Classical Jazz '05

20 Tips for a great mix

Mixing is an essential process to a great song. Expanding your mixing skills takes time and patience, and we have compiled 20 tips to help you along your way.

1. Subtractive EQ

Often times, certain tracks will contain harsh frequencies, hurting your ears when played at loud volumes. Find these frequencies by taking a narrow EQ band and sweeping it across the spectrum. Narrow in on these frequencies and drop the gain, making sure to keep the bandwidth small.

2. Avoiding Competing Frequencies

With any tracks that are competing for presence, choose the most important of these tracks and identify the frequencies that give track its character. Then, find its competing tracks and apply a gentle EQ dip to these same frequencies. You’ll notice an immediate difference, perhaps deciding to get rid of these rival tracks altogether.

3. Use EQ Sparingly

Don’t turn your EQ into an art masterpiece. If you must EQ a track, do it with purpose, keeping in mind its relationship to the entire song. In theory, as many will agree, you really shouldn’t need to equalize anything if you choose the right sounds from the beginning.

4. Sidechain Compression

Side-chain compression spans much further than pumping your tracks to a kick drum. Take a lead synth and lead vocal for example. If you side-chain the synth track to the vocal, the synth will step back whenever the vocal plays. This is just one example of side-chain compression being used to maintain a balanced mix.

5. Compressor Attack/Release Times

These two parameter will either make or break the transient energy of a track. To help understand this, picture an ADSR envelope for the volume output of your to-be compressed track. Translate this visualization into the attack and release times on your compressor, and adjust accordingly. Use your ears and do what sounds right.

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6. Bus Compression

This is a great tool for gluing together sounds into a cohesive element. Take, for instance, your drum bus. Your kick sounds great and your hi-hats are crisp, however, your snare doesn’t cut through the mix. Compressing your drum bus can mitigate this issue, breathing life into the snare while retaining the original dynamics of the drums.

7. Avoid Cluttered Mix

Something to remember is that your mix will only be as good as the song’s arrangement. If you have a ton of competing tracks playing at once, there’s no amount of mixing that will make it sound better. Less is more.

8. HP Filtering

While it’s important not to over-do it, removing bass frequencies from non-bass tracks is a great way to obtain clarity in a mix, as well as a more pronounced sub bass. However, content above 100 Hz is best left alone, as these frequencies are crucial to the body and depth of your mix.

9. Listen On Multiple Systems

While your track sounds great on your home stereo, there’s no assurance it won’t sound like garbage in your friend’s car. Throughout the mixing process, occasionally demo your track on different systems, taking note of what sounds off.

10. Automate Moderately

Automation is essential for breathing life into a track, however, it can get out of control. Before automating, first establish the general balance of your mix to use as a reference point.

11. Headroom

Whenever you’re adjusting levels in your mix, remain cognizant of your master volume. If your meter starts to graze 0 dB, your tracks are coming in too hot. If this occurs, bring each track’s level down by a healthy -6 dB. Not only will this restore headroom, but your mix will no longer sound squashed and lifeless.

12. DE-ESSing

The usefulness of de-essing reaches far beyond the removal of sibilance from a vocal track. These harsh frequencies, typically in the 5-10 kHz, appear in hi-hats, white noise effects, and more. Instead of using EQ to remove the crisp altogether, de-essing can attenuate these brassy frequencies while leaving the overall high-end intact.

13. Stereo Imaging

Think of the stereo field as a canvas, with the painter filling out the entire region. While panning your sounds should be a creative process, there are conventional rules to be followed.

For instance, sub bass must be in mono, as the human ear can not detect stereo-separation in sub frequencies. Additionally, it’s important to remember that the farther a sound is from the center, the quieter it will be when collapsed to mono.

14. Mono-Compatibility

Given the many systems that output a one-channel mono signal, including cell phones and traditional PA’s, it’s crucial to ensure that your stereo mix will translate to mono.

Insert a stereo-imaging plugin on your master channel and bring the width to 0%. If your track all of a sudden sounds like trash, you will need to diagnose what’s causing the issue.

15. Avoid Reverb

Reverb, an effect we all know and love, can easily turn your mix into a hollow, underwater-sounding mess. For ambient effects, we recommend to instead use stereo delays. With hefty feedback and tasteful EQ, you can achieve similar-sounding results without washing out your tracks with reverb tails.

16. Take Breaks

Ear fatigue can be a monster for any engineer during a session. Given this, we recommend to take a series of breaks every 30 to 45 minutes. While this may seem counter-productive to your progress, it will keep you refreshed with unbiased ears.

17. Beware Of Headphones

Mixing with headphones can give you a distorted image of your track, exaggerating the stereo image and loading your ears with spatial differences. Unless you’re well familiar with how your headphones translate to other systems, it’s best to use monitors instead. However, if you must use cans, use a pair with flat-frequency response.

18. Mix Quietly

Avoid the temptation to crank up the volume during a session. Your ears will become fatigued, losing sensitivity to the high-end frequencies and overall balance of your track. Save yourself this issue by mixing at low to moderate volumes. This will allow you to work longer and more efficiently.

19. Keep Your Master Clean

Until your final bounce, it’s imperative to keep your master bus free of processing. Even the slightest of effects will give you an inaccurate depiction of how your track should sound, resulting in poor mixing decisions. With the exception of a spectral analyzer or RMS meter, keep your master bus flat and transparent.

20. Work Quickly

Listen to what your ears tell you to do and make these changes promptly. Don’t fall in the trap of endlessly tinkering with settings and parameters. Mixing must be a deliberate and straightforward process. Hear what needs to be done, get in, and get out.


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