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10 Common Mixing Mistakes to Avoid

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I recently read an article on UAudio.com by Dan Keller and Pete Doell about the most common mixing mistakes. And I just wanted to say it is wrong wrong wrong!

Just kidding, it’s actually a great article and points out a lot of technical errors that less experienced engineers (and sometimes even experienced engineers) frequently make. I’ll link to it at the end of this article.

Anyway, I felt I could offer my own perspective on what I have found to be the most common mistakes I see from other engineers — and from myself as well.

In fact, this article is very useful for me, I think I need to re-read it a few times.

1. Not having a decided direction

Mixing is vastly subjective. You have to decide what makes the mix “good” before you can achieve it.

The top mistake on this list goes to not having a vision, and just mixing.

If you don’t know your goals and what you want to hear, you’re shooting in the dark. You’ll probably hit a couple of targets but overall it won’t be great.

2. Thinking quantity, not quality

An early mistake in my career was thinking “how much low end” rather than “how can I get the low end to work right.”

If I need the low end to be focused, I should be working toward focus, not working toward proportion.

In fact, I can easily defer the idea of “quantity” to a mastering engineer like Pete (not that I would make a habit of it). Quantity really only comes into play when thinking about the relationship between instruments — and in that sense it’s really a qualitative concern: are these ideas supporting each other and allowing the important one(s) to shine?

3. Not enough time spent constructing ambience

Ambience is the back drop of every mix. Whether it’s through recorded room captures or synthetic reverbs (or both), the ambience has a large influence on how the sound fills out as well as the emotional quality of the mix.

Reverb/delay is a great tool for reinforcing the tone of a record: trashy, polished, tight, loose — all can be reinforced through the right choices (see #1).

Throwing reverb around haphazardly creates a discontinuous mix. And remember, leaving something perfectly dry is also a powerful creative tool. Be judicious!

4. Relying too much on effects

Mixing is a game of subtle relationships.

The amateur mixer seeks to make their mix “special” by loading every track with EQ and compression.

The experienced mixer gets the best mix with the least amount of processing, and seeks to reduce the degree of effect — staying truer to the original production. Unless the experienced mixer is making a creative decision. See #1.

5. Mixing without switching perspective

If you sit and mix a record on one set of speakers in one go, you have a limited perspective.

Switching to crappy computer speakers, headphones, or listening out of your mix position can give you a wider range of perspective.

Refreshing your ears by taking a sizable break, or even coming back to a mix the next day, will also give you a wider range of perspective.

6. Relying on convention

Genre-lization tends to create conventions. This is a trap. Forward thinking artists and producers actively challenge conventions. So while your inexperienced client may want the predictable, this doesn’t mean everyone wants it that way.

My moment of enlightenment came from a very famous jazz pianist. He hired me to mix his trio. In one of my prouder moments, I mixed the drums with more punch and forwardness than a traditional jazz sound. He was very happy with the mix, particularly the drums. Turns out he didn’t want a conventional jazz mix (which makes sense, since at the time I didn’t have a lot of jazz on my reel).

Bottom line is we’ve been working together ever since. By approaching the records the way I felt them, rather than how convention dictated, I seized the day.

7. Not respecting convention

That said, a lot of convention exists for a reason. It’s a reflection of what the culture surrounding a style of music appreciates. To not at least acknowledge the expectations of the listener is actually disrespectful.

Too many times I’ve heard “you don’t need to know how to mix XYZ, you just need to know how to mix.” This is assuredly false and will ultimately inhibit your success.

The sound of a genre is rooted in the history and culture of that music, so respect it. If you want to reject conventions, do it with full awareness of how the end listener will be effected by that. #6 and #7 are ultimately an extension of #1: having a vision.

8. Forgetting context

Mixing a single is one thing. Mixing an EP or an LP is another.

Just because a song sounds great on its own doesn’t mean it’s going to work in context of the album.

An EP/LP should consist of songs that have a unique sonic identity, but still sound cohesive back to back. At least that’s the convention.

9. Being lazy with automation

Set and forget only works on records where the musicians are very accurate with their dynamics. And even then, it’s negotiable.

There’s a difference between treating source sounds and making a mix.

That difference is automation. Make it move!

10. Not having an intention

Seriously, this is the alpha and omega of mistakes. The mix is an extension of the production. The production has intention. Therefore the mix needs intention as well.

This doesn’t mean the direction can’t form as you go, but at some point you have to say to yourself “okay, what’s the end game?”

Having a direction really makes the whole process much faster and easier. So grab a notepad and write some ideas down about the song as you listen to the demo and the raw tracks. Breathe it in, get a game plan, and then start mixing.

Oh, and check out Pete and Dan’s article here, because they bring up a lot of great traps that engineers tend to fall into.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.

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  • I like the note on limited perspective. I found a good way to test this is cross-referencing with headphones. Too bad it often does translate between the two mediums. Good thing theres the new Duplex Panner by Element Audio Group which helps bridge the gap between the two

    The Duplex Panner allows users to generate enhanced stereo mixes that create out-of-the head, spatial, and realistic experiences on headphones but without deteriorating stereo playback. Finally a method that bridges the gap between headphones and speaker playback. One mix, two amazing experiences!!

    Check out the AES award-winning plugin the Duplex Panner here and become part of a new era in music production by contributing in the Kickstarter campaign !

    With your contribution on the Kickstarter campaign , I will be able to fully develop this product to include suggested presets, have a fully functional mono/stereo mode, and most notably be the first all-in-one master bus panner where you can pan all your sources rather than scrolling through all your tracks. Please visit the Kickstarter campaign for more info and don’t miss out on the future of music.

  • Alan Brown

    Remember, know what you like, listen to the client and think about the final sound.

  • Carlos Williams

    Great article. Thanks. I’m getting little as clients trust me. Anyone know a site other than SoundBetter to find free-lance music jobs?

  • James D Hoy

    Liked the article. I have no clients nor will I. I play, use junk out packs and tweak them, and record with Ableton Live 9. Though convention has it’s place, so does artistic flare and vision. People either like a song when I post it or they do not. I like it or I would not make anything public. Even the Beatles made a ‘few’ songs that I didn’t like, and I am of the opinion that they were the best band of my generation. Have I given away my age?

  • James D Hoy

    Hello Matthew and Namaste (as some say) …. I am 6 months old into all of this recording stuff. I bought an audio interface hoping that I could record some guitar playing. Well, the interface came with Ableton Live 9 as a bonus; something I knew nothing at all about. I started toying around with it and have put together 8 songs (along with accompanying art work). I know you are a busy man, but you are a professional; something that I am not, nor have any desire to be. If you go to my Youtube page ….. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-2mO5qTNZPRCsfDFj4bkZg … you will see the 8 songs that attempt to tell the story behind the art. If you would be so kind, I ask that you listen to songs/image 6, 7, and 8 and give me your opinion. The first 5 songs are pretty much for shit, though the art/image is good. You will also find a link to youtube from my facebook page …………

    https://www.facebook.com/goldencarp02 …. If I never hear from you I would not be surprised — but hell, who knows, hey? Thank you, and keep up with posting your tips. Hope I have what it takes to implement them. Peace be with you, my man.

  • winedon

    Thank You information was helpful

  • Project Grantwood

    Thank you for the tips! Very helpful.

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