When it comes to creating good music, capturing the right mood and melodic structure is only 30-40% of the battle. The most important element of any song is the over all mix. If the mix is bad, the credibility of the track is thrown out the window.
Mixing is similar to cooking – just because you have all the right seasonings and ingredients in front of you doesn’t mean you can make a gourmet meal.
Mixing tips that’ll help you get the most out of your home recording.
1. Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S)
Refrain from cluttering your mix – focus in on lead instruments. Only add instruments and extra sounds as needed, this will make mixing a lot easier for you.
2. Loudness Wars – Turn Me Up!
We’re in a world where people think the louder the music is the better. The truth is, the louder the volume the more susceptible you are to ear fatigue which will alter your judgment. Mixing at lower levels will allow you to:
Hear sounds more clearly
enhance your stereo interpretation of the mix
and save your ears.
Also, if the music sounds good at low volumes it will sound just as good or better when cranked up during the mastering stage. So please, stop pushing levels to compensate for lack of skill and or musical construction.
3. Getting Crazy With Dynamics
Analyze your RAW mix before piling on fx. People get into this habit of processing the hell out of sounds without understanding what their track needs.
I see it all the time in on forums:
“Can you send over you Fl Studio Mastering Preset?”
“Dude what’s your processing chain?”
“What’s the typical mastering chain for Hip Hop”
These guys get a few presets and slap them everywhere.
4. Everything Must Fit Together
Stop praising isolated sounds! Some of you may call these 1 shots or riffs (whatever). To often I see indie music makers blowing smoke up their own yang simply because they have a good guitar lick, kick, bass or horn line.
Ever been in the studio with that one person who goes “You hear that bass (or whatever sound it is)?.. YOUR HEAR THAT BASS MAN?!”.
Normally, this person doesn’t realize that it’s still a POS if it doesn’t fit the rest of the track. Just like you can have a really tacky sounding lead synth, but it sounds perfect when mixed with the rest of the instruments in the track.
What I’m saying is everything has to blend well, every sound must fit in the pocket – every sound must compliment the other sounds.
One fail proof way to do this:
Build around your main sounds… The instruments that make the meat of the song. Focus on those and all the other sounds will fall in place.
If you need help with this or have questions please do ask
5. Avoid Ear Fatigue
Give your ear, your gear and your brain a break! Once you’ve made a track and adjusted your levels (creating a decent blend) take a break and come back to it later.
If you find yourself doing this several times that’s fine.
One of the worst things you can do is put 10 hours into a track only to come back and find out that it sucks. If you create a piece of music that has potential, save it and come back to it later.
Some people suggest that you wait until the next day, I strongly suggest you comeback to it in a couple of hours. Each time you adjust the track save it as a different name this way you can always go backwards.
6. Test Your Mix On Multiple Speakers
When I started producing music I struggled with my mixes because I never tested them on other speakers or different environments.
Of course everything is going to sound good on your monitors (some of them LIE!) a good percent of them are made to keep you inspired to create so it has this nice plush sound to them. So what would happen is I’d create a piece of music, hand it to my clients or go to the studio and press play and I’d be embarrassed by the sound I heard.
I’d sit there and say “yea it sounds soo much better at home”
To fix this, I would do is bounce the song to CD/Mp3 So I could hear it on my iPod, car system, friend’s car system as well as other studios. This helped tremendously, not only did it improve my mixes but it taught me how to listen to and really understand what my monitors were telling me. I learned what to trust and what not to with these little experiments.
7. Learn Your Basic Mixing Tools
This should actually be number 1
Understanding and knowing how to use (and when to use) basic mixing tools is vital to the outcome of your mix. It would be wise for you to get an understanding of the following tools:
There are more, but these are the main ones you need to focus on.
8. We Don’t Want Any (Red)
For those of us that use hardware units such as:
– clipping in the red isn’t a big deal, in fact, it adds warmth and character to your sounds. If you’re all digital, meaning software such as: Logic, Reason, Fl Studio, Pro tools and other applications, then RED is your enemy. Never clip in the digital world
keep the meters in the safe zone (yellow and green).
9. A little Compression Never Hurt Anyone
In my honest opinion I think compression can be avoided (in most cases) if your filtering is done correctly. There are times when compressor is needed but the truth is most people don’t know how to use it creatively or correctly. Most people use it as a way to push levels to extreme volumes. The main purpose of a compressor is to even out the levels through your song.
I like using compression to manipulate my sound for example: I will purposely over compress hi hats to make them sound as if they are breathing in and out of the track it gives it life.
10. Sound Processing
If you have hardware units by all means process your sounds through them. What I mean by process (if you don’t already know) is route your outs puts so they hit you hardware then record them into your daw. If you have a good sound card and multiple I/Os (ins and outs) this will be a breeze because you’d be able to setup numerous routing configurations at the same time. I use a Delta 1010 sound card and have multiple routing configs that go to the following pieces of hardware:
Akai Mpc 3000
This helps fatten up your overall sound by adding tolerable distortion that results in a nice warm/fat sound.
Just A Few Extra Tips:
Experiment! Once you have the basic understanding of EQ, Compression, Reverb etc begin experimenting with them as much as you can. I love eqing and gating my reverb units or as I mentioned early over compressing certain elements of my track for a certain feel.
Lastly…. I like to live by one rule and that rule is – If it sounds good it is good