeah, how about if we do this. I’m going to play the song Future Proof just as I got it from the artist, and as we go through it, I’m going to talk over it, and say what I’m getting so that instead of me recording it writing, you can just see what I’m getting live. Shall we?

Jonathan: Let’s.

Enrique: Here we go.


Enrique: So the first thing that I get is this feeling of kind of discovery and wander, and this pulse to me feels almost a little creepy.

So then we have these little elements that are making it more unstable even, so it seems like it’s this kind of internal dream dialogue.

Pregnant pause, cool. This part, to me, just speaks to my dancing gut already, so for me, I know that it’s meant to be this release, that it’s meant to be kind of happy and epic, and this is almost taking back that dreamy feeling that I had in the beginning, but without the creepy. So it’s this release, but we kind of go back to the dreamy.

So this, to me, sounds like confusion and that I don’t know what’s coming, this foreboding… And then we go back to familiar territory. But this familiar territory now has the benefit of I’ve heard it before, so I can just kind of relax into it a little bit more, which I know is going to make me have to give something to the listener to kind of add something to the experience, because they’ve heard it already.

And we’re back to the release. Here I’m also trying to assess what are the specific musical elements that give me those cues? So this is, [sighs] dreamy and inspirational, what’s giving me that? It’s the drums and the vocals, for example.

Cool. So, this is — that second part of the chorus almost felt like a foreshadowing of this. It seems like a more developed dreamy part of the song, epic part of the song, and this, which is the same music as the chorus, because it doesn’t have the vocals, it feels like, yes, this is the moment of release again, but it also feels like it’s the end of the song.

Jonathan: I think that probably experienced mix engineers have the — have practiced over and over again trying to map this divination almost. It’s like, you’re taking this idea of intention, and I think everybody can kind of connect with these adjectives. You’re spitting out spooky, mysterious, grooving, we all have different interpretations of it, but mapping those feelings through a musical context into an engineering or production context is the thing that we’re all sort of struggling with and trying to connect, and I assume that we’ll go through some of these as we go through these subsequent videos.

Enrique: Most definitely.

Jonathan: But is there any sort of general — like, what are you relying on to map this idea of intention or feeling?

Enrique: So, awesome question, and the thing for me is, and I see this a lot in my students at Berkeley, you know, who have had — what have they had? Years and years and years and years of being professional music lovers.

Jonathan: Well, they don’t get paid for it, but they do love music.

Enrique: But they are — they have deep knowledge onto how stuff feels. So then, the transition is actually voicing it. Crystalizing it. Externalizing it in a way that you can go, “Oh, I’m forcing myself to assess what this is, and it is creepy.” Then you have to go the next step, which is the next thing that I do, which I’d love to do maybe for a couple of sections, which is, “Cool, it’s creepy, but what is giving you the creeps?”

So then [laughs] let’s go listen — so for the verse, I said there’s this kind of sense of wonder, and it was kind of slightly creepy in a way. So if we hit play and listen to that again…


Okay, so that? That it’s this kind of relentless zombie-like thing? That is the thing that is making it creepy. These moments… Those little elements? They’re kind of jarring in a way, so to me, I know that if I want to maximize the feeling of creep and kind of wonder, I need to really underline what this is doing. I can’t have it as a background feature.

Does that make sense? Does that answer the question kind of or no?

Jonathan: Yeah, I think that’s a good start in helping us attach one thing to another, that’s awesome.

Enrique: Yeah, so then if we can do just one more, if we go to the chorus, I said it was kind of dancy, and it was releasing. So what is dancy and releasing about this? If we listen, just a little bit of transition just before the chorus.


So this? Was established from the beginning, but now we have [emulating hi-hat]. So that little hi-hat is adding this element of party that needs to be underlined. By the same token, so that is kind of giving me this, but then there’s this sense of open, which is coming from the bass. What? Bass makes it open?

So if you have, [mimics music], look at what the bass will do.


Bass line. It’s half of this, it’s, [emulates bass line]. So that push and pull, that’s what is making it kind of big and open, and then you have that up top. So those are the things that I really need to cater to to maximize the potential of that section. Makes sense?

Jonathan: Yeah. And those are the things that grab you and sort of send you into — well, maybe we should find out what’s next?

Enrique: Yeah. So that, for me, is like I said, tip one. Assessing intention. Once I have recorded that, then I move on top tip number dos. The office work. Which is, to me, I think of this boring stuff first, out of the way quick, so you can get to the fun stuff later, and work efficiently.

So if we look at this session, this is exactly what I got. If you see, the audio clips are one block. If you see, there are many markers up here, but they see things that are not very descriptive, like Location 1.

