How to Start Your Mix

Does your process tend to look a little like this: The time has come for you to finally start mixing, but you feel overwhelmed by the task? You’ve worked endlessly on the structure, the arrangements and the lyrics, but something isn’t quite clicking yet. 

Where do I start? What software do I use? How do I structure my tracks and sessions? A few questions that spring to mind when mixing. ‘How to Start Your Mix’ is the first part of our new series Mixing Guide 101. In this series we dive into a range of useful skills and drills to help navigate your mixing process. Let’s begin! 


Editing is an integral part of the production. It’s easy to be distracted by noises or un-faded top and tail tracks. It’s best to clear all your editing work first, to capture the best results in your session. Doing so will help keep your creative energy focused on the mixing process.


Before mixing, ask yourself: am I done arranging and recording the song? It won’t be the first time someone has started a mix to later realise that improvements could’ve been made. Whether the lyrics could be rewritten and recorded or an extra guitar is required. Change is a part of the process. 

Photography by: Kate Vice


Creating demos of the song is an easy way to discover when to start recording. Just remember that they don’t need to be perfect. They are there to guide the overall structure. Use them as a checkpoint to see if the song is ready.


Tidying up your session might sound like something other than a mixer task. Name your tracks, colour code, apply routing, create folders, markers, groups and more. These are essential steps to speed up your mixing workflow and feel less overwhelmed by the session. It will facilitate navigation, control your session and help you channel your creativity in the mix without getting lost.


One of the most searched questions on the web for mixing is, ‘What DAW is best for mixing?’ The straightforward answer is ‘the one you have at your fingertips.’ Thankfully, nowadays, there are numerous free options to start your mixing journey, from GarageBand and Luna to Reaper or even ProTools. They all work very similarly and sound the same in the box. Many producers and engineers use different DAWs for different things. It depends on your workflow and how fast you can do each task in each environment. Just pick one and familiarise yourself with it. If you’re still struggling to find the perfect DAW for your mix, check out the article ‘What’s the Best DAW (For You)?‘ by Mastering the Mix


Once you start recording in the studio, create a checklist of every element that needs to be recorded. This is a great strategy to keep track of your workload and will create a healthy workflow. That said, don’t be afraid to diverge during the recording process. Studios are creative environments where serendipity sometimes hits, adding extra value to our productions.


Choose a colour palette that speaks to you. Maybe your drums are brown, and your guitars are green or blue. As long as you can quickly identify a group of tracks or markers, there is no right or wrong. It’s all about what works for you. Groups are super helpful in keeping your session organised. Processing them simultaneously will save resources and reduce the number of tracks you must focus on during the mix.


We all love plugins. There are always some new emulations or plugins that will make your life easier. They are easy to purchase and less expensive than other studio equipment. However, as most producers and engineers will point out, it’s really about how you use the tools than the tools themselves.

An entire library of the best plugins is useless if you don’t understand how they work. You might be pushing your computer’s resources with a demanding plugin. You can, however, achieve the same result by using one of the DAW’s stock plugins. That’s why working and learning with the available tools is essential. Learn how to EQ, compress and use specific effects to enhance your mix before deciding on your third-party plugin.


Start a new mix with a basic level balance, and take notes on ways to improve while you listen back. This will give you a roadmap of where the music is taking you and where you want to go with it. Once you have a rough mix, bounce it so you can listen to it afterwards without opening the session. The next time you start working on the mix, listen to the bounced track and think about the next moves. Open the session, work on it, and once you are done, bounce it. Make sure to repeat this process the next day. This workflow will help you actively listen to the track without having to grab the mouse and fix something straight away. Thus, allowing you to focus on how the mix is working as a whole.

Mixing Guide 101


Taking breaks during the mixing session sounds obvious, but doing so is essential. It will enable you to approach the mix with fresh ears, ensuring you make informed decisions and avoid ear fatigue.


A fresh pair of ears is always helpful. Ask a colleague or a friend for their honest opinion. Your job is done if they bob their head to the rhythm. 

Mixing is all about creating a sonic journey for the listener. It’s a captivating experience that helps deliver a song’s message, energy and emotion to the audience. Mixing requires a keen ear, technical expertise, and a creative mindset to weave all the production elements together. 


Let’s face it, a mix is never truly finished. There is always something else you can do. Some extra automation can be added, or a new trick you learned online can be applied. You might even be tempted to re-record some tracks. A promising sign that you are almost done mixing is if you go back and forth, changing some fader’s level by a couple of DBS. It’s all part of the journey to becoming a better engineer. 

P.S. It’s good. Your mix is done. Move on to the next song!

That concludes ‘How to Start Your Mix.’ Take a read of our next part, ‘5 Essential Mixing Techniques.’ Stay tuned for more of our Mixing Guide 101 series.

Considering pursuing a career in music production? Find out more about our Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering course.