If you’re really happy with your mix but have to send it off to someone else to work on, how do you make sure that the mix comes back the same. Assuming that they’ll be using the same plugins (although you could burn the processing into the mix), the answer is what’s known as a “Yardstick Mix.”
A Yardstick Mix is one that you can set all the channel faders to 0 and the mix comes back just the way you left it. On a console you can literally put a yardstick across the faders to make sure that all the faders at at exactly at the same place. The 0 level point is what’s normally chosen, although just about any level will work as long as your headroom remains intact.
This was done mostly in the console days, especially if something like when a live concert was recorded. In order to preserve the mix for the next engineer down the line (especially if the ultimate distribution was television or film), you’d use this process.
The way it would work is that you’d never change the channel fader level. All of the level adjustment comes from the input gain trim so that the channel fader never has to leave the 0 point.
On a DAW you’d either use the built-in channel trim (if your workstation features one), a dedicated trim plugin, or even the input and output controls on an EQ or similar processor.
While the Yardstick Mix wasn’t used that often even back in the analog console days, it’s used even less today given the instant recall we have with when a DAW session opens, so it’s more of a curiosity of the past. Still, it’s an interesting approach to be aware of. Who knows, some day you actually might put it to good use.
You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.