Tips for Better Mixing Workflow in Pro Tools
Having an organized template and clear vision of what’s going on really helps get the clutter out of the way so that you can think clearly, you can create clearly, and it’s just nicer. Really at the end of the day. So taking like 15, 20 minutes before starting the mix just to get things organized. It’s a really good practice to get into.
Alright, here’s how I generally set up my workflow. This is gonna be for a pretty stripped down production. It’s a blues tune. Goes like this.
So, it’s pretty basic arrangement. It’s guitar, bass, drums, vocal, piano, harmonica. And here’s how I’ve divided it up. First, in most sessions I’m starting the top of my session with rhythm section. And whatever that may be. In this particular case and in many cases it’s the bass and the drums. So I’ve got my bass here in dark purple, and then I’ve got my drums here in pretty pink. Because the drummer is so girly. I hope he sees this. Anyway, so they’re color coordinated so that I can just look at it and be like boom there’s drums, and then when I go further down I see that there’s red, okay that’s my guitars. It doesn’t need to be a specific color, it’s just that having different colors for different groups of instruments helps. So bass, drums, guitar plays sort of a lead role and a rhythmic role depending on what it’s doing, so that comes next. Piano is now veering more toward the melodic mode, it’s more of a voicing type instrument. And then beneath that I’ve got the vocals and the harmonica. Which both act as voiced instruments. And what I mean by that is that they’re not holding down the background, they’re coming into the foreground and presenting the top line of the song.
Ok, so all of those, and then underneath that I have my effects. One is a room reverb, the other one is sort of like this makeshift spring reverb that I created from a delay and reverb. And then underneath that I have my group sends. So my group sends correspond to the overall elements that are in the mix: bass, drums, guitars, keys, effects return, sub mix. In this particular case, if I was really doing this properly I should also have a vocal and a harmonica submix, or a group send. Even though they’re only one track it really does help to have everything going through the aux channels. the aux channels are completely transparent, so it doesn’t hurt the signal any to send it through. They’re not completely transparent on a console, but they’re pretty transparent on a console. I did not do that this time, just because I was moving very quickly. Bad habits. Anyway, so I set up these group sends so that all of the drums are being sent into one aux track. Meaning if I want to turn up all of the drums simultaneously from an aux I can very easily do that. Or if I want to affect the entirety of the drums with, say, an EQ, which is what I did in this particular case. Then I can do that as well very easily. I don’t have to go onto every drum track and tweak an EQ on every single one of them when I just want a little top end and presence lift. You know what I mean?
And then everything after that is being sent to this sub-mix channel. The sub mix channel is kind of like a master channel, but because it’s not actually on the master, I can do things to it and create prints and sends from it. So for example when I print the mix print, I can send the signal from the sub mix off to it’s own track. You can’t do that from the master fader. The master fader only goes up and down. That’s all that it does. So that’s why I have the sub mix in there. It just makes printing a lot easier. And in this regard, actually having — the reason why you want to have a group send for everything, even things that only have one track is because that makes printing stems out easier. If somebody says okay I need all the component stems then I can print it all out from the group sends and it’s nice and easy.
That said, for more complex arrangements, I don’t always necessarily do more group sends. Sometimes there’s like a million synths or something like that or there’s a whole bunch of instruments that come together to form like an orchestra, or something like that. They might all get a singular group send. So I might have like orchestra send, or something like that. It’s a judgement call for what really the song needs. You can pick and choose your workflow to suit the needs of the song. And by doing that it gives you a little bit of extra foresight into how the mix is going to go. So for example if you know the bass and the drums need to really stick together, you might even group send the bass and drums to another channel, another sub mix, calling it something like rhythm section. Or something like that. And then you might end up doing a little bit of compression there or something like that to sort of affect the entirety of the rhythm section together.
These are all creative decisions. Believe it or not, even though it’s workflow, even though it’s organizational and it’s very technical — you know, I don’t mean technical — but a straight forward process, it still ties into the creativity of the record if that makes sense.
So you know, listen to the record, decide what individual components work together. Create a schematic for how they all come together, whether it’s just straight forward stems like this or if there’s more complex routing. But ultimately you want to build it in a tier down way where you have the individual components coming into groups, coming into one sub mix at the very end. Alright, hope that that helps. Get your mind in order and your mixes will start sounding better. It’s magical how that happens. And until next time, hope you all are doing well.