27 Mixing Tips That 113 Engineers Wish They Would’ve Learned Sooner
Hi everybody, Avi here.
I went and researched in Facebook groups about the best mixing tips that sound engineers wish they would’ve learned sooner. I was expecting the same old regular things, but I was very surprised to find out how helpful their tips actually were! So this is the list I’ve made for you.
1. Learning About Crest Factor
The Crest Factor is defined as the ratio of the peak to RMS value of the signal.
In simple words, it is the distance between the highest RMS and the highest peak of the signal. When you have a high Crest Factor value, it means that the signal is more dynamic. When you have a low Crest Factor value, it means that the signal is more squashed or compressed. It affects the way we perceive loudness. Keeping a good RMS to Peak ratio might help you get higher levels while still keeping the dynamics intact.
For example, in low frequencies like bass, a high crest factor value won’t mean you have more level or more energy, in fact, when you have high-level low frequencies you might lose some of the overall perceived loudness. But low RMS to Peak value in the mid-range will increase the overall perceived loudness. A well-balanced Crest Factor across the mix will give you the best results. It takes some time and practice but in the end, you will nail it. This will allow you to get clear and loud mixes without sounding squashed and lifeless.
2. Don’t Mix In High Levels
Most of the time, we want to crank up the volume to enjoy the music while we mix. This will probably be a bad idea, and here is why:
* You get tired very soon without noticing, a great recipe for a bad mix.
* The music gets compressed just by the physical limitations of your speakers so you don’t really hear the actual source.
* Room acoustics problems and unwanted resonances become very significant and distort your perception, leading you to wrong judgment and eventually bad mix.
* Protect your ears by mixing in low levels. Over the years you will lose big parts of your hearing that will never come back. So you better delay it by not exposing yourself to high levels daily.
3. Bus processing and Groups
This will not only save you a load of mixing time and CPU but it also makes things a lot simpler. For example, If you’ve got multiple “background vocal” tracks, for instance. Route them all to a bus and do your processing (EQ, compression, etc) on the buses instead of the individual channels, same with ad-libs, harmonies, doubles, etc.
Of course, you can always do SOME processing on the individual channels, but you won’t end up with 7 plugins on each channel and this will save you a lot of CPU and a lot of headache.
4. Gain Staging
This is something we all have a tendency to forget. Every plugin, and every outboard equipment is built to have a “Unity Gain” or a “sweet spot”. This is the spot where this particular device will sound the best. This means that if a certain device has an input, you want it to be set high enough and away from the noise floor to give a healthy signal but not too high in order to keep it far enough from distortion. This “sweet spot” usually sits between 60% to 90% gain.
Even plugins and DAW’s have these “level sweet spots”. when it comes to inputs in general, you want your signal to also live between 60% to 90%.
With outputs it’s a little different, you can even get it to 10% and still be ok.
So when you’re mixing, it’s important to build a good gain structure and make sure every device or plugin on your chain will work at its sweet spot. This builds up along the mixing process, giving you clarity, punch, and overall more professional sound.
5. Mixing Templates
Basically, the idea is to have a template with all your routings, plugins, sends, aux’s and groups already laid out for you, so you won’t have to spend the time to create them from scratch with every mix you start. Don’t be lazy and do it on your next project. Start with a list of what you use every mix, open a new project on your DAW and start building your first mixing template.
6. Subtractive EQing
I believe that this is the right way to work with an EQ for at least 80% of the time. The idea is to listen to a source and start with taking out the frequencies you don’t like instead adding frequencies that you do like. The thing is when you subtract some frequencies from a source the things you do like about it are almost automatically come out without you having to boost them. This leaves you with a more natural sound overall. Subtractive EQ may also help create more space and room for other things in your mix.
7. Less is More
Just because you have tons of plugins doesn’t mean you have to use them. Some mix engineers feel the need to use tens of plugins to finish a mix, this can’t be further from the truth. Most of the time we can use one or two EQs, and two or three compressors and one delay and one reverb and this is more than enough as our bred and butter. It works the same for almost everything in the music production and mixing world. You don’t have to EQ or compress everything, you don’t have to emphasize any little channel in your mix, it’s ok. This is what I’m saying to my OCD self every time I start a new mix.
8. Multiband Processing
Think about it, you can do multiband distortion, multiband saturation, multiband compression, multiband delay… you can pretty much divide any source to multiple bands and shape each and every one of them separately. If this is not the ultimate control, then I don’t know what is. Back in the old days when we were using mostly hardware, it wasn’t the easiest thing to achieve, but today, when everything is virtualized, the possibilities are literally endless. even though I’m a minimalist, I can use a cool ninja trick here and there every once in a while.
