1. Mixing on monitors in a non-treated room
Before you start mixing a track you need to be able to hear it in enough detail. The problem with studio monitors is that often producers buy them before investing in room treatment. With bad acoustics you’re not going to hear your track the same way you would in a treated room.
If you can’t afford room treatment a temporary solution could be to buy good studio headphones. With headphones you’re not dependent on your room’s acoustics. I recommend that you still use monitors to check what your mix sounds like on speakers, but if your room isn’t treated they shouldn’t be your primary tool.
2. Mixing before choosing the right sound
With all the mixing tools available it’s possible to do a lot with a sound. However if you don’t choose the right sound achieving the right results can be very hard and time consuming. Often an easier solution than endlessly tweaking one sound is to pick the right sample and slightly process it. Remember - nobody cares about how long your processing chain is, it’s all about the results.
The same applies to synths. Often an easier and better sounding solution than tweaking the wrong synth is to choose a good preset and process it a little bit to make it fit in the track.
3. Using effects without knowing what they do
You can’t achieve a good mix if you don’t know your audio effects inside out. I recommend that you start with your DAW’s built in effects and only then try to use third party ones. Ableton’s built in effects are very powerful and easy to use. To find out about all their abilities I recommend you read the Ableton manual.
4. Applying effects without listening
Don’t try to use effects only because someone told you it’s good to do so. Always listen and judge if it’s necessary to put the effect on. If you bypass an effect and you can’t hear improvement, don’t use it. Use effects only if the track needs it.
5. Not dealing with transients properly
Loud transients on drums may sound good in the mixing stage, but they can destroy the track’s potential to become competitively loud at the mastering stage. Don’t make this mistake and deal with transients in the mixing stage by using transient shapers, limiters or saturation. Yes, slight saturation can reduce transients and make a sample sound louder with a lower peak level. Check this tutorial for more info.
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6. Not thinking in stereo
Stereo is a very powerful effect. Most of the time people listen to music on stereo systems, so take advantage of that. When listening to your mix notice which elements are playing ”on the sides” (stereo) and which elements you can hear ”in the middle” (mono). You’ll hear this effect more clearly if you’re mixing on headphones.
Tip: Panning isn’t the only way of creating a wide mix. Effects such as the Haas effect, Reverb, Chorus and Serum’s Hyper/Dimension are great to add width to a mono sound. Basically anything that introduces difference between the left and right channels will create stereo width.
7. Not checking in mono
Once you figure out the power of stereo you may be tempted to use crazy stereo enhancements. Bear in mind that your mix can be played on mono speakers (for example phones) and needs to still sound good. Too much stereo enhancement can make certain frequencies of instruments disappear in mono and in extreme examples lead to a „phasing” effect.
To avoid that check your stereo enhanced instruments in mono to make sure you’re not overusing the effect. Try to use the stereo enhanced effects in parallel mode - if you keep some of the mono signal, the effect won’t be as obvious when you play the track in mono.
Tip: Try to limit yourself to mixing completely in mono at the beginning. This way you’ll be forced to achieve a proper EQ and volume balance of instruments and you won’t be fooled by panning. If your mix sounds good in mono it means your track is balanced properly.
8. Not dealing with clashing frequencies
When multiple instruments are playing over the same frequency ranges, it can cause the track to sound muddy or certain elements to sound distorted. One technique to deal with this issue is to use EQ to achieve a right balance of frequencies between all instruments. If that’s not enough, sidechain compression can also be a solution. For example if a kick clashes with a bass, you can sidechain the bass to the kick with a short release time to make it duck when the kick hits.
9. Mixing with effects on the master
Always try to make your mix as good as you can before you apply any effects to the master track. Example: If your mix needs more high end, instead of boosting the high end on the master track try increasing the volume of hihats or boosting highs on a lead instrument. Try to abstain from compressing your master at the mixing stage even if you’re making a genre in which master compression is part of its sound (like EDM). This way you’ll be able to achieve a better volume balance between instruments.
10. Mixing at high volumes
At the mixing stage you should give your track a lot of headroom. I always try to keep my track volumes around -10dB when mixing to avoid clipping on the master (happens when you exceed 0 dB - the master volume bar turns red). Technically it could be done by turning down the volume of the master (Ableton doesn’t produce clipping on single tracks, just inside some audio FX and on the master), but I prefer the to keep my volume bars lower to see the volumes better and have more space for my „track volume” slider.
Try also mixing at moderate speaker volumes. When mixing at high volumes some monitoring systems will boost the highs and bass frequencies. That may trick you into thinking that the mix is always going to sound like that. Try not only mixing at a moderate volume but also turning it down from time to time to check what your mix sounds like then. Make sure you can still hear the kick, snare and lead/vocal well at lower volumes.
I’m a music maker who likes to share his experiences with other producers. I regularly show up with tutorials, articles & project files at PML.
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