In this blog post, I would like to share with you everything I wish I knew when I started mixing music.
This list is going to help you make your learning curve much faster, save tons of money, and eliminate a lot of trial and error.
I used to find mixing overwhelming and time consuming because I didn’t have a clear understanding of the process.
Now I go into a mix knowing pretty much exactly what I need to really bring my ideas to life and would love to help you achieve the same thing.
Note that this list is not in any particular order.
Letting Someone Else Mix My Music While I Watch
If I was asked; “what’s the one thing that made you Fasttrack your learning curve” it would be letting someone else mix my music.
This didn’t only teach me how to mix but it also helped me realize the most important things I needed to do to improve my recording and production skills.
As the engineer was mixing my music he would point out the problems with my sounds and share a few ideas here and there about how to improve.
Sometimes he would just ask for the midi and replace the sounds I submitted to him and that’s when I learned a lot about sound design.
So, sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and give your music to a professional engineer. That will help you find loopholes in your music creation process.
Quality Sound Design and Recording of Great Performances
One thing I learned the hard way was that the best mixes begin with quality recordings of great performances.
Back then, I thought I could just choose a preset on a VST instrument, record in an untreated room with a cheap microphone, and BOOM, compete with the best songs out there.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. You have to put in a lot of time on sound design if you’re using VST instruments.
If you’re recording live music then you have to test different mics, try different mic placements, and make sure you’re working with professional musicians who know what they’re doing.
At times, I’ll complete a song but then hire professional musicians to take my average playing to the next level.
I once saw a comment on a Youtube tutorial where someone said; “these Grammy award-winning engineers always use perfect sounds…”
Yup, that’s the easiest way to get a top-quality sounding mix 🙂
So, instead of complaining, put some effort into your craft. I totally understand that the budget can be a problem but there are neat tricks you can use to improve your sounds even at a low budget.
All I’m saying is that, if you put in average effort then don’t complain or expect to compete with someone with a big budget.
Organize Your Mixing Session
One of the most important things I recommend is to separate your production and mixing sessions.
I understand that with genres such as Dance music, you tend to mix as you go. But can your system handle that?
One thing you don’t want is to do a half job because your computer is lagging.
If you separate your production and mixing session you’ll be able to save tons of CPU and RAM usage.
Comp your sounds, make sure everything is named properly and well organized. You can also do some color coding (this is optional) to navigate the mix a lot faster.
Experienced mixing engineers always hire an assistant to deal with these tedious tasks because they know the importance of mix preparation and staying organized. This will speed up your workflow and help you stay focused on mixing.
You don’t want to be editing vocals during the mixing stage, this will drain energy that would have been put to good use in making sure the project sounds proper.
Mastering Your Tools
One of the most important parts of mixing is to master your tools.
Take a moment to practice with different tools to see how they affect different sounds. You don’t want to be trying to figure out how a particular reverb works during mixing.
What I would recommend is to choose one tool, master it, and the rest will be easy to navigate.
For instance, choose one reverb and learn all its parameters, that way, no matter which reverb you come across you’ll be able to get the results you want without getting stuck on trying to figure out what the diffusion parameter does.
Do that for different processing tools, this also applies to VST instruments as well. Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none.
You don’t need more plug-ins, you need more time with the plugins that you already have.
This is why Bruce Lee said; "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times".
Checking the Mix in Mono
Another great way to make sure that your mix sound great everywhere is to keep checking the balance between mono and stereo.
Please understand that I’m not recommending you to mix in mono from start to finish, all I’m saying is, keep switching between mono and stereo when mixing.
If no sounds disappear when you switch to mono then the mix will translate well, but if other sounds disappear in mono then you might have some phase issues.
Listening in mono will also give you a better perspective of the height (low to high frequencies).
Always make sure that your mix is mono-compatible for better translation in different sound systems (car, phone, club, etc.).
Mix at Low Volume
Throughout my experience, I’ve found that when the mix sounds great at low volume it will sound awesome when it’s played loud.
Mixing at a low volume will help you mix for longer periods without getting ear fatigue.
If you’re mixing in an untreated room, then mixing at low volume is crucial because at high volume the reflections will interfere with what you’re hearing.
So, for better results, mix at low volume especially if you’re mixing in an untreated room.
Take Regular Breaks
Taking regular breaks is an important part of mixing because it helps you reset your ears and refresh your mind.
During breaks, you even come up with some good ideas for the song that you wouldn’t have thought of.
The breaks don’t have to be long, 10 to 15 minutes should be more than enough.
Most experienced engineers will tell you that mixing in an untreated room is like painting in the dark.
Don’t buy expensive studio monitors in an untreated room, it’s a waste of money.
Instead of buying speakers, I would recommend you to get yourself a pair of studio monitor headphones till you can afford room treatment.
What you hear is very important and will have a great impact on the final results.
If you already have speakers in an untreated room, then try covering the windows and door with thick blankets when you’re mixing.
Place a bookshelf in the room, not an empty bookshelf though. A couch can also help with absorbing the sound as well. Do whatever you can to avoid sound reflections in the room.
Once you have your room well acoustically treated, invest in different monitoring systems so that you can be able to test your mix on different monitors.
Once your mix is complete then you have to test the mix on as many monitoring devices as possible (car, laptop, airpods, bluetooth speakers, etc.).
Reference tracks are really important if you’re mixing music in an untreated room or using headphones.
These days there are a lot of plugins that can help you get the most out of reference tracks. One of my favorites is REFERENCE 2 by Mastering The Mix.
So, use reference tracks to increase the chances of getting pro-quality mixes.
Every Song is Different
One of the most important things I wish I knew when I started mixing music was that each and every mix will require a different approach.
I used to think that if I can find a cheat sheet about how to EQ a kick then I can use that for all my mixes.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mixing. If that was the case then there would be a bot that can mix for you by now.
This is why I don’t use presets or any type of template. I just feel bad for all those who spend money buying presets, templates, vocal chains, or any type of instrument chain.
I understand that we all do whatever it takes to improve the sound of our mixes but no instrument chain, preset, or template will solve your mixing problems because every song is different and will require a different approach.
The mistake I used to make was trying to throw all the tricks I have in the bag on one mix then end up overmixing a song.
Think about it this way, if you have 20 Louis Vuitton belts, you don’t wear all of them at the same time. You bought 20 of them for different occasions and will wear them at different times.
Use that same mentality when mixing.
If a vocal sounds good and sits perfectly in the mix with only EQ, Reverb, and Compression then leave it.
Don’t be trying to add parallel compression, stereo imager, delay, distortion, or any unnecessary processing.
The more time you spend mixing, the less you start to hear things clearer.
Avoid getting stuck on one sound, keep on moving and you’ll come back to whatever problematic sound later once you have everything else sounding right.
The best way to practice this is to have a timer for processing each sound, whenever the timer hits zero you move on to the next thing.
This will help you avoid ear fatigue and over-mixing unnecessarily.
The most important qualities of a good mix are quality songwriting, arranging, and performance. In truth, all we need to do is articulate an idea.
That's the list of everything I wish I knew when I started mixing music and hope it helps you avoid making the same mistakes.
Leave a comment below to let me know which of these mistakes you're making and share your thoughts about the post, would love to hear from you.