Contemplating the mix11 May 2017
With budgets forever shrinking, efficiency is of the upmost importance. Engineers are expected to be able to do great work in a short time or it’s not worth your while. A template is often a good way to mix efficiently. If you look at interviews with many mix engineers at the top of their game, you will see that they often use a template.
Opening your session in your favourite DAW and there you have it, all laid out for you: you just have to add in your tracks and, voilà!, instant starting point. It’s a plug-in preset on steroids! With all your processing tools already at hand, you can hit the ground running and start making creative decisions quickly. The productivity gains are obvious and the mix can be turned around far more rapidly.
However, the use of templates also raises some concerns. There is a temptation to skip an important step: getting a good balance and trying to get the track you are working on sounding good using that super useful tool, the fader. Of course, many mix engineers using templates receive recordings that already have great balance if you were to set all the faders to zero. Unfortunately, the mere mortals among us don’t get this and adjustments need to be made.
One issue I have in the template being loaded with the ‘typical plug-in’ for a mix is, well, the word ‘typical’. Music styles and recordings are so varied that there never is a ‘typical’ type of anything. I like to think about the options. Why am I using the Sound Radix SurferEQ on the bass instead of a Pultec? Does the vocal need to go through the Maag compressor or not? If you have all your toys loaded when you start mixing there will be a temptation to use them all. You end up with what I call an ‘engineering solo’ – and no one likes a pointless solo!
However, there is a middle ground. If you take an analogue mindset, maybe you can have a template with your favourite console emulation loaded up and a plate, a good algorithmic reverb, a convolution reverb, and one or two delays. Something similar to walking to a studio and have your desk all reset and the sends configured but no extra patching done.
If you are mixing a full album, maybe after mixing the first song and finding the sound and colours you and the artist are going for, you can create an album template where you can start mixing all the songs in the album to give it some sonic cohesion.
There is never a single solution to a problem or any magic bullets. Time saving tools are great but have to be used with caution.
Nuno Fernandes is a recording and mix engineer and has worked with Bryan Adams, Jeff Lynne and KT Tunstall