7 Essential Mixing Techniques to Immediately Improve Your Mixes
Mixing is not only an art, it is also a paramount step of the production process that when done correctly, can yield great sounding recordings. It turns a collection of tracks into a finished piece of music, and can make your song sound good on anything from a cheap hi-fi radio to an audiophile’s dream setup.
In theory, mixing should be easy. You turn a few knobs here and there, until everything sounds good. However, that is not the case.
Anyone who has done enough mixing will know what it’s like to twist enough knobs only to find yourself in the middle of a jumbled mess with no direction and now all the sudden you don’t know where your mix is going. And you’re lost.
Here is a list of 7 Mixing Tips that will help you streamline your mixes and keep you on track to better and more efficient mixing.
1. Keep your sub-bass and kicks in mono.
Think of it this way; you’re kick and bass are the driving forces behind your tracks, and as such, should be centered as much as possible, with everything else happening around it in the stereo spectrum.
Keeping your sub-bass in mono will keep your low-end centered, and will save precious db space for you to mix other instruments as well. It will also give you a good reference point for where to mix your other instruments.
As a general rule of thumb I like to use Ozone Imager to keep everything < 200Hz in mono.
2. Using a spectrum to analyze your stereo signal.
I know I preach that mixing is an art. But behind that art is a science. And the science is this wonderful tool called a spectrum analyzer. A good spectrum analyzer will let you visually see your audio signal in real-time.
I will keep one open on my master channel at all times so I can see what is happening visually when all my tracks are playing at the same time. If I notice any major dips or spikes I will adjust my mix accordingly.
3. Using mono mixing as reference.
This is an important one. Too often I get mixes that are really wide in the stereo field. I.E. the song sounds thin because a lot of the instruments are playing outside the normal stereo field. I see this happen a lot with producers who use mainly headphones for mixing.
They start panning instruments left and right and before they know it their track is so far wide that nothing is happening in the middle, leading to thin recordings. To combat this, make use of a stereo-to-mono plugin and check it every now and then.
This will force you to make space for all of your instruments. If you can make your track sound good in mono, it will sound great in stereo. Sometimes you don’t know how wide an instrument is until you reference it in mono.
4. Make use of subtractive EQ.
Although additive EQ certainly has it’s place, subtractive EQ is an equalization technique where you subtract frequencies to make others stand out in the mix instead of adding to them. For example, to make my highs stand out in a mix, I will usually use a low-shelf curve to turn my lows down rather than try to boost the highs to get them to sit right.
Done correctly, this saves DB headroom and keeps your mix levels in check. I use more subtractive EQ than I do additive. That’s for sure.
5. Do NOT use a limiter on master channel.
That’s right. Don’t do it. Using a limiter on the master channel when mixing is basically a replacement for what skills you lack in mixing, and can adversely effect your track in a negative way.
Instead, try using a limiter with a small threshold on individual instruments, rather than slapping it on top of everything via the master channel. Your mastering engineer will thank you.
6. Do NOT move the master channel fader-volume.
When I started producing music 9 years ago I would start with my master fader at 0db, and as I added more elements to the track I would gradually move the master volume fader down to keep it from going over 0db.
My mixes would end up being really quiet to start, and be really loud by the end and I couldn’t figure out why. I know that sounds ridiculous but turns out I’m not the only one. I see it all the time, and I wish someone had told me sooner!
Keep your master volume at 0db, and do all of your mixing using the channels before it hits the master channel. If your levels are going above 0db, then change it in the mix, and DO NOT use the master volume-fader to compensate.
This will yield a more level and accurate waveform primed for mastering when you’re done. And will force you to learn to mix better.
7. Tweeters facing out.
This is a big one. Too often I see pictures of studios with the monitor speakers sitting horizontally and the tweeters are on the inside. This is a huge mixing mistake! Earlier I mentioned that your sub-levels and kick should be centered and in mono.
The same should be consistent with your audio setup. The bass and low-end should be centered in your listening environment with the mids and highs moving around the bass.
Having your tweeters on the inside is counter-productive and will confuse your mixes. Having them on the outside will keep your mixes more consistent.
And there you have it. While writing this I got some ideas for a few new articles, which I will be coming out with in the next few weeks. But this should get you started and on your way to better mixes.
What would be some tips you would suggest? What are some of the biggest tips anyone has given you that helped you improve your mixes? Comment below!