Write and Mix Songs Faster With Custom Presets
Custom presets are great, but you’ve probably heard it (even from me) that mixing with presets is unwise as the plugin manufacturer has no idea how your tracks sound like and what the song needs. Let’s say you insert an EQ to a vocal track and start flipping the presets. There’s no way you’ll find one that fits, as it depends so much on the vocal sound itself and the rest of the mix. Compressor presets are great as they can give you a good starting point. Even then you need to adjust threshold and make up gain, and often attack and release too.
Don’t get me wrong – presets are not a complete waste of time, as they can teach you a lot. The presets are recommendations of real audio engineers, so take the opportunity to learn from them. They probably have a good reason why they recommend such settings. That’s why I’m all for using compressor presets as a starting point. Bear in mind that fine tune is needed, because – like I said earlier – they don’t know what kind of music you’re mixing, how does your track sound like, how’s the rest of the mix and what you’re after.
Let’s pause for a moment and ponder this for a while. What if the manufacturer actually knew all these things about the music you’re making? What if they knew your sounds, genre and vision and shared your artistic point of view? If they knew the level your tracks are recorded at? Would it then be okay to use the presets to mix faster? By all means!
You know your music and your needs the best. Do you find yourself aiming for the same kind of mood and vibe in your songs as you want them to be recognisable and unified? I bet you have your own sound that you’re going after. As a home studio musician, you’re probably recording everything in the same room, with the same mic and with the same audio interface every time. When you’re mixing the songs, you reach for the same plugins and use similar settings. I don’t mean it in a bad way – you use them because you’ve developed a routine that works for you. It’s a good thing.
Why don’t you save the settings as a custom preset for the future? Think about it. You would literally be one click away from the same setting that you usually use. How much faster would that be? Even though the setting might need a bit of adjusting every time, it’s still faster than making everything from scratch. To be honest, this is something that didn’t even cross my mind for so many years – heck, I didn’t even realise I could save my own presets in a basic EQ or compressor! How awesome is that?
Since I started using my own presets, it has made my life so much easier. The method is revolutionary. My workflow speed skyrocketed both in songwriting and mixing. Here’s how:
I created an empty project with all the sounds that I usually use. Whenever an inspiration strikes and I want to start tracking down the instruments, I open the project and save it with a different name. In the project I have a couple of different guitar tracks ready with my own presets. There’s also a midi drum track, a bass track, a vocal track and a few synth tracks – all with ready made custom presets. It’s super fast to start putting ideas together.
I found myself making the same mixing moves time after time. I saved the project with mixing plugins (EQ, compressor, tape saturation and limiter) already in the Mix Bus. They’re bypassed by default, but I can switch them on whenever I’m ready to mix. The individual tracks are routed to group busses and all the busses have a simple EQ and compressor ready to go. On individual tracks there’s a channel strip loaded with an EQ and a compressor. On vocal track there’s also a de-esser and another compressor. I have also two reverbs and a delay included in the project. I find myself adjusting the sounds and the mixing plugin presets depending on the vibe of the song. Even though I’m using pretty much the same sounds, every song has its own uniqueness. Presets work as a great starting point and make the mixing process so much faster.
Consider making a project of your own when dealing with your own music. Do as much as you can beforehand. Assuming the sounds are pretty much similar, there’s no point doing everything from scratch every time, except if you’re new to mixing and want to learn the basics. Once you do it enough, it just eats up your time.
In case you’re not making your own music, but mixing for someone else – you could still benefit from presets. You are likely to make some mixing moves every time. Once you mix a bunch of songs you’ll notice what they are. Most likely they would consist for example of simple EQ moves – like low cut filtering, and getting rid of the muddy frequencies – and some basic compression on the drum bus to glue the drums together. Also having a couple of go-to reverbs and delays is always a good idea to speed things up. The bottom line is that as you find the things you’re constantly doing the same way – it is a high time to make a preset out of them.
Making songwriting and mixing faster is a great goal for many reasons. You get much more done, which means more songs released or more mixed songs for clients. When you work with custom presets, you’re not using up your precious time for the mechanical work every single time. You free yourself to making artistic choices and that’s what music is supposed to be about – not the technical stuff.
If you want to speed up songwriting and mixing even further, download my information packed PDF-guides:
5 Steps to Create Music Faster (..and avoid the writer’s block!)