There are a lot of things to consider when you start with mixing. If you are not a big fan of the professional advice and you would rather hear more practical stuff on how to get a cleaner, louder & more transparent mix by using various techniques, keep reading.
1. How can I improve my mix?
The goal here is to know how to mix individual instruments because that’s the primary key how to improve your mix. No such a plugin will make your sound better by pushing the one button. It’s about small steps and little corrections, and you have to know where to make these tweaks to see some difference. As I mentioned in our previous posts, a great approach how to start with is to start with a single sound and make it perfect (before that, make sure that sound you are working on you will really use and don’t remove over time.) Also, check this post How To Improve Your Sound (With 8 Tips.)
So here are some practical tips what you could use as a routine when mixing:
1. Don’t start with random sounds when writing (composing)
This step goes back to the writing process. You have to realize that you can’t do the excellent mixing of the sound if the sound itself isn’t right. Sometimes, the sound itself sounds great, and you just ask yourself, “wow that sound won’t even need the mixing,” and you will do the mixing of it anyway and make it much better. How is that possible?
Because you carefully picked the sounds that you are searched for some time until it had fulfilled you. THEN the mixing will have a real foundation and will improve the source audio instead of adding random sounds where mixing can’t do that magic and use the maximum potential.
2. Use The Spectrum Analyzer To See The Frequencies And To Make Clean Mix
Use this tool to determine where your sounds need a boost, where is the empty region, and fulfill that part with the appropriate sounds in the spectrum range. For instance, if you will rely only on your ears, for some time, and then apply a spectrum analyzer, you will see the regions that would be improved. The reason is that your ears will get used to it very fast, and that would cause the imbalance of your sounds. This little tool will make your mix more balanced that will result in the cleaner sound. Keep in mind that this is a must in the music producer’s plugin inventory.
3. Use Heavy Parallel Compression On Your Break/Loop Drums
On the flip side, to get the more transparent sound, you would use parallel (NY) compression, at least when it comes to mixing drums. This technique is good to use on your breaks or loops to consolidate them and fill that space in the background but also to add the character to your track. It will also improve the loudness, which you can see in the spectrum analyzer. In most of the plugins, the default parallel compression settings are right to use on your main drum bus.
For example, I made some tweaks in FabFilter Pro C to show you how to make more smashed and transparent drums with your breaks/loops – In this example, I used fast drum & bass loop:
Settings I’ve used:
Threshold -60 dB
Attack 0.02 Ms
Release 10 Ms
Dry Gain: 0 dB
Wet Gain: 36 dB
As you can see, the second version is more merged and without any significant peaks. That’s what you need when you want to make your drums more smooth and transparent and fill the empty space in the background. It’s a perfect thing to get rid of “emptiness” or that silence, where something should happen.
4. Make Sounds Compatible Each Other
This is pretty basic, but I’ll mention it anyway. Mixing isn’t about applying particular fixed settings of your effects and tools because every mixdown means different settings. Yes, there are some guidelines, and pre-made presets that you can use anytime in the project, but keep in mind that it’s the actual project that needs your attention to get the best possible sound. With that said, it’s also better to make little tweaks and corrections to make your entire project balanced and on point.
5. Remove Unwanted Low-End Artifacts From Non-Low-End Sounds
By “non-low-end sounds,” I mean cutting off the low frequencies of sounds that aren’t low-end focused and can decrease the quality. For instance, consider to cut the very low frequencies from the pads, some sort of percussions, textures, effects, vocals, etc. that may interfere with your sub, bass, kicks, and other main low-end focused instruments. This is the most fundamental and effective technique for instant results and general improvement.
Also, it’s the same with the high frequencies where the main thing is to determine which instruments you want to have in the front and what you to get rid of to let the excel only those which sound good.
2. How do I make my mix less muddy?
6. Avoid To Have Too Many Instruments In The Same Frequency Range
Too many instruments can make your mix muddy but also make your mixes worse in any frequency range not only in the low-end and lower-mid region, which are considered as a frequency ranges of the muddy mixes. Try to avoid that and place your instruments smarter to fill up your spectrum correctly and prevent possible problems.
However, It doesn’t mean that you cannot use various instruments in the same frequency range. Just keep in mind that you have to properly use an appropriate technique in that situation to avoid clashing of the instruments with the same frequencies.
7. Compare It With Your Favourite Tracks In The Same Genre
When you will feel like you are not sure if the actual sound is mixed correctly or would be better done, use some reference tracks to compare your version with the tune that you like. If you are using a great pair of monitors or headphones, you will be able to make these quick tweaks that will improve your sound in general. That’s because they spent hours to make the track sound great, and you will quickly recognize which part needs your attention.
