It’s easy to get a good mix going if you have a set idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Going from one action to another can quickly create a chaotic mixing situation.
You might start out doing levels, then switch to panning and then think about some distortion tips you want to try.
Then all of a sudden you don’t really know where your mix is going.
Going from one thing to another without any real road map isn’t really dangerous or anything like that. Mixing is never “dangerous” but it’ll eat up your time.
Instead of bouncing from one music mixing idea to another, follow these tips here below and you’ll be well on your way to that mix that’s in your head.
Always believe in the Pareto Princple, where 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.
The 5 things below are the typical 20% of things that will get you really close to your ideal mix.
You can’t have your tracks all over the place.
You can’t have all your tracks at the same volume either.
You need to keep instruments and the elements in the mix at a steady and balanced level, without abnormal level changes popping out all over the place. Pushing up the faders and getting a balanced mix is the first order of business after you’ve recorded and edited your tracks.
Hit the mono button on your interface, pull all your faders down so that the master fader has plenty of room and then go to work on balancing your tracks. I would say getting a clear balance is half the work, especially if you’ve got great sounding tracks.
Stereo is important. You don’t want all of your tracks fighting for the center. For instance, panning out the drum-kit is an important way to expand and establish the stereo spectrum.
If you have all sorts of different elements and instruments, you need to find a place for them in the stereo spectrum. Pan everything around until you’ve found a good balance.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to tip the balance of instruments too much to the right or left either.
Instead, try to find a good equilibrium and balance between the left and right speaker.
A good way to do this is actually to keep things in mono and pan that way. You’ll find it easier to create separation in your instruments if you don’t have to listen to your pans in stereo. Counter-intuitive? Maybe. But it works.
The first music mixing tool after leveling and panning.
Equalization is an incredible useful tool for enhancing the sonic colors of your instruments.
Cutting out unwanted frequencies and boosting the fundamental characteristics of instruments is what EQ is all about.
Repair by cutting, and enhance by boosting. I’ve gone into EQ quite a lot before, and if you recently subscribed to the newsletter you know I spend the first 5 days of your subscription on tackling your most common EQ problems.
Compression is what makes your mix breathe. It can also squash your mix and choke out the naturalness of it. Depending on genre, instrument and other considerations, the approach to compression varies.
Bottom line? Your approach to compression is a big factor in how your mix will end up.
Just like we put instruments from left to right with panning, we need to position elements from front to back. By using effects, like reverb, delay and chorus we create depth in a mix. You can’t distinguish any space in your mix if all the elements are dry and in your face.
You won’t enjoy listening to a two dimensional sound picture as much as a three dimensional mix filled with interesting effects creating depth and diversity in your mix.
Just like some elements deserve to be in the middle of the stereo spectrum, and aren’t panned, there are also some elements that deserve to be dry and up front.
Which elements and what kind of space to use? That’s mainly up to you and your taste. Sometimes it’s also genre specific. For instance, you wouldn’t put massive reverbs on a fast thrash metal song and you probably wouldn’t skimp on the space for a big and slow power ballad.
This Shouldn’t Take You Long
Between these five tips and a little extra creativity on your part, I’m positive your next mix will be a solid blend of well balanced and panned tracks, correctly carved EQ and steady compression.
Sprinkled with a subtle blend of interesting effects, you might just have created your greatest mix yet.
The best part about following the 80/20 rule is that it shouldn’t really take you long to get a great mix going. Following simple guidelines and a clear plan of action will make you a faster and better mixer.
But if you’re one of those guys (or girls) that second-guess themselves and endlessly tweak their mixes so even the simplest 4-track mix takes them eight hours to finish then maybe you should find a way to speed up your mixing.