There is so much that comes with wanting to mix great-sounding music. In no way is this something that comes quickly, it takes time and the beginning is rough. But the reward of being able to mix a massive track is awesome. It is truly a noble and worthy endeavor that you are good to seek out. So, to help you along the way, here are some very useful tips. These are all important to keep in mind now and even years down the road. Truthfully, this is just solid advice all around mixing.
1. Learn Your Plugins/Effects
No amount of money spent on high-quality plugins can be a substitute to learning your way around the ones you already have. This process takes time, don’t feel as though you will be able to learn everything in a day. Learning how to best EQ or use compression can take years and even then, there is always more to know. But once you can familiarize with the basics you will be able to improve your final mix exponentially. After all, presets are great… till there not. While, using pre-selected settings can be great at times, more often than not your track will benefit from a personal touch.
2. No Need to Rush
Good mixes take time. One of the biggest mistakes you can make starting out is hurrying to make things sound decent. It’s easy to be willy nilly adding in a reverb here and a compressor there. While these additions might work well in the short term, by the end you will wish you hadn’t rushed. Just try your best to keep everything organized, take advantage of busses and be sure you are labeling everything. Slow down and keep things neat, this is especially important when working on bigger projects.
3. Take Breaks
This one might sound more like health advice, but this a great practice if you’re looking to get better mixes. Stepping away from a song gives your ears (and brain) a much-needed opportunity to reset. Staying with a song for more than an hour or two at a time will only lead to poor sonic decisions. You will be surprised at how different your approach can be between fresh and exhausted ears. Try taking 10 to 15-minute breaks frequently when mixing for longer periods.
4. Learn About Different Mixing Styles
There are a lot of sort of “standards” that you can take advantage of early on. Things like LCR or mixing in mono are both great places to start understanding how to get strong mixes. However, know that these can only take you so far. It is important not to get too glued down to any of these concepts considering that every track is different and needs a rather unique approach. But starting out by learning these styles is a great idea.
5. Start Implementing Automation
Automation is a great way to start getting your tracks into a more dynamic space. You don’t even have to start with anything but volume. The most useful part of automation is how much control it brings to your levels. Try beefing up that extra chorus with slightly more volume from the core elements of your mix. Volume automation opens up the world of amplitude management, you can pick and choose how and where dynamics are taking place. Eventually, you will start using this in everything you do, better to start now than later!
6. Try Using Reference Tracks
This one is somewhat of a hush hush secret among many engineers. But there is nothing wrong with using other mixes to enhance your own. Pick out a song that sounds great to you, preferably in a comparable genre to that of your song. You can even go as far to using a spectrum analyzer to see where you stack to the other mix. However, you implement this tip, take advantage of all the great mixes that already exist.
7. Learn Your Frequencies
One of the most valuable things you acquire in your mixing journey is a strong sense of frequency. Work at getting to the point where you can hear where your tracks need adjustment. Being able to do this will save you so much time and yield much better sounding mixes. This is a skill that takes much longer to learn if you do not actively pursue it. Try out something like soundgym.co to break down the learning curve. For many, this will be one of the best things you can do for your ears.
8. Do it Every Day
Practice makes perfect. Many of the skills required for developing as an audio engineer will come a lot quicker if you are working on them daily. Mixing once a week is okay, mixing every day is fantastic. It takes a lot of dispone to keep up with all the things there are to learn. It is for this reason that daily focus becomes so important. For example, try spending a week just on learning compression, everyday research about techniques and then practice using them. This kind of daily routine is not one many people are willing to commit to, but for those that do, it shows.
9. Have the Right Gear
Getting the right gear for the job is key when mixing. Yes, I am talking about your monitors. Listen, I am all for recording on a budget, I get it. But you can only cut corners so much before your left with an unsatisfactory result. Thankfully, getting a great set of monitors doesn’t have to break the bank. Something like KRK ROKITs or even a set of PreSonus Eris 3.5s is WAY better than earbuds.
10. Keep Things Simple
With all these tips and tricks, it can be easy to forget that the core idea of mixing is that of tweaking. Yes, exceptions to this do exist, but most of the time you don’t need to do as much as you might be thinking. If you feel as though you just cannot get the sound you’re looking for, your problem may be elsewhere. After all, you can only polish garbage so much, so get the recording right going in.
Hopefully, you will have found these 10 tips to be of some use in your own situation. While some of the specifics might be for individuals, I think there is something for everyone here. Furthermore, don’t feel bad if you struggle to implement everything on this list at once. Everything listed will take time to grow comfortable with, that’s just the way it is. As with many of the great things in life, learning to mix is hard but worthwhile process.