And maybe you don’t understand why your mixes are muddy, lacking clarity, presence and punch compared to professional mixes?
This post will provide some answers for you and guide you through 10 helpful mixing tips and tricks that will ensure your mix will sound great:
- Group the Tracks for a Faster and Easier Workflow
- Create a Static/Levelled Mix
- Adjust the EQ to Avoid a Muddy mix
- Maintain a Good Balance in Your mix
- Add Compression to Give Your mix Punch and Energy
- Make Your mix Come Alive With Reverb
- Use the pan Knobs to get a Wide Stereo Image
- Remove something from your composition
- Adjust the Automation to Make Your mix Breathe
- Keep it Simple and Work With 3 Criterias in Mind
This article will cover the basic mixing techniques and is intended for you who really need help with getting started with mixing. By the end of it, you too will have the roadmap to mix as the professionals do.
So, without further ado – let’s get to it.
Tip #1: Group the Tracks for a Faster and Easier Workflow
After you have exported all the tracks in your project as individual audio files (stem files), do the following:
- Open a new project and import all the audio tracks.
- Move every audio track into a dedicated group or folder. This will make your mixing workflow much faster.
For example, the violin, cello and double basses track should be moved into the same folder, which you can name “Strings”.
The kick, tom, cymbals, and other
By doing this, you will have a complete and simple overview of your project.
This will be really helpful later when you are working on each separate track on the drums, strings, guitars, etc., and will avoid you scrolling up and down your project, looking for every guitar track you have recorded in the pre-mix.
Also, it enables you to solo out/mute the whole group in just one click, which really makes your work much more efficient.
Tip #2: Create a Static/Levelled Mix
A very important task you have during the recording stage is to make the mixing phase as simple to do as possible.
That is why you have to focus on creating what is called a static mix.
This means that every track you have is at a perfect level and that every instrument has its place in the mix, volume-wise.
And actually, the volume faders are going to be your only tool at this stage.
I am not the best at getting this right every time myself, but this is critically important for laying a solid foundation for getting great results with compression, panning, and reverb as well.
What you do in this stage: Use the volume faders to make the whole mix levelled.
Tip #3: Adjust the EQ to Avoid a Muddy mix
When you have levelled the tracks, with the volume faders you will probably hear and feel that some of the instruments are competing against each other in the mix. This could make the whole mix feel busy.
This is why we use EQ.
The EQ will help you adjust the frequency levels of each track, effectively giving clarity and a crisp feel to every track.
A quick tip: Use an EQ plugin that shows the levels, like this EQ plugin pictured below from Logic Pro. It will give you a visual overview of the graphs and will give you greater control over your track. See the image below to see what I mean.
If you feel that the two instruments are competing too much within the same frequency – adjust one of them to a frequency that is not too busy.
Tip #4: Maintain a Good Balance in Your mix
If you are like me, you like to do a little pre-mixing while you record your tracks. I like the presence of my violins, violas, and guitars to be more on the left side, while I’ll often keep the double basses and cymbals to the right side. So I’ll just pan them right away, right?
Well…getting too eager too early might be a bad idea.
Because, while it is important to get a great stereo image, and the panning adjustment is critical to use, if you get too creative with the panning of the tracks, you could easily make the whole mix unbalanced.
If I am not doing my mixing steps correctly (which still happens too often) my mixes tend to be quite unbalanced, with the most action happening on the left ear
How can you avoid your mixes getting unbalanced?
It is important that you are focused and aware of the ‘risk’ getting too experimental with the panning.
Actually, the smartest thing you can do at this stage is to keep the panning to a minimum and maybe focus on getting a great mono mix
Then you can return to the panning knobs a little later when most of the mix is finished, and your only task is to create a wide stereo image.
If you like to be experimental and want a tool to measure the balance for you – you should download a free balancing plugin.
Tip #5: Add Compression to Give Your mix Punch and Energy
Compression gives you more energy/punch as well as levelling out the volume differences in the mix.
In other words, it gains the lows and reduces the peaks, reducing the distance between quiet and loud sounds.
