3 Quick Tips For a Great Mix
Mixing can be a very challenging process, especially if you're just new to the audio game. Sometimes your levels will all be even but something is still not loud enough in the mix. It can be a confusing rabbit hole to navigate when you first start out, but in today’s blog we’re going to cover three tips that will help you hit the ground running with those mixes!
#1: Make the vocals shine
For years the biggest problem I had was mixing vocals in and I would struggle with them either being too loud or too quiet. Using EQ is a really great tool for everything, especially vocals, and giving them a 5K boost with a graphic EQ is guaranteed to be just the thing you’ll need. This is an important tip for everything: EQ them similarly but differently enough that not everything is occupying the same space. I insist on the 5K boost for vocals because I personally don’t EQ anything else in the 5K range just to leave space for vocals.
What’s your preferred way of EQ’ing? I’d love to know.
#2 Bussing & Compression
As mentioned before, once you get your levels even enough and things still aren’t sounding right, you may want to consider getting your tracks on a bus to "compressionville". I know it sounds funny, but that’s what it is. I always group my tracks (drums, guitars/bass, vocals) and put them on their own separate busses with varying levels of compression applied. Compression really helps bring things together in a mix, but remember compression is just an effect - it is possible to overuse it and you don't want to do that.
Here’s an example of a mix with no compression busses vs a mix with compression busses on all tracks. Which one sounds better?
And while we’re on the topic of bussing, always send your tracks to an FX or Reverb bus, it can help give a dry track space.
Listen again for a before and after:
The one with all of the tracks bounced out to an FX bus with the Slate Digital VerbSuite plug-in is nicer to my ears, especially for this mix which I tailored to sound like a live band, and without that space behind it, it can really sound dry and lifeless - even if it is a small difference.
"Mixing is all about subtle movements that help paint a bigger, broader picture."
#3 Turn it down to make it loud
I know it sounds conflicting, but this is a really helpful tip and one that can save your ears in the process.
I used to blast everything as loud as I could handle, so I could hear it clearly - but I was never really hearing it clearly because it was more or less a wall of noise. While some mixes require it sounding like a massive wall, not all do. One great tip I learned a few years ago during a studio session I was working on was to listen to your mix lower, while trying to make it louder. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but it really does help you hear each layer more clearly... more so than a wall of sound which can actually confuse your ears sometimes, plus, this field requires using your ears! So save them for as long as you can, otherwise you’ll have to find a new hobby… And without music, I don’t know what I’d do!
So there you have three tips to help you hit the ground running if you're lost with mixing, or just looking for some more insight on how to instantly see a difference with a mix you're working on. I hope these tips work for you! Please let me know in the comments if you have any more tips that you've found to be really useful, or if you found these tips handy for your process.
Audio Engineer & Session Musician