Do you want your mix to sound crisp and fresh? Like a proper, professional song?
There are many reasons why a mix turns muddy, and lacks clarity, presence, and punch. In this article, I will explain what you can do to avoid this.
Through 10 helpful tips for mixing music, you will learn exactly how you make a good mix.
This article will cover the basic audio 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.
- 1. Assign each track into a dedicated group
- 2. Adjust the volume level on all groups
- 3. Adjust the EQ to avoid a muddy mix
- 4. Maintain a good stereo balance in the mix
- 5. Add Compression to Give Your mix Punch and Energy
- 6. Make your mix come alive with reverb
- 7. Getting a wide stereo image
- 8. Remove something from your mix
- 9. Adjust the automation to make your mix breathe
- 10. Keep it simple
1. Assign each track into a dedicated group
After you have exported all the tracks in your original project as individual audio files (a.k.a stem files), do the following:
- First, open a new project and import all the previously exported audio tracks.
- Then, move every audio track into a dedicated group or folder. This will make your mixing workflow much faster and gives you total control when you are mixing vocals, kick drums, and other instrument groups later on.
If you have a violin, cello, and double bass tracks: move all these into the same folder, which you can name “Strings”.
The kick, tom, cymbals, and other percussion instruments, should all be moved into a group named “Percussion”.
Do the same with lead vocals, backup vocals, guitars, and so on. You get the drift.
By doing this, you will have a complete and simple overview of your project right away – which is invaluable when it comes to creating a fast and problem-free workflow.
Select which tracks you are going to group. In Logic Pro you can right-click, then click Create Track Stack and Folder
Grouping the tracks will make your project file a whole lot easier to navigate. For example, if you are trying to locate one of your previously recorded guitars that needs a little tweaking, just click on the guitar group to locate it fast.
Also, it enables you to solo out/mute the whole group in just one click, which really makes your work much more efficient.
2. Adjust the volume level on all groups
Next, let’s create what is called a static mix.
This means that every track in the mix is at a perfect volume level and that every instrument has its place in the mix.
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 a good mix.
Then getting great results with compression, panning, and reverb will be easier as well.
3. Adjust the EQ to avoid a muddy mix
When you are done with the previous step, you will probably hear and feel that some of the instruments are still competing against each other to be heard in the mix.
This is why we use EQ. We use it to adjust high/ low frequencies and other sounds that are in the same frequency range.
Did you know?
The frequency spectrum in which humans can hear spans from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
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.
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.
4. Maintain a good stereo balance in the mix
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 for some reason.
How can you avoid your mixes getting unbalanced?
It is important that you are focused and aware of the ‘risk’ of 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 to begin with.
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.
5. Add Compression to Give Your mix Punch and Energy
Compression gives you more energy/punch as well as leveling 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 many or used in a bad way (like over-compression).
Just don’t use too much compression. Apply it to certain areas in your mix. It should not be too present in your final mix, so focus on subtle changes.
Do you struggle with understanding what the different mechanics of the compressor 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 decibels, 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.
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 so eagerly strive to achieve.
Personally, I tend to use reverb more sparingly on the drums, bass, and vocals.
7. Getting a wide stereo image
We already discussed in point 4 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.
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 add a widener to them to make them really wide.
Sometimes, you might struggle to make every single track easily audible in your mix. 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.
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).
So, just by removing one track, your mix could suddenly sound like a totally different song and make a greater emotional impact.
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 make 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 will enter right after the guitar solo is finished, you might fade the guitar’s volume so it seamlessly makes room for the human voice to shine.
If you want a deeper understanding of automation, you should check out this very helpful guide by Izotope.
10. Keep it simple
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 in the finished mix – not create something totally different.
The following three points are your main goals for the mixing phase:
- All the sounds in your mix should be easy to hear when played.
- Some instruments (the lead guitar, lead vocals, etc.) 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!
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