In math, if you complete an equation in the wrong order of operations, the end result will be far from accurate. In the mixing realm, session preparation will make your life much easier, your workflow faster, and allow you to achieve a better mix in less time.
Though it is easy to want to dig in and begin work on a mix, it is worth it to take time to prepare the layout of the session and get your tracks organized. Initially, this could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the size of the session, but as you get used to completing these steps you will get faster. These preparations are able to be accomplished using any DAW.
1. Properly name all tracks
Go through each track and name the track something meaningful. Sometimes tracks I receive have software instrument names like “Light Years” which I would rename to “High Delay Synth.” With many guitar tracks this can also help distinguish between the common “Guitar 1, Guitar 2” etc.
Color code tracks according to instrument group and use this scheme for all sessions.
For example, I make all my drums orange, my bass tracks purple, guitars green and so on. There is no specific rhyme or reason, but the fact that I use the same colors for the instrument type in all my sessions means I can quickly glance at the screen, find the track I’m looking for and go to work.
Set up Groups and Sub-Groups.
Setting up groups now will make editing and processing later on much easier. If I have 9 tracks of background harmonies, I’m going to run all the tracks through sub-group for processing and use an edit group on the individual tracks.
This is the most time consuming process of the lot as it involves going through all the tracks from beginning to end and editing out silences and building nice crossfades in and out of each region. Use short cut keys and groups to make your work flow faster. The end result will give you completely clean tracks to work with and you won’t have any back ground noise or awkward fades to worry about.
Now I am ready to begin actually hearing some audio by figuring out my basic panning scheme and setting rough levels. A half hour of prep work and I’m organized, have a good understanding of the session as a whole, and can get to work on the fun stuff!