Jonathan: Yeah, I don’t know what that means.

Enrique: I don’t know either. Then you have these kind of islands over here, then you have this other blob at the bottom. We have also all of these groups that say something like “D-Organ.” I have no idea what a D-Organ is. Or Peter Guitar! I have no idea what part Peter Guitar is doing, right?

So for me, if I know that what I’m going to want to do later is just get to the fun stuff, and tweak things, and move, I think about it almost as cooking. You see, there’s a food thing coming up. I mean, it’ll come up, and it’ll come up, and it’ll come up, so just, here’s the first one.


So when you go and make a recipe, when you’re going to go cook a recipe, what do you do? You don’t start cooking, and then batter, and then, “Oh, it says I need a knife,” and then you’re all full of batter, and — you don’t. You set out all of your tools, and it didn’t work that well, right? Yeah!

So you line up your ingredients, you line up your tools, you know where you’re going, boom, and you get to work.

So the thing that I need to do is just be able to work efficiently. The first thing that I’m going to do is a Save As. A Save As why? Because I want to be able to back track. So I know what the client sent me, but I’m just going to right here — Mix Organization, something descriptive, 1, maybe I’ll put my name on it to know that I did it. Just something that is really descriptive.

Once I have that, then I will start doing — I’m going to just mention the things that I’m going to do quickly. I’m going to do a sample of them.

Jonathan: Okay, yes, right.

Enrique: And then, because this is a video, and —

Jonathan: We’re not going to get through the end of this entire mix in the next five minutes.

Enrique: But, keeping the whole cooking theme, it’ll be like a cooking show. So what I’ve prepared is, I’m going to do some, so you guys can see how I basically go about this stuff, but that I’m going to open another session, and it’s going to be like in a cooking show when the turkey just comes out of the oven, and you didn’t have to wait two hours for it to be done.

So the things that I’m going to go over are we’re going to do a Save As, which we already did. I do markers is the next thing. I need to know where I’m at in the session. Then I’m going to do track groups and track colors as well. Then I’m going to remove any dead audio. That means when something is not playing, I don’t need that audio clip to be that long.

So if I start with markers, I’m going to delete all of them, actually, and I’m just going to start listening, and on the fly, I’m going to start putting them down.

So that’s intro…


Verse 1. I might go and fix these a little bit later, but I’m listening. I might even do this when I’m assessing intention. You know? But keeping one thing at a time, we can do it now, then this is Verse 1B, and to just expedite, there’s this little Interlude. So I’m going to call this Inter 1, and then Chorus 1, and you see how already, Verse 1B is way more descriptive than Location 1.

If we want to mix this — make this colorful and sexy, we can go boom, and there we have it.

So this just — it seems like a small thing, but just even color coding, which we’ll get to in awhile is huge.

So this is one thing that I do. The next thing that I do is doing track colors. So, I know that I have all of my drums are here, which are already in stylish green. Exactly, but I’m going to put them on the top. So now you’re seeing that I’m starting to order stuff, and what’s the rhyme or reason for this?

This is actually huge. So the way that I order tracks goes from foundation instruments to accessory instruments, and I group them in families. So all of my drums are going to be up top, followed by my percussion, which is complementary, then what pairs with the drums? The bass.

Stuff that you guys might be saying, “Uh, yes, of course,” but taking it one step further, it’s once you’ve done your drums, if you really think of what is key in say, the chorus…


Kick, snare, and overhead. And the overheads, right? And the hi-hat. Not the toms, not everything. So I make things in that order. Why?

Because later on, when we get to the next tips, what I’m going to do is mute everything, and I’m going to start uncovering. From most important to least important, and that’s going to be like building a house from foundation bricks to the chandelier or whatever. You know?

Jonathan: So you’re connecting the musical foundation to your workflow? The musical concept to your workflow, right? I mean, the most important things, easily accessible.

Enrique: Yeah, totally. So we do that, we have kick sample, we have snare samples, we have lead synth, which has no business being right next to the drums, so there’s no other drums, I’m going to go and color code these — let’s make this just a tad bigger, and I’m going to make these — actually, you know what, here we go. We’re going to make a fan of progressive colors. This is going to be good. [laughs]

So we have our two samples, boom. Then, we said that we have the bass. So here’s our bass. I’m going to move the bass right below the percussion, and I’m going to make it in stylish red, so you see how I have this succession of colors going so that it’s pleasing to the eye.

Then we have the guitars. We have the synths. So like I said a moment ago, I’m not going to go and do everything, because we can expedite, but if I grab all of these guitars, they should go above the piano — sorry, below the bass is what I mean to say, and I’m going to make them stylish. Let’s say, yellow.

