When it comes to making music, there isn't usually a “one size fits all." One of my best suggestions for unexperienced producers is to find a good mentor to learn from, and get involved in a community that supports the type of music you want to create. This is a sure way to fast-track your skills and overall growth as an artist. Aimlessly searching YouTube videos will only get you so far...
I put together this article sharing 5 common mixing mistakes I’ve seen producers make, after years of learning from Platinum & Grammy engineers in the studio.....
#1 Mistake: Not side-chaining the bass to the kick
In the world of dance music, side-chaining can be used for two main purposes, sound design (for effect) and mixing.
Side-chaining for effect. Ever hear those big sweeping future-bass synths that swell up and down to a “pumping” rhythm? That’s a perfect example of side-chaining. Ableton Live makes it easy to side-chain sounds, you can learn how in this video tutorial with Ableton's Compressor audio effect. Also, you can get a cool pumping effect with the Auto Pan audio effect.
Side-Chaining for mixing. Side-chaining a kick to the bass is important, especially in electronic dance music. It’s absolutely necessary for moving conflicting frequencies of instruments that overlap each other. This sometimes is fixed by adjusting your EQ, but sometimes side-chaining is necessary so you don’t have to carve out important frequencies of certain instruments.
If you really want to go deeper in the studio with dialing in your bass relationship with your kick/ bass frequencies, consider getting a Subpac. I've used it for years and it made a HUGE difference with my mixes. Click here and use the code LIVEPRODUCERS to save $25 on your order.
#2 Mistake: Using multiple Reverbs that don’t blend well together in the overall mix.
Too often, producers have problems using multiple ambiences and making them relate. When something is too wet, too dry, or in too large/ small of a space at a given moment in the track, it can sound unnatural to the human ear. Using multiple ambiences that work together is certainly more of an art than a science — it's all about ear training.
Typically the more reverb you have, the further away “in the room” that instrument lives in the mix. Less reverb means it’s closer to the listener. However, a plate reverb can create that "space" while keeping the sound close. This is a popular reverb type used on vocals, snares, etc.
Ask yourself, “What is the overall ambience on this track?” Living room? Small club? Big club? Outer space? Choose your reverbs with that in mind, rather than randomly throwing presets in a track and hoping for the best.
If looking to add reverbs to your arsenal of sounds, here's some of my favorites:
#3 Mistake: Lack of width in the mix (Stereo vs. Mono)
Narrow mixes are very common for new producers. Think about where everything in the mix lives in a "room". Keep you sub bass and kicks/ snares in the middle of the stereo field. Getting a good stereo balance in your mix has two benefits, it pulls the ears wide and cleans up the center, which makes for better clarity for the kick, snare, bass, and other instruments. There are many ways to create width, such as using the right amount of chorus, pitch shifting, auto-panning, delays, and more.
Check out the free plugin Imager 2 by iZotope. It's a great tool and visualizer for your stereo imaging to use as a reference. Try pulling in your favorite songs to see how they compare to your project. Place it on the Master track.
#4 Mistake: Focusing too much on the high's and bass. Not giving the mid-range enough love
Mixing is a lot like cooking. You need to have a good balance of all the right ingredients to blend them together. The same could be said about mixing the low, mid, and high frequencies together. One of my favorite quotes is from the Platinum audio engineer Corey Miller is, ”Decent engineers will get a good mix of the bass and high frequencies, GREAT engineers will master the mid-range”. The mid-range is a vast territory, starting around 300Hz and going up to 6kHz, with lots of very distinct “neighborhoods” of sound. For many mixers it’s the final domain of understanding what creates a perfectly balanced track. Oftentimes, people hear music are on speakers that playback mainly mid-range frequencies. (Apple headphones, cell phones, small home speakers)
Tonal Balance Control is a great plugin by iZotope that shows you how your overall mix compares with other tracks and genres. Throw it on your Master, it's a great reference tool to use.
#5 Mistake: Lack of reducing unnecessary ultra-high frequencies
Let’s refer to frequencies above 12Khz as “air” . Many people know how to apply reductive EQ to cut unnecessary frequencies, but they neglect cutting out unnecessary “air” in the mix. The more instruments you squeeze into a song, the harder it will be for speakers to “breathe”. With low-end frequencies, this is another reason why side-chaining the kick with the bass is so important.
The benefit of cutting high frequencies with either a low-pass filter or a shelf is astounding. The crazy thing is you often hear no difference when you bypass the individual cut, but it does add up! Not to mention reducing unnecessary high and ultra-high frequencies leaves extra space for reverb to live, creating more “clean air”.
It’s good practice to use high-pass and low-pass filters on your return tracks or buses that have reverbs and delays, which can clean up your mix.
These are only a few tips to clean up your mixes. It’s amazing how technology has evolved to help us solve and endless amount of mixing troubles. The best way to improve your skills is to keep practicing, and then practice some more and reference your mixes against other tracks. And having a good listening environment goes a very long way (headphones, room treatment, speakers, etc).
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