After writing and recording your track, comes the most crucial stage – mixing your track.
Here are 17 essential tips to get you started, or to improve your mixing skills.
- Focus on The Bigger Picture
- Balance (Sound)
- Don’t listen to your music too loud
- Sleep on it: Always listen to your mix the next morning
- Listen to your mix from your car (reference speakers)
- Use a reference track
- Work with the loudest part of the song
- Good Performance
- Organize Your Session
- Pick the Right Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for YOU
- CUT EQ rather than boosting
- Hi-Pass Everything
- Don’t spend too much time
- Mix in Mono
- Trust your ear.
1. Focus on The Bigger Picture
Try not to overuse the solo button. Start out by focusing on the whole mix, and then go into details on the instruments in solo.
Don’t spend most of your time on individual instruments. Amateur mixers often make the mistake of focusing on the main two or three instruments and then bringing everything else into the mix later.
Let’s say you really focused on your kick and bass, and you spent most of your mixing time on that. You’ll likely find that the kick might not sound right anymore – it might be interfered with by another instrument, or it might just not sound the same way it did when you were hearing it in solo.
Focus on the mix as a whole. Get your volumes balanced. Automate Volumes if necessary. Make groups & buses. Adjust EQ’s on those groups. Then focus on instruments, and don’t forget to listen to them with the rest of the instruments. Making a habit of just raising the volume of that track by around 5db, rather than always soloing the instrument.
2. Balance (Sound)
The most important part of your mix is balance. Making sure your volume levels are complementing each other is incredibly important.
An interesting tip could be using pink noise.
3. Don’t listen to your music too loud
A big mistake producers make when mixing is listening to the mix way too loud! Everything tends to sound better loud. You need to mix at an appropriate volume for a proper reference.
A good point of reference is 80db +. You can check this volume easily by downloading an application on your phone.
4. Sleep on it: Always listen to your mix the next morning
Sometimes listening to your mix for too long can affect your objectivity. It’s important to take a break every now and then.
Listen to silence. Every 30 minutes or so, take a 5-10 minute break to get your ears back in check.
It’s proven that mixing earlier in the day is more effective. Your ears are fresh, and your mixing with less objectivity. Throughout the day, however, your ears can get tired – especially if you were mixing all day.
So a crucial tip is: if you’re mixing into the night, don’t make a final bounce until the next morning. Let it sit for a bit, take a break, and listen to it again with fresh speakers.
5. Listen to your mix from your car (reference speakers)
It’s important to compare your mix with different speakers. Try using different monitors, try using your laptop, your phone, your car – the goal of mixing is to make the mix sound good across all speakers.
Obviously most of your mixes will be done via one pair of studio monitor- and that’s fine. It’s probably best to do most of it with one set of monitors that you’re used to – otherwise it can get quite confusing.
But, make sure to use other speakers as references.
6. Use a reference track
Use a reference track, or multiple, to make sure your mix is in check.
Before beginning your mix, find a song, or more, that falls within the same genre- or that you feel influenced by for the specific mix you’re working on. Download a high-quality .wav or .mp3 (NOT COMPRESSED VERSION FROM SOUNDCLOUD), and slide it into your mix.
7. Work with the loudest part of the song
Find the loudest part of your song – usually the chorus – and keep that on loop. It’s important to mix mainly listening to that part of the song because that’s typically when most instruments are playing at the same time.
Remember, when mixing, you’re making most adjustments to ensure that a track sounds great in complement to all the other instruments. So, when you listen to a track when all the instruments are playing at the same time, you can do this most appropriately.
8. Good Performance
If you’re recording live instruments – performance is key. If the musician is a solid musician and performs well – your mix is going to sound one thousand times better. You can EQ and add reverb as much as you want, but a bad guitarist is going to sound like a bad guitarist.
Also, micing properly is incredibly important. If you’re recording an acoustic drum set, make sure you’re micing your drums correctly, and you’re using the appropriate microphones.
The same goes for vocals, study micing and your mix will sound much better.
