My Mixing Checklist

Below is my mixing checklist when putting together a song. I’ve used this for a few years now to keep me on track whilst mixing a song. Until now it has been kept in one big Evernote file but I thought I’d clean it up and put it online so it was easier to read and click through. I hope by doing that others may also get some benefit from it.

I’m far from a full-time mix engineer so this flow acts as a checklist for me to run through and keep me focused. I don’t necessarily use all of these steps but by following this list it means nothing gets missed. 

The lise has been built up from tips and tricks I’ve picked up over many years from various internet sites, books and magazines. I had not planned to share them so haven’t referenced back to every article but have credited what I believe the main sources at the bottom.

If you use something similar or think this can be improved then why not let me know in the comments below?

If we wish to download a PDF version of this list then there is a link at the bottom of the page.

Mixing Checklist
  1. Listen
  2. Set Up Track
  3. Clean Up Audio
  4. Listen (Again)
  5. Static Mix
  6. Mix Bus
  7. Panning
  8. EQ
  9. Compression
  10. Add Reverb
  11. Automation
  12. Check The Mix
1) Listen
2) Set Up Track
  • Save a copy of the rough mix so it can be referred back to if needed.
  • Save any VSTi settings that need to be kept.
  • Print to audio any MIDI tracks I’m happy with to save sounds.
  • Use ‘full reset’ custom action to remove everything from the tracks (Doesn’t remove from master buss so double check nothing is on there). If I’ve been recording and added plugins as I go this strips everything back to clean and resets all faders to 0.
  • Set up marker track for ease of navigation.
  • Set up aux busses/folders and get tracks in order. All tracks to go through busses. Muting all busses should mute all of the mix.
  • Set up a reference track if not done already.
  • Set up colours/Order for tracks:
  1. Lead vox (Blue)
  2. Backing vox (Light Blue)
  3. Drums (Grey)
  4. Bass (Purple)
  5. Guitars (Green)
  6. Elec Guitars (Orange)
  7. Keys (Red)
  8. Synths (Pink)
  9. Strings (Yellow)
  10. Effect (Brown)
  11. Group (Black)
3) Clean Up Audio
  • Listen through to each track or sub mix individually through headphones.
  • Detect silence on tracks to save space.
  • Edit out pops/clicks/headphone bleed.
  • Look for ‘gems’ in a track that might be lost in the entire mix (highlight with colour to come back to later).
  • Fix any timing and pitch issues.
4) Listen (Again)

(Refer to section 1)

 
5) Mix Buss
 
If it feels like the tracks needs it….
 
Set up compressor and Kramer Tape
 
  • Attack and release times vary quite a lot on mix bus compressors. I’ve seen anywhere from about 1 to 30ms on the attack, and usually it’s 1, 3, or 10ms when working with the SSL. The release is something you will have to fine tune by ear. For me it’s usually between 100 and 600ms, or “auto” on the SSL. You cannot go by memory on this – just because I may like 1ms on the SSL doesn’t mean the compressor is really even responding at exactly 1ms. Putting a plugin on the mix bus at 1ms attack time may be much faster than the hardware unit. It must be tuned by ear.
  • As far as the release, I find it often corresponds with the tempo of the song. Ratios vary but are often on the low side, as low as 1.5:1 and up to about 4:1. Sometimes it’s better to pair a high ratio with a mellow song, or a high ratio with a loud rock song, and other times low ratio works the best. I prefer 2:1 or 3:1 in most mixes.
  • The amount of compression varies as much as the other settings do, but it’s often somewhere in the 1-5dB range, averaging usually around 2 or 3dB in the largest parts of the song. For the majority of the song, it may only be tapping around 1 or 2dB. For me, anything more than that on some compressors usually seems to make the mix sound too squashed. Keep in mind what you’re affecting when setting the ratio and threshold – lower ratios and lower thresholds will control more of the meat of the music, whereas higher ratios and thresholds will control more of just the peaks

Kramer Tape Settings

  • Go to the loudest passage in your song and, using the Record Level control, adjust the input until the meter displays -5 dBVU to 0 dBVU.
  • If the track has important high frequency content (e.g. acoustic guitars, vocals, hi-hats, strings), use the 15 ips to better preserve high frequencies.
  • If the track has a lot of low frequency information (e.g. bass, kickdrum, tuba) use the 7.5 ips to better preserve low frequencies.
  • Adjust the Flux control to increase or decrease the amount of distortion.
  • If needed, unlink the Record Level and Playback level and adjust levels individually.
  • Please note: Since input levels have a significant impact on the sound of the plugin, we recommend experimenting in order to find your optimal settings.
Wow/Flutter
 
In a perfect world, there would not have been wow and flutter. Many ‘in the day’considered wow and flutter the same as surface noise on a vinyl disc – just something negative one had to live with since that was the ‘state of the art.’ But like noise, there are many that will feel that any model is not complete without all the flaws as well. For that reason, Waves has provided you a manual wow control on the plugin’s graphic interface. It is defaulted to the wow and flutter modelled on the sample machine. You can increase it for a somewhat more enhanced effect (although it would have never been too obvious [unless your machine was broken] as it was always a subtlety of the analogue tape process), or if you choose, you can move to a more idealized world and turn the wow off. Having or not having wow and flutter and/or noise has nothing to do with the primary advantages of the analogue tape recording sonics, so use them or not at your own discretion. You will always have the advantages of the Kramer Master Tape sound with or without them.
 
6) Static Mix
  • Turn down all faders to zero.
  • Switch into mono.
  • Mix this at lower volume. High volumes corrupt what we hear. Be able to have a conversation with someone at normal level over your music.
  • Take the most complicated/loudest part of the mix and loop it. You want the biggest part to sound best, then work your way back. For example if chorus 3 is to be the climax, throw everything you’ve got at it, then move on to chorus 2 and make it a little less etc etc
  • Create a static mix. No effects. No soloing, do it together. Throw up faders and just mix
  • Mix big to small, ie with drums start with busses first
  • Drag within audio to gain stage if parts need to be brought down to save on automation at the end.
  • Mix vocals last. Maybe even leave them until after EQ/compression etc so they sit on top.
7) Panning
  • Pan instruments to where you need them.
  • Switchback to mono to make sure things still sit.
8) EQ
  • Only reach for EQ when actually necessary. Use volume first to make things sit.
  • Subtractive EQ is nearly always best. Making something louder will always make it sound better artificially, so take away to get the true cut through
  • Adjust the fader to hear the frequencies you want to hear, then carve away. I.E. if you need more bass, turn track up until you hear it, then carve away the high end you don’t need.
9) Compression
  1. Attack
  2. Release
  3. Ratio
  4. Threshold (or input)
10) Reverb
  • Roll off with EQ below 200hz 
  • Global reverb normally large room, (studio) pre delay. Start with presets with reverb turned up to hear sound. Adjust pre delay and decay. 
11) Automation
  • Put final touches to mix, and be creative with pan etc if needed 
  • Lead vocal, guitars louder for chorus, reverb? Does anything get lost?
12) Check the Mix

Use the four studio listening techniques:

  1. The Low-Level Listen
  2. The Cheap Speaker Listen (Or as I like to call it, “The Crappy Speaker Listen”)
  3. The Tiny Headphone Listen
  4. The Open Door Listen
  • Make notes as you listen on each. Don’t touch anything until you’ve listened right the way through the song. Have a to do list of things left to achieve
  • How to know when a mix is done.
  • Then burn to .mp3 and start to listen everywhere else.
    • Everytime you are listening for the same thing. What annoys you? A guitar lik that’s too loud, a vocal part that comes in too soon? Takes notes as this is what you cwill need to go back to
  • Get feedback from other people.
  • Leave for a few days.
  • Go again.
References

The list above has been formed over many years. When I started it was written down in a notebook and later transferred over into Evernote. I had never planned to share so haven’t kept all of the references.

I think I have covered most of the sources below but if you feel there are further references needed then just let me know.