Finding ways to improve your mixes can be difficult (see the mixing basics blog), and there are no black and white rules. We created these 9 steps to help you improve your mixes in the best way possible, before you move on to mastering.
1. Understand what you want from your mix before mixing
Before starting a mix, create a rough version and listen for a couple of days. This allows for approaches and ideas to present themselves organically. The music should dictate the mix, not the other way around. This is a good way to get out of ruts and habits and endless cycles of noticing things you’re not happy with and changing direction.
2. Try not to solo everything
Using solo is useful for cleaning up noises, or making sure your edits are tight. However, EQ-ing and compressing sounds in solo mode can cause them to clash and compete when put together. Mixing should get all parts of a song to work together as a whole. Soloing this way can make parts sound thin and small, but when placed into the mix with the fuller lead elements it works.
3. Make the most of filtering
High-pass and low-pass filters can be your best friends in a mix. Rolling off the lows, and occasionally the highs, on tracks that you think don’t need them actually opens up a lot of space you didn’t know you had. Again, don’t worry if the sound is slightly strange and thin when soloed – it only matters what individual parts sound like when mixed with everything else.
4. When stuck in a rut, go crazy
Obviously, we’re all striving for a mix that sounds balanced, defined, and well-proportioned. But a mix should also be interesting. If you get stuck in a rut this could be the perfect time to get lost in experiments. Try reverb and delay in ways you wouldn’t normally, run unusual sounds through a synth, use that EQ technique you’ve never used before. This could result in a terrible sounding mix or you stumble on your new signature sound. At least it gets you out of your rut and makes you understand what works best with the track.
5. Lower your levels
Recording too hot unnecessarily pushes your recording into harsh clipping territory. An average level of -18dB or a peak level of around -10dB on your faders will keep your signals safe from clipping. If you want it louder, turn up the volume on your speakers. You’ll save lots of headroom on your mix ready for mastering and your mixes will sound more open, intricate, and dynamic as a result.
6. Don’t rely on compression to set your levels
This is a crucial step, ignoring this can hamper your efforts to improve your mixes. Compressors tame wildly dynamic performances and add character, but don’t rely on it to set the final level of your tracks. If you do this while leaving volume faders static, it results in a lifeless mix. Once you’ve got a basic balance between all your elements, automate small fader rides. This helps bring parts together in a more natural and musical way.
7. Get rid of parts that do the same job
When faced with a busy, dense mix, ask yourself “do all the parts really need to be there?” before committing time to editing each part. Give each individual part space. Listen to the track multiple times with a different part turned off each time to work out what adds to the track and what you could go without. Sounds that are complementary instead of similar are more beneficial (i.e. a short, attack-y sound with a softer, sustained sound). If multiple sounds are too similar do you really need them all? Treat a mix like an arrangement and this can take the finished track a long way.
8. Listen to your mix through multiple mediums
Having a high-quality monitoring setup and room treatment is incredibly important, but once your track is completed and becomes a song, it is unlikely that it will be listened to through this setup. Music sounds different when played through different mediums, so listen to it through different mediums! Laptop speakers, earbuds, in the car, out of your phone. If it sounds great on all these systems then your mix is done. If not, take note of the problems go back to the mix, fix them and repeat the process.
9. Finally, think from a fan’s perspective
With the ease and quality of editing and correction tools and infinite tracks, it’s easy to get carried away and be forever finding the perfect mix. But once it’s completed, people don’t listen to it as a mix, they listen to it as a song. They won’t sit there intently looking for mistakes. If you really want to find mistakes in your mix, you always will. Listen from the perspective of a fan.
Improve your Mixes
If possible, take some time away from your tracks. Listen to your mix away from your computer to get you out of producer-mode and into music-fan-mode. If something sticks out as sounding wrong then it needs fixing. If the song comes across as something you would enjoy listening to, then the mix is done. Don’t waste time constantly trying to find things wrong, move on.