Never Hurt Anyone: Volume 2
Updated: Apr 18, 2019
My mixing was abysmal when I started out! Yes, ABYSMAL-I won’t lie to you. My untrained ear thought a ton of EQ boosting helped my mixes because it made the most obvious difference. Doing this seemed like it was helping my mixes…not meaning to repeat myself but my mixes were abysmal!
Were you like a kid in a candy store when you first encountered all the toys within your mixing trunk to play with—EQ, compression, exciters, verbs, etc? It’s easy to get carried away! There’s certainly a place for that, but more likely than not, the practicing of discretion should be exercised.
To the point I believe will help you (its for sure helped during the process of mixing for me) and save you frustration—with eq, cut more than you boost. Consider the cliché analogy of a mix being like a puzzle, where you’re trying to put pieces (the tracks) together in a defined space.
EQ cutting makes your tracks smaller and more refined, making it easier to tie them all into the available stereo frame. If you only boosted, you’d have bigger pieces overlapping and not meshing together. Do both, to be sure what’s working, but be conscious of your cut.
Even when you’re cutting out a portion of the frequency range that doesn’t make much of an audible difference (like 80Hz and below on a vocal track), keep in mind that overlapping frequencies can add up to create problems that weren’t noticeable on just one track.
MI CAŚA É SÚ CAŚA:
Most people mix in less than ideal listening conditions. My mixing career started off in my bedroom closet. My acoustic treatment was my clothes and pillows. Your room may be too small, have low ceilings, a lot of windows, etc, etc.
All the better reason to monitor your mixes in other places, like on headphones, in your car, bathroom or at a club. But remember that just walking out of your mix room (which is a bedroom for a lot of people ), can really help.
Right outside my studio, there is a corner that I stand in that really let’s me judge balance, reverb and bass—letting me know whether I’ve pushed something too far or not.
I’ve checked dozens of my own mixes standing in that corner with my back to my studio door. It helps to judge the pieces-letting me know if I pushed something to far or not far enough. It may sound bat-poo insane but I reference mixes against the top 10 of the genre fore which I’m working in. Yes, insane but there is a method to the madness!
DO ANYTHING you can do to get a different perspective on your mix is important, especially if your conditions are not ideal.
Using reference mixes can help hugely. When you’re first starting out, it helps to have a target to shoot at. Actively compare what you are doing with professional work that you like, keeping in mind the pro mix has most likely been mastered.
Regardless, the reference-though it may be intimidating at times will keep you grounded-and can save you from drifting too far away from your vision.
Experimentation is important as well, and you will certainly stumble upon plenty of cool stuff, but make sure to take the time to learn from the recordings that inspired you to mix in the first place.
There is no better teaching tool than critically listening to a good mix and trying to reverse engineer it. It’s no different than if you were a songwriter, singer, emcee, producer, or musician— you’d listen to and borrow/learn from your influences.
Mixing is also a creative endeavor — treat it that way by actively listening to and referencing other mixes against your own.
“I’m sure you’ve heard that you should preview your mix in mono.
There are various reasons: To make sure phase issues don’t cancel out/wreck crucial components of your mix in mono, and the fact that many systems may play a mix back in mono (in clubs and malls for example).
Listen in mono and give your ear some training. Think about it — mixing in mono is harder and you wanna make sure phase issues don’t cancel out/wreck crucial components of your mix in mono.
What tools do you have to create separation between tracks when mixing in stereo?
You can: 1 — pan 2 — use EQ to sculpt spectral components
3 — change the level.
In mono, you lose the ability to pan. So now you have to be really on point with your EQ and levels.
MONO A MONO
EVERYTHING is overlapping to some degree in your mix, so that EQ cutting/ altering technique I addressed earlier really becomes important.
Once you put everything back in stereo, panning becomes more of a creative decision, as you’ve really sculpted the sources to fit together.
It will be counterintuitive to mention this but try panning while in mono.
Your signal won’t move left or right, you may notice a volume boost (the degree of which depends upon the pan law set in your DAW). This can help you determine where the sweet spot is for a signal once things are back in stereo. Then you can get to focusing on depth and dimension.
Most DAWs (and many audio interfaces) come with tools for monitoring in mono. Check your manual or Google your specific software.
Ok, this one is admittedly boring, and isn’t even a mix tip….just a HUGE issue in both amateur and pro mixes.
A common thread in throughout all these tips I’m sharing is the notion that you have to attune your ear to minuscule subtleties through lots of listening and experimenting.
Audio restoration is perhaps the most valued form of listening. One common task in restoration is identifying and removing pops and clicks within a mix, often caused by sloppy editing.
DAWs are great—they let us cut and paste, chop and drag audio all over the place. But those audio clips, when recombined, can be at dramatically different portions in their wave cycle, potentially creating a “click” or digital spike.