Mixing is the most important step when producing a song. A good mix can take a good record to another level and a bad mix can take a good record and completely ruin it. You could have the most talented artists on your track but if the mix is faulty, the track wont translate well to the listeners.
Here are my top 5 tips for a better mix.
1. Leave your master track alone. No plugins should be on this channel.
The Master Track should be left alone at all times during the mix. Some mixers tend to place Multi-band Compressors, Limiters and EQ on the master. This may cause frequency, balance and phase issues throughout the track when you are trying to EQ a single track. Keep in mind everything is ultimately processed by the master track. You never want to mix into master effects.
In addition, always make sure to leave enough “headroom” for the mastering stage. A good rule of thumb is to leave about 3 to 5 db of headroom. More headroom will give the engineer more room to polish the mix the way it deserves.
2. Balance is more important than the plugins you use.
When it comes to mixing, I would place balance the most important. If you can achieve a solid balance (i.e. volume and left/right stereo field placement), your track will sound polished without any use of EQ or compression.
Try pulling down every fader in the session. Then then start bringing up one fader at a time until you have a good solid balance mix. A good method to follow is to start with the driving element in the song. 9 times out of 10, the driving element will be the vocals. Start with the vocals and build everything up from there. Other times it may be the drums. Whatever the case may be start with a “section” and then build around that. You will find that the focus of the song will naturally start to stand out.
One you achieve a decent balance, you are ready for what comes next. EQ and compression.
3. EQ and Compression overload can be bad news.
What I am about to say may shock you! Not every track needs EQ. And not every track needs Compression. If the guitars sound good as they are, then why even touch it?
Remember, the point of EQ is to allot placement for the different sounds in your mix. It gives a home for different frequencies to live and breathe. When EQ’ing, try cutting out frequencies before adding.
Cutting out frequencies will help carve out the sound a lot better and give it a place to live in the frequency spectrum. As a bonus, this helps alleviate space in your headroom, which is a huge plus! Every time you add/boost frequencies you are adding to your headroom so always be sure to think, do I really need this? does it really make the sound better?
Many famous mixing engineers mostly cut frequencies rather than boosting frequencies.
Compression works the same way. You don’t need compression on every single track. Many think compression makes the sound thicker and better, however this ideology will backfire on you once all compressors are active and you will start to hear the music cluster together due to bad compression.
Compression is meant to bring the quiet and loud parts of a track closer together. Typically, compression is needed on vocals for this very reason. Not because it sounds better with compression, rather bringing the singers voice to a more even level.
4. Get to know a few core plugins.
If you’re anything like me, you always want to try new plug-ins because you think it will give you that sound. In reality, using a new plug-in you haven’t explored before when mixing may be a bad idea because it interrupts your natural momentum.
Mixing should be effortless and you should always follow your gut instinct. Know your plug-ins inside out so that you can turn knobs effortlessly to achieve the sound your going for. If you keep stopping and trying different things with your new shiny plug-ins then you will get fatigued and lose track of whats important for the mix. Its ok to have the latest plug-ins, but play around with them before using them in your mix to know what they actually do and not what they are promised to do.
Remember less is always more! Let me say that again. Less is always more! The more knobs we have to turn the harder and longer the mix will be.
5. A little automation goes a long way.
A smart engineer once told me that a little automation goes a long way. Don’t use different sounds or compression to create dynamics in your song but use automation.
A listener will get tired if all your tracks are at the same volume for the entire length of the song. You can create excitement and diversity in tracks using simple volume changes between sections in your song. Maybe the pianos should be a little lower in the chorus, or the guitars in the verse need to be a little louder. Whatever the case may be, automation will create awesome dynamic’s and give you a more exciting song.
Mixing should be fun and effortless. Remember, we are our worst critics. Trust your gut and mix with your ears and not your eyes. A mix can never be perfect as nothing in life is. Don’t stress on every little thing and focus on the big picture, or in this case, the big mix. Remember to take breaks every now and then and always come back on another day to finalize your mix. This way your ears will be fresh and hear things you may not have during the mix. Remember to cut frequencies before you boost and always remember balance is more important that EQ and compression! Heres to happy mixing.
Care to share your favourite mixing tips? Let us know in the comments section below.