Running Out of Time? Here’s the Steps You Can and Can’t Skip!

We’ve almost all been there. Someone comes up to you and asks – “Hey, can you mix this for my by Wednesday?”

Other than the fourteen other projects and tasks you have to do before then, you’ve got all the time in the world! So you take the job.

But you don’t have three days to listen, tweak, break, tweak, listen, etc. You’ve got three hours. So what can you do to make sure you still end up with a great product?

Here’s a list of things you MUST do if you want it to sound even close to good:

1. Perfect the vocals. Tune if it fits the artistic/genre goals, pocket, process, fader ride – the whole nine yards. You can’t forget the importance of a great vocal in times like this.

2. Get a balanced mix. This is really what is important when you think about the “mix.” It’s not all about the reverb you used, dynamics processing, or eq on the snare drum (though these are all important). Don’t over focus on this – just get a good balanced mix.

3. Take a break and come back to it. Even if you’ve got just one hour to work on a mix, it is imperative that you take a short break so that you can come back with “fresh ears” and more importantly a “fresh perspective.” While a 5 minute break is not ideal (overnight usually does the trick), it can still do wonders.

4. Use a reference track. Just because you’re running out of time doesn’t mean you can skip this essential step. It’s so important to use a reference track that – even for a mix due in three hours – it’s still valuable enough to spend a lot of time with.


Ok, so those are the things you still have to do. So how can you save time in a crunch? Drop these:

1. Getting the perfect kick/snare sound. This is a luxury, not a need. When you’ve got the time, feel free to spend an hour getting a great sound for your kick and snare. But in a three hour mix, you can’t really spend a third of your time on something the average listener won’t even detect!

2. Getting creative with FX. This is also a luxury, and when you can do it – do it. But when you’re in a crunch, don’t spend any time venturing out into the great unknown on your plug-in list. No matter how tempting it is, you can try it out later when you’re practicing or on a mix you’ve got more time to complete.

3. Ultimate Automation. Yes, a vocal fader ride is good, and you might even want to ride the bass. But don’t try to ride every sing track through the entire song. This is usually necessary for film scores and soundtracks, but not for your average pop song. You can’t usually get about 90% of the way there without automation, and for a mix due in such short time, 90% will usually do.

Also, if you’re trying to save time with automation, don’t do physical fader rides – draw it in where you need it. This is a little faster and probably more accurate.


Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that any of these is unimportant in creating a great production. All of these steps are necessary to creating great mixes. But when you find yourself sitting down to a console or PT session with little or no time to finish, things can become pretty stressful. And it would be a shame to have a perfect kick and snare sound with a terrible vocal. That mix would ultimately be a lot worse than if it were a perfect vocal with a decent kick and snare sound.

So keep this in mind the next time your in a pinch. Do you have any tips on how to shave time off your process when necessary? Share them with us in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Running Out of Time? Here’s the Steps You Can and Can’t Skip!”

  1. Really useful, thank you. Yes, its always tempting to work upwards from Kick>Snare>Bass etc but in a rush it’s much more intuitive to start with the vital parts. Plus, should there be more time left at the end than expected- the less important things could get be tweaked then, with less pressure 🙂

    • So true – it’s always great to have a little extra time to spend on that kind of stuff! It’s always amazing how much better it can sound when you lift the pressure a little, too! 🙂

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