We all know that if we want to get better at playing an instrument (or a sport, for that matter) we need to practice. Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, promotes the idea that if we spend 10,000 hours in practice of any activity we can master that activity. Since then many have modified that statement to “deliberate” or “directed” practice, but that doesn’t change the fact that to get better at anything takes practice. So, how do we practice mixing? I don’t know about you but I just haven’t recorded that many songs – and the recording takes a lot longer than the mixing.
The historical way to gain this experience was to work in a music studio and mix hundreds of songs, usually working as an assistant and doing the mixing in the wee hours of the morning after the rest of the staff had gone home. Today many who seek to be professional audio engineers attend dedicated schools or programs that allow them the opportunity to mix many different songs. However, you and I and those like us in small home studios don’t have these avenues available to us.
Fortunately, we now live in the Internet age, so if you know where to look there are more opportunities than you can imagine. I’ve searched for and found several paid and free resources to obtain tracks you can mix. The paid sources have the benefit of frequently someone providing you guided feedback on your mix, so those are probably more helpful. But all of these resources are ultimately worth what you make of them.
I’ve come across four resources that are available for a fee. Some of them include feedback and critiques on your mixes.
Joe Gilder is an audio educator and independent singer/songwriter and he has two resources that many have found incredibly helpful. The first is a joint project with Graham Cochrane called Dueling Mixes. This is a monthly subscription where your fee gets you a new multi-track each month to mix, videos from Joe and Graham walking you through their mixes, and feedback from them and other members on your mix. The response to their release of this product has been overwhelmingly positive.
Joe’s second product is called Mix Practice. In this he simply gives you the multi-tracks of all the songs from his first two albums (and all future albums for life) to mix. While he doesn’t provide the feedback for this product like he does for Dueling Mixes, you can compare your mixes to the released versions to see how you work stacks up and give you a result to shoot for.
Kevin Ward is a long-time Nashville mixer and is passing along his knowledge and experience as the “Mix Coach.” Mix Coach Pro membership provides you a multi-track in a different genre to mix every month, along with feedback from his staff and other subscribers (don’t underestimate the value of this).
Multitracks.com provides legit downloadable multitracks for a large variety of Christian pop and Praise and Worship tracks, from artists like Darlene Zschech and Israel Houghton. There doesn’t appear to be any mix feedback, but it could be a lot of fun to work on these tracks. They also have a monthly free remix contest (with prizes!), so there is a free option here, too.
Mike Senior is best known for his Mix Rescue series in Sound on Sound magazine. He has also set up a comprehensive at-home mixing course, and there are over a hundred free multi-tracks to download in every genre imaginable.
Björgvin Benediktsson‘s Crowd Audio is not an educational site, but rather a mixing competition. At fairly regular intervals a band makes their multi-tracks available and mixers compete for a prize and possibly to mix the entire album.
Kompoz is a music collaboration website. Members post ideas, snippets and tracks so that others can collaborate on the work. There is often the opportunity to offer services for mixing, as well (all for free, of course, since this is a collaboration website, not a freelancing website).
Remix Comps is a blog that lists every remix competition they can find. They list a ton of competitions and their site is searchable on a variety of factors.
In closing I will mention that if you are a clever Googler, you may be able to find some bootleg multi-tracks for download, too. I know that a few years ago Stevie Wonder’s Superstition was floating around. So get out there and download some multitracks and get practicing!