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 mixes by using various techniques, keep reading.
1. How can I improve my mix?
The goal here is to know how to mix individual instruments, as that is the primary key to improving your mix. No plugin will make your sound better by pushing the one button. It’s about small steps and corrections. You have to know where to make these tweaks to hear the difference. As I mentioned in our previous posts, a great approach is to start with a single sound and make it perfect. Make sure that you will use the sound you are working and that you won’t remove it later down the line.) Also, check this post How To Improve Your Sound (With 8 Tips.)
Here are some practical tips you can use in your mixing routine
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 mix the sound if the sound itself isn’t right. Sometimes, the sound itself sounds great, and you think to yourself, “wow, that sound won’t even need the mixing,” though you do the mixing anyway and make it much better. How is that possible?
This is because you carefully picked the sounds after searching for some time. THEN the mixing had a real foundation and improved the source audio instead of adding random sounds where mixing can’t provide maximum potential.
2. Use The Spectrum Analyzer To See Frequencies And Make a Clean Mix
Use this tool to determine where your sounds need a boost and where the empty regions are to fulfill that part with the appropriate sounds in the spectrum range. For instance, if you rely only on your ears for some time, and then apply a spectrum analyzer, you will see the regions that can be improved. The reason is that your ears will get used to it very fast, which can cause the imbalance of your sounds. This little tool creates a more balanced mix and results in a 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 a more transparent sound, you can 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, though it also adds 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 perfect for use on your main drum bus.
For example, I made some tweaks in FabFilter Pro C to show you how to make smashed yet 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 glued without any significant peaks. That’s what you need when you want to make your drums smoother and more transparent to fill the empty space in the background. It’s perfect for getting rid of “emptiness” or 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, as every mixdown requires 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 cutting the very low frequencies from the pads, percussion, 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 high frequencies where the main thing is to determine which instruments you want to have in the front and which instruments you want to get rid of to let the good ones excel.
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 not only make your mix muddy ,but also make your mixes worse in any frequency range beyond the low-end and lower-mid region, which are considered frequency ranges of muddy mixes. Try to avoid that and be smart when placing your instruments 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 use an appropriate technique in that situation to avoid clashing of the instruments with the same frequencies.
7. Compare It With Your Favorite Tracks In The Same Genre
When you feel like you are not sure if the actual sound is mixed correctly or could be mixed better, use some reference tracks to compare your version with a 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 pro producers and mix engineers spend hours to make a track sound great and you will quickly recognize which part needs your attention.
It could be quick and easy changes, such as boosting or cuttingfrequencies, adding simple compression, reducing the stereo width, decreasing the levels on specific instruments, etc. 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 have potentialso they are easier to mix. On the flip side, when you are writing music and not using great sound, then mixing changes into treating/fixing mode.
With that said, it’s not a condition to find sounds for the purpose of better mixing, but the sound itself (if it’s an instrument, effect, vocal, whatever.) You have to know the frequencies of that sound or see them with a spectrum analyzer to determine if they are right to use when composing. It’s not about the mixing as much as about the writing music. Finally, mixing is very important, and there is no doubt about it. However, what lies underneath is the composition. The better the composition/writing is, the higher quality the mixing is.
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 compression again. For example, group all your main drums into one drum bus and use compression to create consistency in drums and create some kind of tension. When creating consistency, I recommend parallel compression for the drum bus. This will also make your drums louder because they will have more headroom.
10. Pay attention to Edgy Sounds
When mixing, you may have a tendency to increase levels on sounds that sound good, as you want to elevate it in the mix. There is nothing wrong with it until you do it with crazy sounds. For example – if you make the lead loud and keep it playing, it can be a good decision. However, I am talking about sounds that are hidden somewhere in the mix and can cause distractions.
In addition, it’s not likely that you will hear these sounds when you start the new track from scratch and work for hours on it. You might begin to notice these sounds on another day, allowing you to 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 a re-listen, 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 will definitely wmake your sound more professional. You have to have some kind of schema to follow the underlying patterns and apply it on your other tracks. The reason for that is if you change your habits, your other songs/tracks would sound a little different, and the sound, in general, won’t be same. That’s the approach that Record Labels are looking for when it comes to releasing music.
If each track uses different production methods/techniques, it’s not as good as when you have a consistent sound across your all songs. It’s good to do it that way if you are planning to release, even on your own label. The best thing about that is you can change the approach of your production methods over time, though 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 or less a tip about the writing music than actually mixing it. 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 parts need your attention so you can develop them as you compose. 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 drum variations, which will build into main drums in the drop. After your main drums sound brilliant with percussion and other small details, you can start applying other sounds like pads, synths, effects, etc.
It’s just progression. You don’t need to follow that schema – it just keeps your mind on things that matter. You know where you want to focus, which will shape your sound better. Don’t jump from one sound to another unless you feel incredibly productive in that part. It’s all about finding what works best for you and having laser focus on one thing definitely helps.
13. Use Mid/Side (M/S) Processing In Your Mix
If you are using quality EQ plugins, 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 takes place when applied on your single drums and leading drum group. When using this technique on individual drums, feel free to add more sides in the specific frequency range to your overheads, tambourines, percussion, and cymbals; meanwhile, boosting mids might be suitable for snare, kick, bass and other essential sounds, as 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 whether it sounds better or not. From the beginning, try make small boosts and cuts instead of radical decision so you don’t kill your mix.
For a better understanding, check these two videos:
Based in Ampang, Malaysia. I go by M4-P. Started as a rapper/songwriter back in 2015 then quickly and gradually developed my skills to become a beatmaker, music producer, sound designer, and audio engineer. I currently work in a local underground record label called KOKADAIMON that has a number of very talented artists and producers.