This is way too often neglected by
Don’t go overboard with the compression, but apply it to certain areas in your mix. It should not be too present in your mix, so focus on subtle changes.
Do you struggle with understanding what the different mechanics do? Here goes:
- Threshold – This determines how loud the sound can go before the compression kicks in.
- Ratio – The ratio determines how much that will get compressed when the threshold is reached.
- Gain – The gain is intended to be a function that makes up for the volume loss you will get when you compress the sound. For example, if you reduce the sound by -6 decibel, you should use the gain know to add + 6.
- Knee – There are sounds above the threshold too. And this is where the knee operates. If you choose to have a soft knee, the sounds above the threshold will get compressed in a longer, smoother way than if you choose a hard knee.
- Attack – This knob determines how fast the compression kicks in after peaking past the threshold.
A quick tip: If you are still struggling to understand how the compressor is used, I recommend that you play around with different presets that come with the compressor plugin in your DAW.
Tip #6: Make Your Mix Come Alive With Reverb
Adding reverb to your tracks has several benefits:
- Reverb softens out hard, loud instruments like brass instruments.
- It also creates a more spacious sound
- Reverb makes a dry recording feel alive and interesting
But beware! If you put too much reverb on all of your tracks, your mix could get muddy and lose the clarity you strive to achieve.
What to do? Well, don’t go overboard with the reverb. I find it useful to add more reverb to instruments that don’t necessarily is the core of the whole song.
In other words, I tend to use reverb more sparingly on the drums, bass and vocals.
Tip #7: Use the pan Knobs to get a Wide Stereo Image
We have already discussed how important it is to wait with the panning function, to keep a well-balanced mix.
And if you have done the job correctly up until this point, your mix should already sound pretty good even though it’s in mono.
However, now it is time to focus on creating a wide, great stereo image.
Here is a simple template that you should always stick to as best as you can:
- Drums, bass, kicks, vocals and lead instruments (like a solo guitar) should always be in the center!
- High strings like viola and violins should be on the left.
- Double basses and cellos on the right
- Try to do a hard panning on the acoustic rhythm guitars plus adding a widener to them to make them really wide.
Sometimes, in your mix, you might struggle to make every single track easily audible. And it is not always the volume that is too low.
Experimenting with the panning and changing the placement of the track could be the solution to make it audible.
(If that doesn’t work either, try to adjust the track’s EQ frequency)
Tip #8: Remove Something From Your Mix
Believe it or not – often you will benefit greatly by removing a track from your mix! It is easy to add layer upon layer when you record your music (especially if you work a lot with MIDI).
And you know what they say – too much of a good thing…
So, just by removing one track (or parts of it), your mix could suddenly sound like a totally different song and make a greater emotional impact.
Tip #9: Adjust the Automation to Make Your mix Breathe
Automation is a trick up your sleeve that really could raise your mix to a whole new level.
What automation primarily does, is making your mix breathe and feel alive. Also, it tightens up the different sections of your song.
For example, if you have a lead vocal that is going to enter right after the guitar solo, you might fade the volume of the guitar so it seamlessly makes room for the vocal entrance.
It could be things like adjusting the volume (maybe the most popular form of automation), so it comes in more quietly and gets stronger as the song progresses, or it could fade out an instrument so the sudden disappearance of it won’t be too noticeable.
If you want a deeper understanding of automation, you should check out this very helpful guide by Izotope.
Tip #10. Keep it Simple and Work With 3 Criterias in Mind
And lastly – keep it simple. Don’t be tempted to do too much with your recording.
Follow all the steps above, but do every single one of them sparingly. After all, you want to improve and enhance the original recording – not create something totally different.
The following three points are your main goals for the mixing phase:
- All tracks in your mix should be easy to hear when played.
- Some instruments (the leads) are more important than others, and should be louder than the rest.
- How your mix sounds as a whole is the most important thing.
Now you know the very basics of the mixing stage. Apply the tips today and you will get instantly better results!
Suggested Further Reading
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