The Worst Pieces of Mixing Advice You Still Hear in 2021

Today I’m going to be bold and share the worst pieces of audio mixing advice that you still hear on Youtube tutorials, blogs, social media, and other online communities.

The worst place you can get mixing advice these days is on Instagram. Damn, there’s a lot of misleading information there, most of it makes me cringe and feel bad for beginners.

I’ll keep updating this list so make sure that you keep visiting this page, bookmark it or do whatever you have to do to make sure that you can find it with ease.

Without any further ado, let’s get started.

1. You should never boost or cut more than 3dB

I don’t know who came up with this but you can find this piece of advice in many articles and other online mixing resources.

This myth has been going around for ages now.

I’ve seen Grammy Award engineers such as Chris Lord-Alge making a 12dB boost in the top-end and it sounded great.

So boost or cut as much as the sound you’re equalizing needs.

2. Only Use 3rd Party Plugins

This is still a debate even today.

For me, if you can’t get a great sounding mix with stock plugins then you shouldn’t even bother with 3rd party plugins.

3rd party plugins are usually advanced and can be confusing for beginners, which can make it even harder for them to get the best results and really understand mixing.

DAWs have come a long way and the tools that come built-in are capable of giving you a Pro quality sound.

Maybe when it comes to production tools, then we can debate whether to use stock VSTs or 3rd party but for mixing tools you can use stock plugins and still be able to compete.

Also, Ableton had latency issues with its stock plugins so you had to use 3rd party tools to make sure that your settings remain the same after exporting. The problem with Ableton was that the exported file would sound different from the project when using stock plugins.

There was even a massive discussion on their forums, even other developers left the company to start another brand (Bitwig). It was a big issue, but I think Ableton has fixed that problem now, I’m not 100% sure though.

So, there’s nothing wrong with using stock plugins when mixing.

3. Kick and Bass EQ Settings

This one takes the trophy.

I have to admit that I also used to recommend this since this is what I was taught by many engineers.

Most engineers will recommend you to cut 60Hz (or whatever frequency they recommend these days) on the bass, boost the kick at 60Hz then cut the kick at 100Hz, and boost the bass at 100Hz.

Or do the opposite (vice-versa).

That’s horrible advice because the bass is dynamic so notes will keep changing. If you boost 100Hz on the bass, you’ve just increased the volume of 1 note and ruined the bass player’s performance.

By cutting 60Hz on the bass, you just reduced the volume of 1 or 2 notes, you didn’t make space for the kick you simply ruined a good bass performance.

Get your kick and bass working well together from the source

This leads us to number 4.

4. We’ll Fix it in the Mix

You always have to get the right sound straight from the source, I can’t stress this enough.

Lose the mindset of thinking that mixing (or mastering) will fix your recording or sound design issues.

If you’re recording your sounds then make sure you get the right sound during the recording stage. Switch microphones, use different mic techniques, and do whatever it takes to get the best sound without thinking that you’ll fix things in the mixing stage.

If you’re designing your sounds or using samples then choose/create sounds that work well together without clashing.

That way you’ll get the best results as compared to trying to fit things that don’t work well together.

5. Leave it For the Mastering Engineer

A mastering engineer’s job is not to fix recording, production, or mixing issues.

Their job is to get a mix to translate well in different sound devices and platforms (spotify, radio, etc.). What a mastering engineer won't do is to polish a turd. If you put garbage in, you get garbage out, it's that simple.

Think of mastering as adding a frame to a picture, the frame doesn’t change the picture it just protects the picture from dust and makes it easier to hang it on the wall or put it on a desk.

So, stop relying on mastering to fix your mixing problems.

6. High Pass Everything Except for the Kick and Bass

This is the main reason my mixes sounded thin because this advice is all over the place.

The most important rule you need to follow when it comes to mixing is to never do ANYTHING by default.

Always have a valid reason for everything that you do.

I laugh every time I hear this piece of advice because the reasoning is always something like; “you won’t need this in the mix” Lol… really?

Don’t get it twisted, I'm not saying don't use high-pass filters, all I'm saying is that don't do it by default or use dumb reasons such as "I won't need it in the mix". ⁣

For instance, vocals are usually recorded with a condenser mic so the vibration of the diaphragm will cause rumble in the low-end, you'll need to cut the low-end to avoid rumble (now that's a valid reason), not because you don't need that low-end.

