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Top 4 Mixing Tips

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So this is something I have covered quite a few times in different videos, whether we’re talking about top ten mix tips, mistakes to avoid, whatever it might be. We’ve even done a specific video to this in the past, so I’m going to reiterate, and I’ve heard a few people talking about it recently, so I’m going to bring in some actual examples here.

Get reference tracks, get rough mixes. When you’re mixing, don’t mix alone. The amount of times I’ve tried to mix a song without listening to either a reference track or the rough mix that the artist has provided, every time I’ve tried that, I’ve never been happy with the results.

So these are the things that I have learned from it. If you can, number one, always get a rough mix from the artist. It doesn’t matter if it’s that good. What I mean is, that’s actually kind of cool if you get a mix that maybe has got the bottom end blown out, or it’s a bit distorted. It doesn’t matter. What the rough mix gives you is an idea of what the artist was trying to do. What the producer was trying to do, what the previous engineer or the previous mixer was trying to do.

Recently, I did a mix shootout to get an album, and I did get the album and I went up against a lot of mixers, a lot of big name mixers, and I got the album, and all I did was I had the rough mix that the artist, producer, engineer had done, and I listened to it, and I just decided what I liked about it, and what I didn’t like about it.

As simple as that. I took some of the panning ideas they’d done, I took some of the volume moves they’d done, so I kind of got a feel of what they’re going for, but I listened to it as a whole, and I decided, the guitars sounded good, the low end on the bass was pretty much there, the vocal had a little slap, a little distortion on it, which was kind of tasty, but what it lacked, and it was a big rock track, what it lacked was the big rock drum sound.

And it was like, you could tell there was a room tone on there on the drums, but the kick and the snare were just kind of squashed too much in there. It didn’t feel like it was slamming. So I took everything that was great about their mix, made it a bit moreso, and then I took the drum sound and I made it absolutely massive.

I sent it back, and within an hour, I got a response saying that I’d got the record, and they were everybody — I can’t name drop all of these different famous guys we’re mixing here. It was great. It was a big record, I’m really glad I got it, but all I did was just look at it as a whole.

So if you can get a rough mix, it doesn’t matter how good it is. In some ways, having issues with it is great, because they’re obvious things that you’ve got to improve. The thing about the rough mix is it is the roadmap for what the artist, the producer, the engineer, the people that were in the room — it’s a roadmap for what they intended. If you’re engineering an album, for instance, you’re going to put your heart and soul into that rough mix, giving an idea of what it should be. So when you can, if you can, always ask for the rough mix.

As I’ve said before, I’ve seen contracts for mixers for major labels, and they ask for the label approved rough mix. What they mean by that is they want a lot of the work done for them.

So in any situation, ask for a rough mix.

Secondly, always have reference mixes. Always. There’s some common songs that come up. I’ve sat in rooms with lots of big mixers, and a lot of them have used, “Hey Soul Sister.” Hey Soul Sister is a mix done by Mark Endert, and the thing about that mix is the space in it is fantastic, it’s a great piece of production, it’s very simple. I think it’s like a ukulele and a vocal, and it grows, and by the end, there’s drums on it.

However, the things about it that are fantastic is the vocal sound is absolutely outstanding. The vocal sits in the mix beautifully, and many, many mixers use that, because it’s a tell tale sign of, “Have you got your vocals sitting great?” Go and use a mix like that.

Another one that’s very, very common is, “Woman in Chains,” which is a Bob Clearmountain mix. Tears for Fears, Woman in Chains. That is a masterpiece of mixing. It’s not modern. It’s not slammed. It’s not limited. But it will give you perspective.

Now, for a modern mix, something that is slamming, and loud, and hit you over the head, you cannot go wrong with Bruno Mars, Uptown Funk. That is a pretty outstanding mix. Now, it is super up front. It hits you from the get-go and doesn’t leave you until the end. I mean, it is a musical assault on your senses. It is beautiful, it maintains a funky, groovy, 70’s feel while also sounding super modern. It is a massive accomplishment in mixing. Lots of people reference it for obvious reasons. Because it maintains two things that shouldn’t really live together.

That is loud, upfront, modern sound, and groove and 70’s feel. Those two things live perfectly in that song. A great reference mix. Everything about it seems to work, most of the mixes that I hear in that genre, in Pop at least, have a tendency to sort of like, fold in at times with too much compression and limiting. This one doesn’t. This stays open and loud at the same time.


