Underdubbing: The Power of Getting Rid of Stuff for making space in a mix

This article about making space in a mix first appeared in FlyPaper by Soundfly. I reprint it here with permission and I encourage you to check out their courses. You can get a 15% discount code on a subscription using the promo code AJTRUMM15. Finally, you may come across affiliate links, and I may make a commission if you buy.

Back in the day, mixdown sessions consisted of 24 tracks, max. Now, it’s not uncommon for a DAW session to consist of 100 or more. In addition, mixers continually face the problem of “let’s lay it ALL down!” – where every idea, lead line, extra part, and party background is included in the session.

It’s tempting to try to fit every little piece in using magical subtractive EQ, fancy-pants compression, and pie-in-the-sky plugins that promise God-like mixeration.

But there’s something way more powerful that top mixer and producers use for making space in a mix – underdubbing.

Is underdubbing a thing?

“Underdubbing”, as we’re using it here, isn’t necessarily a real term*. It comes from the book “Zen and the Art of Mixing” by the mysterious Mixerman. What is means is simply removing tracks or chunks of tracks – not including everything that was tracked in the final mix. It’s about making space in a mix.

This is one of a mixer’s most powerful tools. Instead of trying to fit 85 guitar parts all clashing and fighting, find the two that work together to communicate the song and drop 83. Or taking the best four-part harmony from a cacophony of 40 backing vocal takes and using that to make a tight choral feel.

*“Underdub” is also sometimes used to mean other things, such as a mix that’s missing certain parts.


Underdubbing can also mean comping similar parts into one track so there aren’t so many things to deal with in the mix. Perhaps a synth effect happens once in the open and never again, while another similar synth rolls in for the verses and another for the chorus. Comping them together can save screen real estate or brain space for the rest of the mix.

You may have to do a little clip gain or automation or even a little EQ automation in this case, but the idea is to find tracks that are similar enough not to need much of this.

Underdubbing in the arrangement

When Mixerman talks about underdubbing, he’s talking about mix engineers who have to slog through hundreds of tracks, realizing that not everything has to be included.

But you can save the mixer a lot of trouble and get a faster, better mix by “underdubbing” the arrangement before you even track. Having a solid plan for what goes where – essentially cutting tracks before they’re recording (cut before the cut!) – will ensure that a mix engineer doesn’t cut out what you find the most valuable.

It also can save you tons of money on studio time. A well-rehearsed, well-planned session goes pretty quickly compared to a creative free-for-all.

This doesn’t mean you don’t brainstorm and try new things. It just means you make some hard decisions early on – getting rid of superfluous information before it muddies the waters in the studio.

Underdubbing is everywhere

As a final note, you may notice as you read blogs and articles in music that some are short and some are long. Try to notice when a 2,000 word article could have been 500. Editing an article is much like mixing a song. We can say a lot of cool things, but at the end of the day, we “underdub” anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the central message.

In this case, that’s this:

You don’t have to use every track. Try “underdubbing” on your next production – and harness the power of getting rid of stuff.

I’m a producer, vocalist, and writer. I like audio stuff, too 🙂 Wanna learn my tricks for making better records without spending more money? Check out my 10x My Tracks eBook!

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