If you’re working with a live recording then you MIGHT need to do some high pass filtering on different instruments.

If you’re working with samples and VST instruments there’s a higher chance you won’t need to do any high pass filtering.

So, do it, but not by default.

7. Don’t Use too Much Reverb

If you follow this piece of advice your mix will lack depth and contrast.

Note that I’m not recommending that you drown your sounds in reverb, but if it sounds good then keep the reverb, the amount of reverb doesn’t matter.

There are different styles of music and most atmospheric genres will require a lot of reverb.

So, do what works best for the end goal of the song.

8. Only Use Subtractive EQ

This was good advice 30 years ago when software EQ boosts sounded like doo-doo.

But software has come a long way and there’s no reason you should only use subtractive EQ.

Another important thing to mention is that phase distortion happens whether you’re cutting or boosting. It was going around the internet for a while that cutting had less or no phasing issues.

But this is not true, even with asymmetrical EQ types, whether you're cutting or boosting there are equal amounts of phase shift, it's just not an asymmetrical response. You can even do a simple null test to prove this.

Subtractive EQ is necessary in most cases but Additive EQ is also important to help sounds shine and become more audible in a mix.

9. Remove All Mud and Boxy Frequencies

I remember reading an article in a reputable magazine which I won’t mention here, the article recommended cutting 300Hz on all sounds that are in the mix.

All my mixes had a hole in the 300Hz range area and lacked midrange.

You need to keep some of the muddiness to keep a mix balanced there’s no need to remove it on all your sounds. Only remove mud when it’s causing problems or if you need some clarity in the lower midrange area.

As mentioned above, don’t do things by default.

Here's a list of The Worst Pieces of Mixing Advice you still hear in 2021...

Click to Tweet

10. You Need to Use Pro Tools

I’ve heard this piece of advice for over a decade now and it’s not true.

The truth is that this has been proven to be wrong many times but there are still people who still believe that you can’t get a good mix if you’re not using Pro Tools.

Many DAWs are more flexible and the workflow is much smoother and faster as compared to Pro Tools.

Many things take 2 seconds to do in Cubase and Studio One which take ages to do in Pro Tools. So, when it comes to workflow and features Pro Tools lacks in many areas.

Another argument is sound quality. 30 years ago Pro Tools did sound better because it required hardware but since then it’s no longer true that Pro Tools has the best sound engine.

Cubase won the best sound engine award in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Studio One also took the best 64-bit floating-point award.

So, you don’t need Pro Tools, use whatever DAW you’re most comfortable with.

11. Always Sidechain the Kick and Bass in Dance Music

This depends on the end goal of the song.

If you like the pumping effect on your music then by all means do sidechain the bass with the kick.

However, this is not always a must.

I don’t like the fact that the sidechain effect messes up the attack or transient of the bass. A bass that is sidechained sounds weird to my ears.

These days it’s even getting recommended for hip-hop kicks and 808s which I don’t recommend, instead I recommend that you get your sounds working well together straight from the source.

I’m not saying don’t use sidechain, all I’m saying is that use it if you like the pumping effect.

I use the sidechain effect all the time, for instance, if a guitar is clashing with the vocals in the high mids then I’ll use sidechain to duck the guitar around 2-3kHz whenever the singer is singing.

This doesn’t change the envelope of the guitar or ruin its transients it only reduced the volume of the guitar in a particular frequency range only when the vocalist is singing not throughout the entire song.

12. You Can’t Get a Great Mix on Headphones

There are a lot of tools and resources that can help you mix music with headphones. Other companies are dedicated to helping musicians get great mixes on headphones.

So, because it’s not common to mix with headphones that haven’t stopped many engineers from getting great quality mixes using headphones.

Yes, it’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Just make sure that you test your headphone mix on as many sound devices as possible to make sure that it translates well on different sound systems and use studio monitor headphones instead of consumer headphones.

13. Use Only One Reference Song

I heard this piece of advice in 2020 and then now starting to see it being recommended by many people.