Two things that make no sense together, but it does. It feels like it has depth, but it also feels like it’s hitting you in the face. Very, very good mix. One of the best mixes out there for a modern song.

And another one, if you want to go back to the 80’s, Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones. That is a masterpiece for detail and depth. These are like, the top four I reference, and they all have different kind of ideas. The Bob Clearmountain mix in particular for Tears for Fears just seems to have so much width, and when I’m sitting there and I’m squashing, and compressing, and limiting, and overly EQing, if you can just reference that, you’re like, “Oh, okay. This is what a big, wide mix should sound like.”

So anyway, great reference mixes are really, really important.

Thirdly, this is really something I try to touch upon. When I’m mixing an album, like after I got that album I was telling you about, we got the song back, they approved it, they loved it. Now, I’ve got a point of reference for the rest of the record. I’ve got something they like, so I’m beating my own mixes over and over again. I’m going up to the next song on the album, I’m mixing it, and then I’m referencing the song that they like of the mix that I did.

Is it as good as that? Does it preserve the low end? Is the kick pumping? Does it have some click? Is the snare slamming in your face, but not overpowering the vocal? Have I got the right balance? Because that’s a big things with drums. People send me mixes all the time with a big drum sound, but big means three dB too loud. Massive fishtailing going on on your mixes.

The point is like, use your own mixes as references, especially when the artist has approved it, so you can mix the rest of the album, and you have the mix they’ve approved, and get it as good as that and better. What I often do when I’m mixing an album is mix a song, get it approved, pull into the second song, mix that, improve on it, bring that song into number three, improve, improve, improve, improve. Before you know it, I’ve gone back to mix one, and I’ve tweaked it and made it better still.

That’s the great thing about learning, that’s the great thing about working in DAWs that we’re able to go back and make those moves really quickly and easily. Automation in DAWs is so much easier than when I was just working in this world alone, so we’re at an advantage.

So don’t be afraid to reference your own mixes.

Also with that, don’t be afraid to go back to one of your past mixes of a similar genre and use that. Because let’s just say you’re working with a big loud rock band, and you’re struggling with the mixes. You can’t get it as big and as loud as you want it to be.

Well, go back to a previous mix you’ve done of a band, pull it in and go, “Oh, okay.” Happens to me all the time, I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t got the definition on the low end of the guitars.”

For instance, when you’re high passing things properly, you’re creating room for all of your low end. You need to high pass down there, because otherwise, you’ll get masking, and you’ll get mud, and as mastering engineers always say, if it’s just a big blob of low end down there, how can you master it? They can’t pull out the kick drum, or the bass guitar, or the low end of the guitars unless there’s some differentiation there. So going back to mixes that you know and love is great.

Again, it’s just, don’t be afraid to reference your own mixes. The one you’ve already done, the artist approved, and a previous mix in a similar genre that can help you when you get stuck.

Number four. Last, but no means least. Level match your mixes. If you’re going to have all of your references on the rough mix and stuff, you’ve got to level match it. When I’m playing back mixes here on the SSL and I’m mixing over, you know, I’ve got my mini speakers over there, and I want to go and reference it on the SSL, and listen through the big Genelecs and everything, one of the biggest problems is when I go between rough mix and my mix is when my mix is far too loud, or sometimes more importantly, is the rough mix is too loud, because you know, maybe the engineer was trying to get the mix. He didn’t want to give it to an external mixer, so his mix is like a blob of L2, a blob of L1, a blob of whatever limiter, and it is so annihilated.

So you want to bring it down so you’re referencing not the volume, but the actual mixes. That’s really important in mixing. I think that I have been fooled, we’ve all been fooled by volume, so level match your mixes. There’s a lot of plugins out there, there’s the Perception plugin that Ian Shepherd makes, A/B Level Matching, there’s lots of different ones, and we’ll put links to those as well.

So those are the top four. I’ve said them before, they’re really important, but using reference mixes, using rough mixes, level matching, and of course, using your own previous mixes are all four amazing tips to get great results, and what they bring into that situation is they bring in balance, because when you mix in isolation without referencing, you can spend ages going down the garden path, as we would say in England. And when you come back and listen with fresh ears, you have no perspective. You don’t know what to compare it with.

So have a marvelous time recording and mixing, thank you ever so much for watching. Please subscribe, go to, sign up for the email list, get a bunch of free goodies, and thank you ever so much for being such a wonderful, incredible community.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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