This post consists of a few simple guidelines to help you mix your tracks. Although it won’t show you how to do it step by step, I still hope it will help you in some way along the way. Okay, let’s go straight into it.
Okay, so you have probably heard the saying “you can’t polish a turd”. This is something you should have in mind when mixing your music. When producing a track, you should always use the best samples and sounds that you possibly can find and don’t settle for less.
Many people think that they can fix everything in the mix. While this is true to some extent, it isn’t something that always works. By using high quality sounds from the get go, you will save a lot of time and hassle down the road.
This is something that may be pretty obvious, but every now and then I hear tracks that are way over produced. By using as few elements as possible in your songs, you will really simplify the mixing process.
Some genres may require you to use hundreds of sounds and instruments and that’s totally okay. Just know that the more channels you’re using, the harder it will be to fit all of these together into one mix.
Gain staging is the process when you set the volumes for all of the different elements you’re using in your mix. This is a really important step and may just amount to about 50% of the whole mixing process.
A great way to start your gain staging is to set the kick drum to a certain level, for example -6dB. Then you may increase the levels of the other elements so that they sounds good in reference to the kick drum.
When you have set your volumes it’s time to give the different elements their own place in the stereo space. Some sounds may not need any panning at all which is okay, but sometimes a bit of panning may be just what a sound needs to make it pop out a little bit more.
Another method to space out sounds in the soundbox is to use various stereo separation tools. These often makes the mono compatibility of the sound source a bit weird and may introduce phasing issues when playing in mono. Make sure to not overuse the stereo separation since you want your mix to sound good on all sound producing devices.
If you have produced for more than a month you probably know what sidechaining is, but for any beginner out there I will briefly explain it.
Sidechaining is the effect when you lower the volume of an element to the beat of the kick drum. This is a commonly used method in EDM in order to give the kick drum more space in the mix and to give the production a rhythmic feel.
There are a few other ways to use sidechaining though. You could for example sidechain elements with similar frequency content to one another in order to create more space in the mix.
You could also use return channels with reverb (and delay), and sidechain the routed elements to the wet reverb (and / or delay) signal.
Probably the second most important mixing method after gain staging is equalizing or “EQing“. By using EQ’s you are basically manipulating the frequency content of elements and make them fit better together with one another.
A mix has a set amount of frequencies in the frequency spectrum. By having multiple elements, they will clash with one another frequency wise. To battle this you have to cut (or boost) some frequencies in some element to try to fit them together.
One method that many people use is to cut low frequencies out of all elements except kick drum and sub bass.
Let’s say you have a piano, a guitar and a synth which may have some rumble in the low end. In order to fix this you could just cut all frequencies under 120 Hz to make sure that they don’t take any space away from your kick and bass.
Mid / Side EQ is also a very important part of the mixing process. By using this technique you can equalize the mid and side channels separate, and therefore create space in both the mid and the side channels, depending on the elements that are being processed.
There are a lot of effects that can be used in the mixing process that I can’t write about in this article. Most of them are not exactly a must to use in most mixes, but they can be used creatively.
For example there are distortion that can be used to create a nice “bite” to your sound as well as increase higher frequency content in sounds. Another effect to look into is the phaser, which manipulates the frequency content of sounds in different ways and can make some cool effects.
As you might know, compression is a tool to lower the dynamic in sounds. This means that it makes higher peaks lower and lower peaks higher. This effect is needed when sounds has too much dynamics and you want to change that.
Some producers (especially in EDM) use compression too much though. They do this because they believe that it will make the mix sound “louder”. The downside to this is that it may cause the whole mix to sound dull because of the lack of dynamics. One rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t use compression if you don’t know why you’re using it.
As mentioned in the last article, bussing sounds together is a great way to glue sounds together by processing multiple sounds at once. Many producers set up busses for similar elements, for example; drum bus, bass bus, lead bus etc. This isn’t something that you have to do, but it definitely helps to make your mix sound more glued together.
This is a technique you should use in all of your tracks. Many club systems are playing music in mono, which is something to think about when mixing your music. By having all of your low-end sounds in mono you can make sure that they will sound good on bigger sound system.
But how do you do this? One way is to use a mid / side EQ on the master and cut the side channels lower frequencies up to 100Hz-120Hz. Another way is to just set the low end elements like kick and bass as mono.
Okay, so this is a tip that will both help you with your mixdown as well as keeping your ears healthy.
By mixing on lower volumes you will hear elements that may stick out in contrast to the other elements.
There is also a saying that if a mix sounds good on low volumes, it should sound great on louder volumes.
Another important part is that your ears will fatigue much quicker when mixing on louder volumes, and ear fatigue has destroyed more mixes than anything else. 🙂
This is something that not everyone might agree with. For example, the bassmaster SeamlessR says that he always keeps a master compressor on the master through the whole production process.
I would argue that by not having effects on the master you can really optimize your mixes to sound as good as possible and then make them sound even better with a few mastering effects. Another problem would be if you’re gonna have your productions mastered by someone else.
This is something you have to do, especially if you have recorded elements in your tracks. You don’t want a badly cut sample or recording that you may have missed stick out all of a sudden.
Use fades and crossfades on sound that you think may need it. It’s actually as simple as that.
As mentioned in my last guide, by having only a couple of different reverb and delay plugins per production may give you a more glued and coherent sound in your mix. This is why you should set up sends with 100% wet reverb & delay plugins that you can send audio into.
You should think of all elements as a whole while mixing. All elements should fit and sound good together, not only when they are playing by their own. This is why it’s important to make changes and process sound both as they are soloed as well as played together with the rest of the elements.
When mixing you should always think about and know why you are doing what you are doing. Do not apply random effects or effects that you think that you should use (ehm…compression). Use effects wisely and make decisions based on what sounds good, not only on what you think you should do or use.
This is probably one of the most important things to use while mixing; reference tracks. You should always use a fully mixed (and in most cases mastered) track that you think sounds amazing and that is in the same genre as the one you are producing. This track will act as a reference that you can build you own mix towards and that can help you make decisions based on how it sounds in contrast to your own mix.
When you are done with a first draft of your mix or when you are stuck, you should ask other people for feedback. These people don’t have to be producers even if you probably would prefer to have someone experienced give their thoughts on your mixdown.
Regular people (in this case non-producers) may also give valuable information on how it sounds. This feedback may not be as detailed and may not be described as good as from a professional, but it’s still worth it.
When sending the mix out to people you should also send your reference track and ask them how they think it sounds relatively to the reference. This will help the person giving feedback to easily hear what you are going for.
In order for your ears to perform at their best you should take a break every now and then. There are some guidelines saying that you should take a break for 15 minutes every 45 minutes, but you could decide this for yourself.
If you feel your ears getting tired or if you feel that nothing is sounding better anymore, it’s probably time for a break. It’s also good to get a bit of fresh ear, even though we all know that producers doesn’t like to go outside. 🙂
As written under the “No Effects on The Master” headline, you should make sure that your mix sounds as good as possible before the mastering stage. This is especially important if you’re sending it to a third party for mastering. The mastering stage can only make is sound so much better and a bad mix won’t be fixed with a good master.
If you have made it this far into the article, you’re amazing. I hope that you got something out of all of this, and that it will help you make your tracks sound better than ever.