9. Mid/Side EQing
The Mid/Side EQ is the mastering engineer’s best friend. Most of the applications I can think about with this method are mastering related but there are things you can use it in mixing. Let’s say you have a stereo piano channel. This piano is playing a part that is very midrange biased and it happened to clash with the vocals a little bit. Of course, we can just poke a hole in its frequency spectrum with a regular EQ and make a lot of room for the vocal. But we can also do it only on the center channel and leave the stereo’s midrange “open”. This will make room for the vocals while leaving the stereo’s midrange untouched. If this is not having our cake and eat it too, then I don’t know what is, I love cake!
10. Mixing In Mono
I refused to do this for such a long time, didn’t see the point in that. If everybody is already listening in stereo why would I care about how will it sound in mono?? Well my friends, as musicians we have to keep our minds wide open. In your next mix, try to switch the master channel to mono from time to time and stay there for a while. After a few minutes, you’d start to hear what is missing in your mix. I’ll let Graham do the rest, watch his great video.
11. Stop Overthinking
Just go with your guts, let the universe mix for you, I’m completely serious. I have hours and hours of obsessing and feeling bad about my mixing abilities and we all have that. Especially when you compare yourself to grammy-winning, world-renown mixing engineers. Don’t do that! Just mix. Use your intuition and your instincts to quickly find the right place for all the elements in your mix, it is totally possible.
Some of the best engineers I know are not even tech guys, they are using there intuition and gut feeling more than everything. Of course, you have to have a lot of experience to get to this point but trust me, if you practice enough you’ll get there in no time.
12. Invest In Good Equipment
Yeah I know, we always hear how equipment is not the most important thing and it’s true, but when you get to that high enough level you’d be able to actually understand the difference between the cheap stuff and quality gear. This is why I always suggest not to start your music-making journey with high-end equipment. If you work with cheap and even bad equipment, after a while you start to feel like it’s not enough for your needs anymore. This point in your mixing evolution is priceless! The minute you decide to buy a new preamp, or new monitors, or a new microphone, or even better cables, and developed the ability to actually hear the differences… this is exactly why we enjoy and appreciate quality gear. Some of us can’t stop the obsession and become collectors of quality gear and I know at least 4 guys that are crazy like that 🙂
13. Make a List
It seems very simple and you would think that just listening to the mix over and over again would be enough for you to remember exactly what to fix. It may be right but I promise you that writing down some things will save you a lot of precious time. So this is how I do it, I keep a pen and paper on my studio desk and making a list listening only to my exported files. You can do it with a text file opened in the background and just make a list there. This might seem like a small thing but it’ll greatly improve your workflow.
14. Keeping The Rough Mix As Reference
I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Sometimes there’s a certain magic in the first mixdown we do. It’ll be a smart move to keep the rough mix, and not just the mixdown file but the whole project. That way, if you lost your way during mixing you would always have an older basic version to roll back to. Just like time machine backup for your mix.
15. A Good Input Will Grant You With Good Output
Well, it’s kind of obvious but it’s something we need to remind ourselves from time to time. Our output quality can only be as good as the input. Making sure you check all this list will help keeping you in the safe zone.
* A good room acoustics
* Good microphone, DI or pickup.
* High-quality cables.
* High-quality connectors.
* Healthy input level into the preamp.
* Good input level into the audio interface.
* Keeping a good gain structure throughout the whole signal path.
16. Always Keep Your Sub Bass Information In Mono
The very low frequencies are nondirectional, meaning, you can’t easily detect where the sound is coming from, left speaker or right speaker. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep this information in stereo. Usually if you focus your sub 100hz information to the center channel (mono), it’ll help you get a more solid low range. better kicks, more focused bass sounds and equal distribution of energy across the stereo field.
17. Use Automation To Boost Specific Things
This is one of the best things you can do to emphasize emotions in your song. As a music producer, you create a lot of small ear candies inside the production that help increase the emotional impact of the song. These things are often get hidden behind the big and basic things. For example, a pop song is composed of drums, bass, harmony element and a melody element. This is practically what holds the song and makes it what it is, the pillar elements as I like to call them. With these basic channels, you add a lot of little things that are adding a lot of value and even magic to the song. It can be samples, percussion sounds, background vocals and add-ons, small melody parts like guitars, synths and even a cool riff in the bass channel. All these sweet things are making our song a lot more interesting and fun to listen to. With automation, you can boost these things and bring them to the front of your mix to enhance the listener’s experience and make it richer.
18. Solo Things Less
Sometimes when we mix we have a tendency to obsess over one random channel. we try to make it perfect as we listen to it in solo mode. But after a while it might lose its place inside the mix, it might clash with other elements or just get out of context. A lot of mix engineers believe that if you use the solo button less you will never lose your way inside the big picture. I like this tip because it’s not that obvious and it might have a big impact on the end result.
