Pro Audio Files

5 Reasons Your Mixes Don’t Sound Like the Pros

Listening to your favorite records is maddening.

Everything sounds larger-than-life…radio-ready…uber-compelling.

But your tracks?

They still have a long way to go.

Don’t get me wrong—your mixes sound WAY better than they did a year ago.

But there’s still a gap. And you’re not sure how to close it.

Sound familiar?

Keep reading to discover five reasons your mixes don’t sound like the pros. Fix these problems, and you’ll quickly close the gap between your tracks and your favorite records.

1. Your Decisions Aren’t Responsive

At its core, mixing is simple:

  1. Listen to what’s coming out of the speakers.
  2. Find a problem.
  3. Figure out how to solve it.
  4. Fix the problem.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

The issue? Many of us don’t follow this process.

Instead, we high-pass vocals because we think we should. We use templates that add processing to every mix by default. We time-align drums because some guy on Gearslutz said we should.

Some of these decisions may make things sound better. But others might make things worse.

The problem is that none them are made in response to what’s coming out of the speakers. Instead, they’re impositions.

Every mixing decision you make should be a response to what’s coming out of the speakers.

Every mixing decision you make should be a response to what’s coming out of the speakers.

It feels good to do things. Putting a plugin on a track feels like progress. And our brains love shortcuts. We’ll jump at any opportunity to be lazy. To turn off our ears. To stop listening.

But mixing isn’t just about making the right decisions. It’s also about avoiding the wrong ones.

The solution is simple:

Every mixing decision you make should be a response to what’s coming out of the speakers.

Every time you add a plugin, ask yourself—why am I doing this? If the answer isn’t based on something you hear, ditch the plugin.

2. Your Room Is Lying to You

What happens if what you’re hearing isn’t accurate? What if it’s colored or distorted in some way? What if it isn’t representative of what’s really going on in your mix?

Then you make the wrong decisions.

The result?

Your mixes sound great in your studio, but fall apart everywhere else.

This is why it’s critical to set up your monitoring chain properly.

Start by finding the right position for your speakers and sweet spot. Then, add acoustic treatment. And finally, as the cherry on top, consider room correction software like Sonarworks Reference 3.

Time and money spent here is the best investment you can make in your mixing success.

To help, I’ve put together a video with 7 simple tips to help you optimize the placement of your speakers and sweet spot. To download it, click the link below:

3. Your Recordings, Arrangements and Performances are Subpar

It all starts with the source...

It all starts with the source…

Why do tracks by top-tier mixers sound so good?

Mostly because they’re recorded, arranged and performed flawlessly.

(Shhhh…)

Tracks like these often mix themselves. In fact—in many cases, mixing is little more than a formality.

Focus on the first few steps of your music-making process. Avoid a “fix it in the mix” mentality. The better things sound before mixing, the better your mixes will be.

No—this isn’t as sexy as talking about mixing techniques or plugins. But it will make a much bigger impact.

4. You Haven’t Yet Developed Good Taste

“I can teach somebody how to get a great snare sound. I can’t teach somebody what a great snare sound is.”
– Dave Pensado

We all have the same tools, and there are only so many mixing techniques. The trick is to know when to use them.

The answer comes from taste. Developing good taste is the key to crafting great mixes.

The best way to develop your taste is by listening. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Great records already exist, and the answers are all out there. Study records from every era and genre—not just what’s on the charts. By doing this, you’ll develop your own taste for what great records sound like. Then, it’s just a matter of using the tools and techniques you have to achieve the sound you’re looking for.

5. You Need More Time

Grammy-winning mixer Bob Power recently told me his mixes have improved dramatically over the last decade.

There’s no substitute for time when it comes to mastering your craft.

There’s no substitute for time when it comes to mastering your craft.

He’s been mixing for nearly 40 years.

There’s no substitute for time when it comes to mastering your craft. If you’re not yet where you want to be, don’t get discouraged. Continue to put in the hours, and your mixes will improve.

The secret? There’s never a point of arrival. There’s always more progress to be made—always another level to reach. The key is to become motivated enough by your progress to keep going.

Listen to a few of your early mixes. Take stock of where you started, and where you are now. Get excited by the progress you’ve made. When you’re down, this can be a great way to reignite your enthusiasm.

Closing The Gap

If your mixes don’t yet sound like the pros, don’t be discouraged.

For now, try to incorporate this advice into your mixing workflow. If you can do that, you’ll take a significant step towards closing the gap between your tracks and those of your favorite artists.

Just keep going. I know you can get there.


What’s one thing you wish you knew about mixing from the beginning? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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Jason Moss

Jason Moss

Jason Moss is an LA-based mixer and educator. Learn how to craft a clear, balanced low end by downloading these free excerpts from his premium training course, Mixing Low End.

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  • Nicholas Shelby Granum

    Produce a body of work. At 38, my greatest regret is that I held off on releasing things until they were perfect, only to get bored of them or run out of time, energy, or money and never get around to it. You are going to hate some of what you did fifteen years from now regardless of how much you tweak it. You will also discover that much of what you did has actually aged pretty well.

    • Rokhead

      right. agree. unlike so much in this article. mucho respect for Dave Pensado, but I don’t want him to tell me what a good snare sound is, and I doubt he really meant it that way in his quote. Mr Moss needs to learn that the best music has no rules. Rules make for boring music. Innovation requires tearing up the rule book and doing what sounds good to your own two ears. Be radical, producers!

    • lawdhamercy

      I went away from that and started chasing an “industry sound”.My music has suffered from taking that approach.

    • C H V S T A K I

      I agree with this 100%

  • Matt Recio

    This: “There’s never a point of arrival. There’s always more progress to be made—always another level to reach. The key is to become motivated enough by your progress to keep going.”

    • Marwen Ben Naceur

      You just summed up life.

  • Agree with everything. I would throw in: “Not eliminating time-consuming set-up” or, “not developing a reproduceable strategy.”

    For example, mix templates save tons of time. By putting the work up-front to have a general mix template with all your processors and routing worked out, you can literally save hours of time and objectivity.

    Second, instead of buying another EQ or compressor, buy plugins only when they make your life waaay easier. Hornet’s VU mk3 automatically gain-stages for you, and Sound Radix or Melda offer AutoAlign plugins for fixing time/phase discrepancies.

    The pros have assistants and interns. I don’t, but technology is rapidly improving mix workflow.

  • Nicolas Camargo (nCamargo)

    I wish i had known about SPAN (and how to use spectrum analyzers to identify possibily flaws on the mix, parts that needed a boost or not, and so on), mixes got A LOT better since that!

  • Josh Salant

    Great read! I wish i knew what proper gain staging was, and how to avoid huge amounts of tail chasin by using VCAs!

  • So true; good songs mix far easier. Alo learning to hear what is on tape and work with that, instead of your wrong assumptions.

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