Six Essential Mixing Tips

[Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Jon Tidey, founder of AudioGeekZine.com and co-host of the popular weekly podcast The Home Recording Show. Check out Jon’s music production studio at EpicSounds.ca where he offers recoding, mixing, mastering and lessons.]

Below I’ve compiled some of my favorite tips that have helped me over the years on the path of learning to mix. I swear by them and guarantee they will help your home studio productions.

  1. For a less cluttered mix, use hi-pass and low-pass filters to better define the range of each instrument. The free BX_Cleansweep plugin will be your new best friend.
  2. Automate everything. With the powerful automation functions available in your DAW there’s no reason to set levels to be just “good enough” for the whole song. Fine tune balances for every section, phrase or syllable if you have to. Same goes for sends and effects.
  3. Left, Right, or Center. Nearly every element of your song can be assigned to one of those 3 panning positions. Don’t fret about finding the perfect pan position for every instrument, or try to make it completely lifelike. Anything other than hard left or right and center will translate differently on every system. You can save those in-between positions for a few select elements.
  4. Take breaks to rest your ears and reset your perspective. Mixing is hard work, every couple hours you need to stop, relax and refresh your body. Interruptions and distractions don’t count as breaks.
  5. All edits completed first. Drum editing, vocal comping and tuning, pocketing bass to kick drum. Those things should be taken care of before the mix stage otherwise you will not be able to develop and maintain a creative flow for the mix.
  6. Experiment. Skip the presets and what seemed to work last time. Take things to the extreme, make things distort, use guitar effects for vocals. Try out all your tools and see what makes them break. Just have fun with it. On your way you will find some unique sounds that can only be found by avoiding the presets.
Jon Tidey

Jon Tidey

Founder of Audio Geek Zine and co-host of the popular weekly podcast The Home Recording Show. Check out Jon’s music production studio at EpicSounds.ca where he offers recoding, mixing, mastering and lessons.
  • http://www.theaudiocafe.co.uk/ Peter Gallacher

    Hi Jon
    Great post, love your top six mixing tips. Really like number 4, not because I’m a lazy git but I’ve seen engineers mix for hours at a time with no breaks and the music turned up full blast. This tends to distort the sound your hearing and make the mix harder to complete. Seriously, taking breaks actually speeds the job up.
    Also, to save your ears listen to the mix through your headphones as appose to your monitor speakers. We’ve all done it, mixed tracks at high volume when all we need to do is hear what we’re playing back. Hopefully, we should only need to put the monitor speakers on when you’re finalizing a mix. Give it a go, you’ll be surprised how well your ears react when they’ve not been volume bashed for the past hour or so.

    • ccon

      I’m sure that Peter means well, but mixing through headphones might be the single worst piece of mixing advice that I’ve ever heard. Go ahead and mix something in headphones, and then sit back and listen to how bad your mix sounds everywhere else. Headphones are horribly inaccurate. There is nothing wrong with checking a mix with headphones to get a different perspective, but using them as your main listening device is an awful idea. First off, headphones are FAR more fatiguing than speakers, and they are not at all accurate. If mixing through headphones was a good idea, then that’s what pros would do. Most pros, however, wouldn’t go near a set of headphones during a mix. If you want to keep your ears fresh, then mix at low volumes, and once in awhile crank up the volume to see how it sounds. Then go right back down to a low volume. If you find yourself constantly wanting to turn up the volume, then something is wrong with your mix. Good mixes sound good at all volumes, and if your mix is good, then you shouldn’t feel compelled to keep cranking it up. Make your mix sound good at a low volume and you’ll be in decent shape. Then crank it up and tailor some of the loose ends. Then go right back down. I used to work in pro studios in Hollywood, but mainly do movie work now, and back then ALL of the hotshit mixers listened at low to medium volumes. Never headphones. Ever.

  • Jon

    I agree with you both, there is a tendency to keep turning up the volume when you’re playing back tracks. It’s more of a habit than a problem with a mix for me, I have done a few mixes through headsets mainly to organise the mix not master it. Then again everybody has a different opinion on how they mix tracks, from compressing and normalising etc.

    To be honest though, I don’t know one engineer who does it the same as the other. Although we have the same principles we all tend to reach the results a different way around. ;)

  • http://www.audio-issues.com Björgvin

    Great post, to the point with easy tips and explanation. I agree with all of them except for the panning. I understand that it will translate differently on every system but I’d rather use the whole spectrum rather than only three directions. I love panning, using differently panned mono reverbs is one of my favorite tricks and I like adding a different dimension to instruments by finding the right spot for them.

    ps. All edits completed first is such an important one too. Halfway into mixing and you suddenly realize, what the hell was that? Just because you forgot to edit out the unwanted parts.

    Björgvin

    • http://www.weiss-sound.com Matthew Weiss

      I think Jon’s point was that the three major positions are the most distinct, not that in between points shouldn’t be used. Although, there are plenty of engineers who mix primarily LCR quite effectively. I’m not one of them, but when I mix I acknowledge that my side-to-side width is determined by the difference between the two speakers. Creating that difference provides breadth to the track. The use of in between, for me, is more of a matter of separation of elements and creating a “thicker” stereo field.

  • http://www.audioecstasyproductions.com Brandon

    I’ve really been enjoying the information on this site. Cheers!

    • http://DanComerchero.com Dan Comerchero

      Glad you dig it, Brandon. We’ll keep fresh articles coming your way!

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