19. 10-20Hz Is Useless For Music When Trying To Go Louder
Ok, let’s tell the absolute truth about it, no one can hear these frequencies but the system itself. There is no benefit in keeping them, they’re only a waste of important energy that can be invested in more audible frequencies that are actually valuable to the production. To be honest, when I’m working on a master I just cut everything under 25hz without even thinking about it. And if I want to go louder I cut even more. That’s just me.
20. Listen To Your Mix OUTSIDE of Your Studio
Yeah, I’m not just saying listen to your mix on more speakers or more headphones, this is too obvious. When you get to the final stage of your mix try taking it out of your studio. Listen to it in your car stereo, try different headphones, try a friend’s studio, try your mom’s car, your girlfriend’s phone speaker, and try every possible system you have available around you. Also try to listen in different locations. It’s all about human perception. The human mind is very complicated and you always find new things when you change the viewing angle. Make sure to make a list of everything you find and want to change or fix, this alone might drastically improve your mix.
21. Good Usage Of Panning
Panning can not only create width but also consequently creates focus in the sum image. Try to create the stereo feeling with high-frequency content channels. Things you can throw to the sides are percussions, high guitars, high strings and high-frequency channels in general.
With the lower frequency channels you should be more careful and not drift too far to the sides, this might create a “too much weight on one side of the boat” effect and throw your mix off balance.
Tip: Try to pan things to the sides based on energy. That means that low-frequency content channels won’t go too far away from the center unless you have another channel that is similar in content to pan over to the other side. This will make sure the your mix will stay well balanced.
22. Master Bus Processing
Most mix and mastering engineers will tell you to not touch the master channel and they won’t be wrong. But when you reach a certain level as a mix engineer you can allow yourself to do that with confidence and be sure your mix will sound better. If I feel like doing some master bus processing I make it very subtle. Usually, I only use a special compressor that fits my mix in character and style. And even then you can hardly see the reduction needle moving. Sometimes I might use a nice EQ to gently boost some nice high frequencies, just for the extra added color and “glue”. Remember, all master bus processing is done very lightly.
23. Parallel Compression
These days we don’t have to fiddle with complicated routing to get a parallel compression, almost every compressor has a Dry\Wet button. Life is GOOD! Parallel compression is not an obvious effect, it takes a lot of practice to actually be able to hear the differences. I remember my first time doing it, I expected a lot more. But after an hour of testing I started to really notice the differences and learned to create it the right way. The idea is to “compress very hard without compressing at all” I know this makes zero sense but it’s exactly what it is. In simple words, you create a mix between very compressed and very dynamic versions of the same signal. Somewhere in the mix, you’ll find a magic sweet spot that will allow you to enjoy both worlds, simply put, you’d have a super compressed channel with nice dynamic properties. It’s so freaking cool!
24. Range Allocation
This is a fancy name for a very simple thing. Range Allocation is one of the most basic concepts behind mixing music. The idea is to find the right place for each instrument on the frequency spectrum. I’ll let this great video explain this for me.
Something very interesting and unique happens when the signal passes through a good saturation plugin. In my ears, the light distortion effect brings out some hidden qualities in the signal that you didn’t even know were there. Sometimes you’d like the effect and sometimes you won’t but you should try regardless. Some plugins are not even designed to saturate but they have this feature just because it’s a part of their overall sound. Plugins like analog emulations of old hardware EQs and compressors. There are a few dedicated saturation plugins that give you a range of different colors to choose from. You should try them and go with what you like best. Remember, we don’t have to saturate everything, if everything is special then nothing is. Use it wisely.
26. Pushing The Bass Notes Forward
Putting the bass notes forward, slightly off the grid. That helps to make room for the kick transient helping it cut through the mix a lot easier. The very short delay on the bass channel is not noticeable and that way, it doesn’t clash with the kick. You don’t have to do it on any bass part, only on the parts which the bass and the kick are playing notes at the same time.
27. Don’t Over Quantize!
When we start making music it’s so easy to hit that “Q” button and have “perfect timing”. In some cases, this is exactly what we are going for, but in most cases, especially when it’s a real player, playing a real musical part with real human groove, the quantize feature might suck out the life out of the piece. If you didn’t play tight enough, just do another take but try to get it as good as you naturally can. It makes all the difference.
Tip: You can also use under 100% quantization. It means that when you hit that Q button it won’t stick the notes to the grid but give them a little wiggle room. So you can make it 70% accurate, or 80% or however you like it. It’s a great feature that helps you tighten up a part without completely sticking it to the grid.
That’s it my friends, happy mixing!