How a Template Will Make Your Mixes Better
When I started mixing music, I’d spend days, sometimes even weeks, working on one song. I’d round and round in circles, not knowing where to take it and doubting my ability to make a song that sounds radio ready. These days, a mix can take as little as two hours and the result is leagues above what it once was. A lot of this is just natural creative progression, but only last year, I implemented something game changing for the first time - a tactic that’s more than halved the time it takes to mix a song and has immeasurably increased my decision making skills and creativity. The great news is, it’s stupidly simple - it’s a mixing template! I wish I’d made one sooner, so today I want to share this idea with you, so you can make better mixes and spend less time in that vicious cycle of creative decision making and self doubt.
Why use a template?
When you’re mixing a song, there are so many small distractions along the way. Things like setting up fx channels, creating groups and busses and deciding what plugin to use can all take out of the flow creatively. Staying in this flow state is mega important. By creating a template with all of your usual fx channels set up, your vocal chain loaded and your instrument grouping ready to go, you can eliminate hundreds of potential distractions and keep yourself in the zone, with more focus on creativity and making your song sound amazing.
The more you listen, the less objective you become
Not only will a template eliminate distractions and keep you in the zone, but it will drastically cut down the time you spend mixing. The more you listen to something, the more your brain gets used to how it sounds and the harder it becomes to know where to take it or how it should sound. With a mixing template, you no longer have to spend 10 seconds setting up a bus, or loading a plugin, which all adds up. The result of saving this time is that you spend less time listening to the song and can be way more objective. I genuinely believe spending less time mixing yields a better final product.
Is it corner cutting?
Yes and no. You’re only cutting corners by eliminating decisions that don’t affect the creative process. Using a template doesn’t make you a less authentic artist or mixer and it doesn’t mean you’re using any “one size fits all” settings. Everything is still tweaked to each individual instrument. But, if you’re using a high pass filter on every vocal or guitar, why would you want to take the time to apply that on every mix? Or if you’re using the channel strip on every sound, why would you take the time to load it up on each track? It’s these insignificant, but distracting tasks that we’re trying to get rid of. I’d go as far as saying every successful mixer probably has a template of some sort.
What my template looks like
Here are some examples of things that are pre-loaded in my mixing template:
I have a channel strip on every instrument, with some settings already dialed in. For example, high and low pass filters on guitars and rough compressor settings on drums so that I just have to tweak the threshold.
My vocal chain is ready to go. All of the essential plugins that I use on every vocal are pre-loaded so that I don’t have to think about it, just tweak and go. If I need something extra, I just pull it in. If I don’t need one of the compressors, I just take it out.
Busses already set up and routed, with plugins ready to go. That includes my drum bus, guitar bus, instrumental bus, mix bus etc. All I have to do is route my tracks to them and we’re ready!
FX channels set up ready to be used. This is a big time saver, because if something needs a spatial or modulation effect, there’s no searching for it, I just send it straight to the appropriate channel. I have various reverbs (plate, room, shimmer) and delays (¼ note, ½ note etc), a chorus effect and a double all pre-loaded.
Plugin automation lanes ready to go - I'm always automating width on the mix bus, some filters on EQ plugins, and of course track volume (which I do through a gain plugin on the channel), so automation lanes for these are set up ready.
Colour coding - All of my channels are colour coded as soon as a drag everything into the session. This might sound petty, but it’s really important. I rarely have to read a track name to know what something is. Because the colours are the same for every mix and the order they’re placed in the mixer never changes, it’s just a reflex. Eg, my drums are always yellow, bass red, keys pink, guitars green and lead vocals blue.
If you’re only mixing your own songs, this could be even more powerful
If you’re an artist or band member mixing your own music, a template could be even more effective for you than it is for someone like me. When a lot of the factors are same from mix to mix (like your vocal sound, microphones used, the room you record in, the instruments you use, etc) you can retain even more settings that you’d use on every mix, leaving even more mental space free for creativity.
If you’re looking for a bit more inspiration and information on why template mixing is amazing, check out Country music mixing legend, Billy Decker’s book - it’s a great read and really insightful. I encourage you to make a template from your last mix and see just how much it helps you focus, mix quicker, be more creative and make better sounding music! Then, every time you make a better mix, make it your new template.