Mixing is one of the most crucial and complicated stages in song development. With dozens and sometimes even hundreds of things interacting with one another at the same time, it can be easy to mess up your mix, especially if you’re a beginner. Seasoned DJs and musicians aren’t completely safe from making a mistake or two as well.
Sculpting a balanced and unified arrangement is no easy task. To ensure you don’t have to start over every time you mix, knowing how to correctly structure the process and what actions may result in a disaster is an absolute must. In this article, we cover the most common mixing mistakes and provide solutions, so that you know what to avoid and how to fix them.
Overusing the Solo Button
The solo button on a DAW or console is a useful tool allowing you to play tracks by themselves and isolate problems within each one of them. However, relying too heavily on the solo button is not the move as it takes you out of the bigger picture.
While soloing a track helps you spot inconsistencies in frequencies, these and other issues may actually not be a problem at all when considered in the context of the entire song. You may also spend so much time inspecting every track in the solo that it will result in you not liking the sound of individual tracks on their own. The key is to balance your attention to detail AND the bigger picture.
Monitoring Too Loud
Our desire to crank up the monitors during mixing is natural since we unconsciously perceive louder as better. As a listener, it can make you feel like you experience the full weight of a song and as a musician, you give into an illusion of working more effectively because you can hear everything better.
However, blasting music at a high volume may actually damage both your mix and hearing. At a high sound pressure level (SPL) your ears become fatigued and you can’t really grasp all the highs and lows of your work. It’s actually better to mix at a level that you could hold a conversation without having to speak up. If your mix sounds good at lower levels, it will sound good at higher ones.
Mixing Without a Plan
Loading up a mix and just adding EQs and compressors aimlessly, having no idea why each plug-in is used, just spinning knobs until the sound gets better – it’s quite common, especially among those who are only starting out.
In order to bring direction to the process, know what to do and when to stop, you need to incorporate reference tracks. Any song that has already been mixed and mastered can be a reference. Pick one of your favorite songs and use it as a roadmap to guide your arrangement. check how its frequency response, dynamics and stereo width are adjusted, see how it compares to your mix, and apply changes – this will help your track to sound more professional.
Reverb is great for adding some life into the mix. However, it’s easy to go overboard with reverb when mixing in an untreated space – additional reverb may come from your speakers or your room. Using too much reverb results in a washed-out sound in which it will quite a challenge to identify instruments.
Unless an overprocessed effect is not your creative choice, use reverb reasonably. Avoid applying it to every track, and when you do, top it with an EQ to filter out unwanted frequencies and declutter the mix. After that, check your mix on various speakers – studio ones, home stereo, car stereo, a good pair of headphones, and maybe even your laptop and smartphone – this will help you ensure that the mix translates well to every system.
Compression is one of the best ways to create a good mix. It reduces the dynamic range, shapes tone, controls transients, connects sounds and makes them louder, improves clarity and adds a punch, among other things. The correct amount of compression creates a mix that sounds natural and vibrant.
Excessive compression, on the other hand, produces an ear-fatiguing effect. In order to avoid making your mix sound flat and squashed, apply subtle amounts of compression at different stages of mixing. Instead of making a single compressor do all the work, spread the workload over multiple compressors. Let the compressors “breathe” in time with the tempo of the song.
Have you made any other mistakes while mixing?