It could be quick and easy changes like boosting, cutting, frequencies, adding simple compression that will make a huge difference, reduce the stereo width, decrease the levels on specific instruments, it’s that simple. The beautiful thing about this is that you can see some significant sound improvements when making A/B comparison.
8. Work With High Quality Sounds
You just can’t improve your mixes if the original sounds are weak. Rather than using ordinary sounds, find sounds that will have potential, and it will be easier to mix them. On the flip side, when you are writing music, and you will use not very good sounds there, then mixing would change into treat/fixing mode, and you don’t do mixing anymore.
That said, it’s not a condition to find sounds with a purpose to be able to make significant mixing, but the sound itself (if it’s an instrument, effect, vocal, whatever.) You have to know the frequencies of that sound and actually seeing them with a spectrum analyzer to determine if it’s right to sound when composing. So basically, it’s not about the mixing as much as about the writing music. Finally, the mixing is very important, and there is no doubt about it. But it underlies the composition – how good the composition/writing is, that quality the mixing process will be.
3. How can I make my mixes sound more professional?
9. Compress Smarter
You have to be cautious when it comes to compression. When you get to the level where your single instrument sounds good, group the similar instruments into one bus and apply for the compression again. For example, group all your main drums into one drum bus where you will use the compression that will create the consistency of your drums and create some kind of tension. When doing that, recommended compression for drum bus is parallel compression that will create mentioned consistency. This will also make your drums louder because it will have more headroom.
10. Pay attention to Edgy Sounds
When mixing, you may have a tendency to add the levels up on sounds that sounds good, so you want to elevate it in the mix. There is nothing wrong with it until you will use it on crazy sounds. For example – if you will make the loud lead and keep it playing, that would be a good decision right. But I am talking about sounds that are hidden somewhere in the mix and would cause distractions.
In addition, it’s not likely that you will hear these sounds when you have started the new track from scratch, and you are worked hours on that. You can begin noticing these sounds in another day, so then you can quickly identify and fix them. With that said, don’t pay too much attention to fixing these hidden edgy sounds on the first day and instead focus on things that matter. After relisten, there will be a higher chance that you will hear some issues.
11. Have Schema To Appeal Recording Labels
This is a good tip for you if you want to keep yourself organized and definitely will make your sound more professional. You have to have some kind of schema where you will follow the underlying patterns and applying it on your other tracks. Reason for that is if you change your habits, your other songs/tracks would sound a little different, and the sound, in general, wouldn’t be same. That’s the approach that Record Labels are looking for when it comes to releasing music.
They will look for your tracks, and if on each track was applied different production methods/techniques, then it wouldn’t be as good for them as when you have consistent sound across your all songs. But anyway, it’s good to do that way if you are planning to release even in your label. The best thing about that is you can change the approach of your production methods over time, but it’s a not professional approach to change the production methods from one day to another.
12. Don’t Do Everything At once
This is more tip about the writing music than actual mixing it. Anyway, it’s part of that, and to be able to make a great mix, you have to work on your composition; otherwise, the mixing loses the sense. Similar to the tip above – Keep in mind that you have to know what’s the part that needs your attention to be able to develop it as you composing. For instance, try to make a drum pattern and make more variations of that. Then create the bones of your entire track from that, where you will start from the intro with some micro drums variation, which will build into main drums in the drop. After your main drums sound brilliant with all that percussions, and small details on it. Then you can start applying other different sounds like pads, synths, effects, etc.
However, it’s just progression. You don’t need to follow that schema – it just keeps your mind on things that matter, and you know where you want to focus, which will make your sound more shape and on the point. Don’t jump from one sound to another unless you feel incredibly productive in that part. It’s all about finding what will work best for you, and having that laser focus on one thing would definitely help you with it.
13. Use Mid/Side (M/S) Processing In Your Mix
If you are using quality EQplugin, most of the time, you can choose from the three modes that allow you to process your audio differently.
These modes are:
2. Left/Right (L/R)
3. Mid/Side (M/S)
This is a pretty useful technique that will take place when applied on your single drums as same as on the leading drum group. When using on individual drums, feel free to add more sides in the specific frequency range to your overheads, tambs, percussions, and cymbals; meanwhile, boosting mids would be suitable for snare, kick, bass and other essential sounds because you want to have main elements in the middle. Note that you have to use this processing very carefully and make a lot of comparisons to know the difference accurately and if it sounds better or not. From the beginning, try instead make small boosts and cuts than radical to don’t overkill it and avoid to hurt your mix.
For better understanding, check these two videos: