I thought this topic would make a good, and short summer read — as I have been asked these questions so many times:
The questions: When I mix as I produce, should I bounce out the dry stems or keep my channelstrip settings and FX? Should I keep my “production reverb”? Should I bounce my mix stems with or without side-chaining? What about the mix buss inserts? Or should I just do simple raw production and then do a proper mix?
The answers of course to these questions can be very personal and contextual, but I want to share with you what I think works the best for both the production and mixing cycles.
I think the best practice when producing is to do only very basic channelstripping of individual elements, i.e. basic saturation, reductive EQ, and compression with the idea that you can and will do more later during the mix session. While I think it’s fine to keep what I call “production reverb” (reverb is part of the sound design of a synth patch or ambience that’s already in a snare sample), I recommend that all external reverbs and delays be muted when bouncing out the mix stems.
When it comes to side-chaining, I think it’s a big time-saver to bounce out the mix stems with the “production” side-chaining. And of course, it is legal to further side-chain an element in the mix session that has already been side-chained in the production stage. Do it all the time.
Finally, I think that the mix stems should be bounced through the mix buss chain with only the console color, but NOT with the tape buss compressor or mix buss limiter. The console color is subtle and just makes nicer stems. Committing to the tape compression is more of a gamble — and it’s really hard to “un-tape” something. And we can add and adjust another instance of mix buss tape compression in the proper mix session.
Needless to say, we don’t want the mixing stems to have any mix buss limiting — so the “place-holder” limiter must be bypassed when rendering the mix stems.
In short, just mix enough while you are producing to stay excited about the production/composition, but put more emphasis on composition, orchestration, arrangement, and sound design — knowing full well that if it sounds good with your “production mix’, its going to be amazing when you make your “mixer” mix.
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