9. Organize Your Session
Mix engineers often spend hours preparing their mix before beginning. Labelling your tracks, color coding, grouping, bussing can help the efficiency and speed of your mixing tremendously. Group and bus your tracks as well!
10. Pick the Right Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for YOU
Logic Pro? Pro Tools? Ableton? Pick the right Digital Audio Workstation for you. Do you research.
11. CUT EQ rather than boosting
A big mistake people make is focusing too much time on boosting! Rather than simply trying to boost frequencies in the EQ spectrum, try to focus on cutting out frequencies that don’t need to be there.
A tip to keep in mind- focus on narrow cuts, and broad boosts.
Think of EQ cuts as you cleaning up the sound. You’re removing certain specific frequencies that you don’t need. So think of it like a scalpel- when cutting a frequency, use a narrow Q.
When boosting a frequency, you more likely need a broad Q. This sounds much more flattering. A narrow 10db boost will sound unnatural and will stick out oddly.
12. Hi-Pass Everything
Most of, if not all of your tracks are not going to be using frequencies below 50Hz. Any frequency under that is typically sonic noise, which can seriously muddy up your mix. You might not hear a serious difference when a track is in solo, but you’ll really hear the difference in the whole mix.
When it comes to other instruments, for example, a snare drum, often cuts as far as 200Hz is common- everything below that can be sonic noise.
A common amateur mistake is too simply start out by hi-passing everything way too much. You should still avoid this. Make sure to use your ear, not just your eyes.
Close your eyes, and move the hipass filter from the right to the left – until you can’t hear a difference in the tonality of the instrument. Then, move it just a little bit more, leaving some space just in case, and you should be good.
Volume, panning, and reverb are key to creating the write environment for all your instruments to sit in.
The best way is to think of panning relevant to where musicians would be standing on a stage. Pan your instruments out so it sounds natural, and so that each instrument gets its own space.
A good way to think of reverb is to relate it to depth – or rather, to how close or far to you the musician is. The more reverb, the more far and distant a track typically is in a mix.
14. Don’t spend too much time.
Time is of the essence. It’s a race against the clock. Every second your mixing, your losing objectivity, your losing perspective on what the mix really is, and you’re succumbing to ear fatigue.
15. Mix in Mono
Especially early on in the mix, mixing in mono is absolutely essential.
If you’re sitting right in front of your studio monitors, you’ll be hearing everything in stereo. But what happens when you move back? When you move back enough, it begins to blend into mono. You might then realize that the instruments that were sticking out when in mono, might be muddled up and not clear in the mix when in stereo.
If you start out by balancing your mix in mono, and doing EQ adjustments that way – your tracks are much more likely to stand out when in stereo.
Make a habit of reverting to mono every now and then throughout the whole mix process.
A mixer might try to resort to panning to give the instrument space, while not focusing enough on making adjustments to the tone of the instrument. This might sound fine in stereo, but when listening to it in mono, you’ll realize that tracks are competing for space in the same area of frequency. So, it’s not really fixing the core problem.
And don’t forget that people don’t always listen to your music in mono. Often in the car, on the radio, from their iPhones, etc. they’re listening to your mix in mono.
Grouping your tracks into busses is essential.
A prime example of this is with drums, and with compression. Since the drum set is one instrument, you want it to sound whole and put together. Grouping your kicks and snares and all percussive sounds can help with that – and then applying compression or EQ to the bus so everything is done to the full group.
You can even experiment with this (for example adding the bass track to the drum group).
You can also group vocals, guitars, synth instruments, or any instruments that can come together as one sonic layer.
17. Trust Your Ear.
Often, musicians mix visually too much. For example, while the visual EQ spectrum in an EQ plug-in can be incredibly useful- it can also be bad. Try to close your eyes when trying to find the right frequency to cut or boost, rather than relying on the visual spectrum. Sometimes you have to be bold. Sometimes a +20 EQ boost is appropriate!
Let us know if you have any additional tips in the comment section!
Subscribe to our newsletter
Everything you need to know about filmmaking and music in the Middle East!