Anytime I start from one of those presets rather than from scratch, I only have to adjust the exact frequency and threshold, saving about a minute of time and precious mental energy which, once again, really adds up over the course of a mix.
6. Find your automation parameters more quickly
Have you every been stuck not being able to find the name of the parameter you want to automate in a plugin or virtual instrument?
Well, there is a pretty simple workaround for this in Pro Tools, that an engineer friend showed me a long time ago: Just put your track in touch or latch mode, start playback, and simply click on the knob you’d like to automate. You will then see its curve (and name) appear in your automation window!
Some plugins actually require you to move the knob for it to appear, while others require a simple click. But either way, it works most of the time, and this technique can be a major a time saver in the studio—especially when some plugins have a list of 50-100+ automation parameters to search through. (I’m looking at you, NI Kontakt.)
7. Know your shortcuts
Okay, so this one is really not so innovative I admit, but no matter how much we sing their praises, the awesome power of shortcuts will always be underrated.
I’ve long had the urge to learn shortcuts for all sorts of programs. Back in the days I was working in a normal-people office, I was seen as “the nerd” for trying to learn every single shortcut in Microsoft Excel! Well guess what: Being a nerd is not so uncool in the audio world, and in a field like ours, you can comfortably boast about your encyclopedic shortcut skills.
For an in-depth walkthrough of some of the most powerful Pro Tools shortcuts on SonicScoop, try the Pro Tools Shortcut Bible: How to Use the 50 Most Essential Key Commands and Pro Tools Shortcut Bible Part 2: Editing Like a True Master
8. Mentally map specific plugins for specific uses
In general, I am a strong advocate for sonic experimentation. Sometimes you might just find the sound of your dreams by throwing a completely unexpected processor on some source. But when mixing, keeping a mental map of what to use and when to use it is very healthy for helping to establish an efficient, forward-moving process.
It’s no wonder why some of the most successful mix engineers keep their huge gear collections dialed in to particular settings. I thought it was weird in the past, but eventually, I realized that if they can afford to use one particular box just for the one function where it excels, why wouldn’t they do so? Think of how much mental space that frees up for making truly creative moves.
While you and I might not to be able to afford to do this with boutique hardware, the point is that you should know what EQ works well on your kick drum, what EQ works for your vocal “air”, what type compressors you want to throw on a bass to add control or articulation, and so on.
For some ideas to get you started down this road, here’s an article I wrote for my Llane Music titled “What Compressor Should I Use, and When?”.
9. Create a vocal sidechain track right away
To help vocals cut through, I like to set up a sidechain compressor on instrument subgroups like keyboards, or guitars, and use the lead vocal as the sidechain input. This allows me to to slightly and transparently duck these supporting instruments whenever there’s singing.
The issue here is that you can only select one track to serve as your sidechain input. So what do you do if your lead vocals are split into many different tracks?
You may have received vocal tracks from your clients, that are already split into many different parts. (“Lead verse”, “chorus vocal”, “bridge” etc.) Or you may have spit up the lead vocal tracks yourself, following the advice in tip #3 above.
Whenever this is the case, the simple solution is to create a separate vocal sidechain track that you can use as a key input for your sidechain compressors throughout the whole song. You can set this up as an aux track, or drag all the lead vocal audio to a new dummy audio track.
All you have to do is select “no output” for this track (or output to sends only) so that it just feeds your sidechain compressors but does not play in the main mix. This way, it’s only there to trigger your compressors, and that’s it!
10. Use a good mouse
Last but not least, one of the key ingredients to being comfortable at your workstation is the quality of your mouse.
I’ve been using a Logitech G500 for years, a type of “gaming mouse” that is not manufactured anymore, but that I’ve enjoyed using for so many years. (It all started in a previous life when I was spending too much time playing video games.)
Do yourself a favor and don’t be afraid to invest some extra bucks on that type of tool. Your work will greatly benefit from it, and you will be amazed at how much you can increase your APMs—or “actions per minute!