So already, you can see everything lining up, and we have a visual cue that is quicker.

The next thing is trimming out dead air. So we have these drums that happen, and let’s see when they come in.


So the drums come in right there. So the thing that I’m going to do is here the band had a group, and there we have it. Oh, see, rogue snare sample. What are you doing there? So we’re going to go and color these the same. Alright.

So now we have our drums here, and what I’m going to do is make a cut, grab this guy, delete it, and I’m going to — oops. Snare sample two! [laughs] I know! Infiltrators!

Okay, so let’s see.

Jonathan: And thank you so much for zooming way in before you made that trim. It’s so easy. We’re lead to a conclusion by our eyes in DAWs to not listen and not realize that maybe somebody had a little spooky, something that’s crescendoing into the down beat, so.

Enrique: So on that note, one of the things that I like to do is listen, like you said. So let’s see.


Cool, and we’d need to activate the solos on everything, but here you see that there’s our end point.

So then for the drums, all of these are — I’m sure that these are going to be just overhead ring. Let’s see.


So I can’t really trim any of this, because I need the cymbals, and then at this last part…


And I made just an outpoint of where that’s going to be, and —

Jonathan: But again, mix engineers, don’t cut it too tight. This is coming from the mastering engineer.

Enrique: So you put stuff on solo, you crank it really loud, and then you make your fade. Since we’re here, you know what, I’m going to make my fades be a little bit different. Just because we’re doing this, we’re going to do it proper. So fade ins, I’m going to do — oops. Pardon me. Hey, come here!

And there we go. I just — perfect. So just for utilitarian editing, I feel that these are a little bit more musical.

With the toms, it’ll be something similar. Come here, chop, I’m going a little bit faster so that we can just get to work, but I would really go listen, make my fades, continue, do my chops, so just very briefly do my fades. Again, I’m going —

Jonathan: And again, with some styles of music, like if this was a Jazz record and you looked at the toms track, you may not see leakage that you might want to make use of into the toms, or it may be difficult to clean it that tightly, so listen closely and consider context as you’re going through and cleaning up.

Enrique: Excellent. So you see again that these —

Jonathan: Snare samples on the other hand, had probably very little nuance in the dead air.

Enrique: Yeah. So for all of these, Like I said just a moment ago, I’m kind of going a mile a minute and I would really take my time, but I just want to show you what we’re going to get, what the pay off is going to be, and you guys imagine that we’re listening really closely to everything, and making fades for every single moment that requires a fade in and fade out, but once we go and get to this — oops, pardon me — see what happens. I’m going to — once I’m done with these last two tracks, I’m going to zoom out so that we can bask in the glory of, dun dun dun dun!

Jonathan: Look at that. You can see the song already beginning to be represented by what’s happening in what tracks.

Enrique: Totally. So ask me to go to the second time Peter plays in the song. Go ahead.

Jonathan: Oh, would you go to the second time that Peter plays the guitar in the song?

Enrique: Sure, right there. So…


You know, when you just — you need to be able to work really quickly. If you’re either working for a client, or if you are approaching anything, why? Because tip number nine is going to tell us why. I’ve got to keep the surprise and the suspense going on.

So does that make sense?

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Enrique: So I’m going to close out of this session, and I’m going to open up the, the ready one, so you guys can see the finished turkey coming out of the oven, if you will.

Jonathan: So what this reminds me of, just to use another analogy, is most musicians can understand, but especially, I’ll call out Jazz again, is that if you want to improvise, I mean, improvisation relies on emotional vocabulary, creative vocabulary, intuition, a lot of things coming together at once, it only works if you have a strong foundation. Right? You’ve got to set the foundation, and then you can start getting into the creative act.

Enrique: I’m with you. And there’s some forms of art where you can go and throw brush strokes wildly in the air, but I think the thing that we do is this beautiful cross of high science and high art. So you need to have the science be in service of what? Of making something that’s emotional.

So that’s why I was saying, this stuff might be boring, but then once you’re done, you can just get to the fun stuff. So this is a session that I’ve completed, and if you see, markers are there, all of my dead air has been removed, and I can now see the session perfectly top to bottom, I have also made new groups for everything, so every track that is drums starts with drums, every track that is guitar starts with guitar.

I’ve also put up a master fader.

Jonathan: Very important.

Enrique: Which a master fader is something that allows us to see what the summing of all of the energy that is being output by these tracks, how that’s doing. We’re going to look closer into the master fader, but I get the stuff done now.

So that’s it for tip number dos.




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