Beginner Mixing Series (Tips)

Beginner Mixing Series (Tips)
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#1

Along the lines of the Beginner Recording Series (as seen here…) Beginner Recording Series (Tips)

I’d like to start a series dedicated to the art of mixing also. I may also start one for producing.

Feel free to start adding some mixing tips and I will try to organize some of these tips and thoughts in an easy to find location. Thanks everyone!


#2

#3

#4

For the purposes of this Tips series, I define “Mixing” to begin once all of the tracks (vocals, guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, etc.) have been recorded, or “tracked” as most pro engineers refer to it. So that’s my starting point.

The first thing to do in my opinion is get the relative volume levels right between the various tracks. Engineers typically just call these volumes “levels”. There is no hard and fast rule for the order/sequence of the parts of the mix for which you set levels. For lots of common types and genres of songs, a good place to start is the relative levels of the rhythm section (bass and drums), then start on making those level decisions for the prominent instruments (e.g. guitars if your song is guitar-heavy).

Getting the levels right should come before anything else, including “panning” left and right, although as you get close there’s no harm in beginning to fold in those decisions too. If the song is not an instrumental, be sure your vocal tracks are the center of attention, because the vocal is usually the centerpiece of the song.

And as the tip directly above this one says, using a reference track is critical, especially at this stage right here. Using a reference track means being able to switch instantly between your mix and a commercial song of a similar style or genre to what you are doing. (Switching back and forth instantly is referred to as “A/B” listening, because one wants to switch between thing A – your mix – and thing B – the commercial song – at the touch of a button or click of a mouse.) Listen critically: How loud is the bass compared to the drums in your mix vs. the commercial song? Do your vocal tracks stand out the way they do in the reference song? Do the guitars cut through to take center stage where they’re supposed to, or are they hard to pick out?

The tip directly above also gets a critical point, that listening attentively is absolutely crucial. It takes practice. Don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t click for you right away.

So get those great-quality tracks during the Recording phase, then when you first start mixing, get those levels set properly, and use an appropriate reference track to make those decisions. The rest of your work on the mix will benefit greatly from these first steps.


#5

This tip could fall under somewhere between Beginner and Intermediate, but it’s a tip that I received from @Danny_Danzi years ago.

I find it extraordinarily helpful to set up templates in your DAW. Having busses and aux channels with plug-in pre-set up and pre-assigned can be a huge timesaver as you start tackling mixes. It gives you a familiar place to start with each mix.


#6

Learn to mix at low monitor volumes. This tip was one I heard early on, but largely ignored until later. There are so many benefits to mixing at low levels. By low levels, I am referring to a level that you can carry a normal conversation and hear the other person (and be heard)
Benefits include a reduction in ear fatigue and less risk of ear damage.
Mixes that are done at low levels generally sound better as you turn up the volume later. Often, the reverse is not the case. I’ll expand my thoughts on this later, but I wanted to get this out here on the tips list.


#7

Its well worth your time to learn the frequency spectrum properly. Just like in music, there are fundamental basic skills that require a good deal of effort to get proficient with. Running training exercises and learning key commands is the equivalent to a musician learning their chords and scales.

Always remember that the technology is an extension of your skill set. NOT A REFLECTION OF IT!

Think of mixing like cooking. In a balanced dish, no one flavor overpowers everything else. A mix, just like a poorly cooked dinner, can be bland. It can also be overdone. Some mixes are merely edible…meaning you won’t get food poison from eating them. But no chef that values his craft is ever content with that. And like food, if you start with substandard ingredients, don’t expect a 5 star dining experience.


#8

Don’t waste your time on worrying about the latest plugins .Use what is to hand, you don’t need 10 compressors and 15 eqs it just holds you back and holds up your workflow. Learn the tools you have .


#9

Excellent tip!


#10

Yeah I totally agree on this! And another related tip–read the manuals! I didn’t realize that plugins even had manuals until I found the ones for the iZotope plugins I bought a while back. They were extremely valuable and had a lot of mixing advice as well.


#11

Get lot of breaks, it’s part of keeping “fresh ears”.
During those breaks, take a beverage, move to another room, listen to something else… try to forget the song and what you did so the big picture comes back next time.


#12

Before discovering the song you’re about to mix, remember that it only happens once!
So that write down every ideas you get right after this first listen, creative ones, things to fix…
That way, you could focus on the final result and see if you spend too much time on not so important details.


#13

Check your mix on various conditions:

  • move your head from left to right
  • move yourself in your room, or to the next room
  • listen to your mix a different levels (very low, “normal”…)
  • check mono compatibility or only left or right channel (what about people sharing earbuds to listen to music?)
  • listen thru laptop speakers, earbuds, car radio, bluetooth ghetto blaster…

And write down what you missed.