The problem with using 1 reference song is that you can easily be misled into making poor decisions.

The biggest issue is that if the reference song is too bright as compared to your mix, you’ll try to get your song to match the reference then ruin the emotion of your song.

In many cases, it’s a good thing that your mix is not too bright because it captures a certain emotion and feel.

Different songs have different instrumentations, different mic techniques, sound design, etc.

So, if you have multiple reference tracks you’ll listen to how different engineers treat the same sound and then choose what will work best for the song that you’re currently mixing.

14. Don’t Compress More Than -5dB

If a sound is too dynamic it will require a lot of gain reduction.

What I would recommend is that you must use serial compression (serial compression means using multiple compressors in series (ie, one after the other)).

That way you avoid choking or overworking one compressor because in some cases if a compressor is overworked it can distort the signal.

So, make sure that you compress in stages to get the best results.

15. Instruments and Vocal Chain Recommendations

This happens a lot in online communities such as facebook groups where a beginner asks something like; what’s your favorite vocal chain?

Then the entire community starts sharing their chain of effects. One person will say:

EQ
Compression
De-esser
Distortion
Reverb

Then another one comes and says I “prefer” compression before EQ.

What the heck?

Every song is different, what works on one song will not work on every song. Every mix will require a different approach or chain.

Whether EQ or compression must come first will depend on the recording, sound design, or the end goal.

This also happens when someone says my vocal can’t sit well in a mix, then the community members start recommending their “favorite” vocal chain or mixing techniques without even asking the person who posted the question to share the song so that they can share advice that will work best for that particular song.

16. Kick, Bass and Vocals Must Be Mono

Keeping your most important sounds like kick, bass, vocal, and snare in the center of the stereo image is simply a safe way to make sure that they stay dominant no matter which sound system is used to play the song.

But that doesn’t mean it's a must to record them in mono.

The main goal is to make sure that when your mix is played in mono the most important sounds don’t disappear or sound distant.

You can have stereo vocals that translate well in mono if they’re mixed right, this applies to kick, bass, and snare as well.

17. Never Hard Pan Instruments in a Mix

The stereo image is really big and it’s always a good idea to fill it up as much as you can.

Hard panning will help you create space in your mix to get more clarity, so don’t be afraid to hard pan some of the sounds in a mix to get your mix sounding more open and wide.

But always make sure that your mix translates well when played in mono because you don’t know how and where your mix will be played.

Some club setups have the left in one room and the right channel in a different room, if your mix is not mono compatible it will fall flat.

Even if when 2 people are sharing earphones (1 person will have the left and the other will have the right).

It’s really important to make sure that your mix is mono-compatible, especially if you hard pan your sounds.

18. Don’t Use Your Eyes, Always Use Your Ears

It’s really funny when the person who’s recommending this has a hardware spectrum analyzer and VU meters on the mixing desk 🙂

You should use both your eyes and ears to make sure you’re getting the best results.

This also applies to looking at waveforms.

In most cases using your eyes will let you hear things that you would have missed if you didn’t use your eyes.

Looks can indeed be deceiving so make sure that you rely more on what you hear than what you see, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to use your eyes at all.

19. Bus or Group Everything

I’ve been seeing this a lot lately where people recommend that you must always send your sounds to different groups.

Leslie Brathwaite who mixes for Cardi B, Pharell, and many others doesn’t use groups at all in his mixes.

He’s not the only one, many other engineers don’t use bus or group channels and still produce top quality mixes. So, it's not a MUST to use group or bus channels.

20. Don’t Mix Into a Compressor

There’s nothing wrong with adding a bus compressor in your mix, especially if you like the sound. Many engineers mix into a compressor and others will even add a limiter.

It’s a good idea to leave that for the mastering engineer if you don’t know what you’re doing, but if you know and love the sound of a particular compressor then go for it.

Just make sure that you’re not choking your mix and you’re just doing it for character and to glue your mix.

Wrap

The first rule of audio engineering is that all rules can be broken if you have a good reason. That means if you have to cut -15dB then do it if it gives you the results you want.

These are just a few pieces of horrible advice I still hear even in 2021 and will update this post as I keep finding more.

Leave a comment below to let me know which of these you are doing and will stop doing today.