Mixing Templates and If You Should Use Them

From time to time I get asked about my mixing set up and if I use mixing templates or if I can share my mixing templates.  Well the truth is I don’t really use mixing templates which may be a surprise.

So do I just start everything from scratch?

The short answer is yes but it’s a little more complicated than that because I have been using templates in my session which I will discuss later.

I’m going to try and help you understand why I do what I do when it comes to using mixing templates and then hopefully you can make a decision that works with your workflow.  Ultimately everyone is different and therefore we all work differently so we need to find something that makes sense to us.

Basic Templates for Individual Tracks

I use absolutely ZERO templates when it comes to individual tracks – i.e. Kick, Snare, Piano, Bass etc.

Some might argue that if you are mixing a Rock record than you can use a Rock template for each individual track and they will help get closer to a finished product.

My issue with that school of thought is that you are assuming that the current Rock record is going to sound like the last one – Each mix should to be tailored to the song.

To me I feel like this ruins my workflow and ultimately I have to back pedal to undo certain things, just to get the track to sound right.

Another thing to mention is that you are adding processing to each sound even before the track is balanced.  Maybe the kick drum doesn’t need a heap of EQ in the low end but your mixing template says otherwise.

I prefer to start from scratch, organize all my tracks and label them appropriately.  I just don’t know what needs to be done to a sound until I start listening to it in the mix.

So to sum it up I would import all of the tracks into the session, color code them accordingly, label or re label them, route them and begin balancing.

Other Options for Mixing Templates

If you are like me and don’t want to load a template for your tracks but still want to minimize your set up time, there are some options that you could try to help with that.

Basic Mixing Template Set Up

The first thing is you could set up a mixing template for your tracks with only the organization, the color coding and the routing.

For example my drums are usually color coded blue and routed to a Drum Buss.  So if I have a template for my drums that are already color coded and routed, I could import the drum audio files and drop them into the appropriately labeled track (Kick, Snare, Hat).  There is most likely going to be tracks that you will have to add or edit because not every song will have the same drum parts but I guess that’s par for the course (I stole that line from Chris Carter).

Treat Your Mixing Template Like an Analog Console

When you’re setting up an analog console and routing all the stems to each channel there is already a basic set up that stays the same every time.  Each channel will have a strip with compression, EQ’s, sends, pan pots etc.  It’s also important to mention the analog summing general color from the analog chain.

Everything in Pro Tools (and other daws) is already set up for you except for the EQ and Compression.  So if you have your favorite channel strip plug-in that you tend to use in every mix you could load an instance of it on every track but leave it in its default state (off).  Then save that as a template so when you load up your next session you’re all set up and ready to go.

To accompany your channel strip you could also add in your console emulation plug-in if  that’s something that you normally use.

Again I tend to start with a blank slate only because I don’t know what I want to do to a sound until I hear the balance and how the sound fits in the mix.  Sometimes you want the channel strip EQ and sometimes you want a different EQ.  To me there is no sense in having a plug-in on your channel if it’s going to sit idle but this is a decision that you should make for your workflow.

Effects Templates

So even in the analog world it’s not uncommon for an engineer to set up all their sends (effects) before they start mixing.  I’m talking delays, reverbs, chorus effects and even some parallel processing.

Maybe from a creative stand point this isn’t such a bad idea because it means you have options to grab onto immediately.  No set up, no hassle just send your audio out and blend it in.

It can help you get to a finished “record” pretty quickly.

The Downside?

Well I would say that since everything is so conveniently laid out it almost gives you an excuse to use it.  If you have absolutely no self control than that may be a disaster waiting to happen.

The better option might be to not have an effects template and only bring out an effect if it’s really calling for it.

If you do have self control and think you can make good effects decision than an effects template may be just thing you need to help improve your workflow.

All-in-all this is really the only template that I will load up into a session because I usually find myself going after certain effects all the time (1/8th note, 1/4 note) and it’s much easier to just create a send and blend than to have to set them up all the time.  The only thing that might change from mix to mix is how those effects are treated.

Basic, Console, and Effects Templates

So I just gave 3 different scenarios you might want to use for a mixing template but if they all seem to resonate with you then it’s probably not a bad idea to do all 3.

Like I mentioned before I’m only using effects templates at this point but if I had to add something else it would probably be a basic mixing template for my tracks.  It’s the only other thing that I think is logical and could potentially work with my workflow.

Remember there are no short cuts in mixing.  Every mix is a custom job and should be treated as such.  My opinion is to use mixing templates to help your workflow and get you moving faster but don’t use them thinking they are going to create your mix for you.  After all that is your job as the engineer.