When it comes to producing a great mix, there is no “one size fits all”. I see producers that aren’t well-trained trying to engineer and mix their own tracks, while making common mistakes. At some point, you’ve probably wondered why your tracks don’t sound as good as every other song released into the world. I put together this article sharing 5 common mixing mistakes I’ve seen producers make, after years of working with Platinum and Grammy engineers in the studio. I hope you find this article helpful to improve your mixes!
#1 Mistake: Not sidechaining the bass to the kick.
In the world of dance music, sidechaining can be used for two main purposes, sound design (for effect) and mixing.
SideChaining 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 sidechaining. Ableton Live makes it easy to sidechain sounds, you can learn how in this video tutorial.
SideChaining for Mixing.
Sidechaining a kick to the bass is important, especially in 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 sidechaining is necessary so you don’t have to carve out important frequencies of certain instruments.
For those of you more advanced wanting a deeper level of control with overlapping frequencies in addition to sidechaining, check out iZotope’s Tonal Balance Control feature with their Ozone plugin (not recommended if you’re a newbie producing music!)
#2 Mistake: Using multiple Reverbs that don’t match, or 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 sounds unnatural to the human ear. Using multiple ambiences that work together is certainly more of an art than a science — and takes practice. However, it’s definitely something to think about and become aware of.
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. Ask yourself, “What is the overall size of the ambience on this track?” Living room? Small club? Big club? Outer space? Start to build reverbs with that in mind, rather than randomly throwing presets in a track and hoping for the best.
#3 Mistake: Lack of width in the mix (Stereo vs. Mono)
Narrow mixes are very common for new producers. It’s a tragedy. When people try to get that “big sound”, think about creating a “wide sound” in moderation. 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 (especially lower frequencies). There are many ways to create width, such as using the right amount of chorus, pitch shifting, auto-panning, delays, and more.
Really advanced mixers might even take width even further, creating width using sidechain automation!
#4 Mistake: 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 from The Lodge Studios. He said, ”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 300 HZ and going up to 6K, 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)
#5 Mistake: Lack of reducing ultra-high frequencies
Let’s refer to frequencies above 12Khz as “air” . Many people know how to apply reductive EQ to cut low frequencies to make space for the kick and bass, 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”. 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 of the many common mixing mistakes made by producers today. 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 practice. It definitely helps to learn from those with more experience than you!
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