For the average recording engineer working with independent artists, sessions include both tracking and mixing. A client anticipates taking home their recording at the end of the day, so this puts a lot of pressure on the engineer to work as efficiently as possible. More often than not, the bulk of the session is spent tracking, leaving little time to mix at the end. Learning how to mix songs quickly as well as how to manage sessions and client expectations is a huge asset to the average recording engineer.
Develop a Template & Stay Organized
This is without a doubt the biggest advantage when it comes to working fast and intelligently. How you design your template is determined by the genre(s) you find yourself working in the most. It isn’t bad to have multiple templates, either.
As a hip hop engineer, my own leans heavily toward vocals, with bus routing and signal processing ready to go. My approach to tracking involves a dedicated “Record” track from which I drag takes down to other tracks called “Leads”, “Doubles,” “Ad Libs,” etc. Those are all routed to a vocal bus, and all of them have my go-to plugins waiting for mix time. As fast as an artist can record, I can open up processors and begin mixing.
If you work with full bands, for example, having neatly labeled tracks for drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, and vocals, in addition to the necessary bussing, will speed things up immensely come mix time. It also keeps your tracking neat and organized.
Recording sessions are rarely “one size fits all,” but if you have a template with the basics, you can handle any artist that comes your way, prepared to pull up a mix on the fly.
One of the best things you can do as an engineer is manage an artist’s expectations from the jump. If they’ve booked 3 hours and plan to record and mix 6 songs, letting them know what’s possible within the allotted time is important. Maybe you can track 2 to 3 songs and save the mixing for another session. Or maybe you can record and mix one song. This is up to the engineer’s discretion based on what him or herself, and the artist, are capable of.
When you’ve had this conversation at the start of a session, it’s easy to avoid disappointing your client when they haven’t finished everything they hoped to. It also provides those new to recording with a sense of what’s realistic during the average session.
Offer Them a “Minute Mix” If Time is Running Low
For the average client, taking home a CD or MP3 with their work at the end of a session is paramount. If you’ve finished tracking with little time to spare, do a fast rough mix for them!
Most of the time, a little bit of compression, EQ, and reverb is all it takes to have something go from ‘raw’ to ‘nearly mixed.’ At this point, the client at least has something to take home, and you can negotiate an additional mixing session to finish the track completely.
Again, this is where the template shines. Activate those plugins you prepared and get things going! If you know how to mix songs in a hurry, you’ll be good. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece as long as the client is happy! They can schedule more time dedicated to mixing later should they want to.
Don’t Be Afraid to Work for Free (Sometimes)
When you’re just starting out as an engineer, you have to take all the work you can get. You also have to try to develop a relationship with your clients to keep them coming back. In many cases, it’s not unusual to offer a “freebie” to let your client know you’re invested in them.
This could mean free mixing on the first couple sessions, especially if tracking ate up the entire time. Any free work you do is up to you, but don’t be afraid to go the extra mile to have someone come back.
How to Mix Songs Quickly and Manage Your Sessions: Basic Tips
- Please the client, first and foremost. This will always vary, but if they’re over the moon with your “minute mix,” that’s great! Don’t beat yourself up about that weird resonance or sonic anomaly, or if you’ve pulled off better mixes before. If they know how much extra work it might take to really finish up an amazing mix, then they’ll be willing to schedule additional time to get it done!
- Manage expectations. Let your client know what’s achievable within the time they’ve booked.
- Template, template, template. Create one that seamlessly flows from an organized tracking session to a mixing session.
- Give them something to take home. A rough mix is super fast with a template!