How to Improve Your Mixing
Like with any good skill, you’ll find you improve over time, but the burning question is: how do you improve? Or how have you improved already? In this blog we will cover the four most important things to remember in your journey to improve your mixing - so let’s get right to it.
#1: What did you do before?
The best thing you can do is understand how your old mixes sounded and what your work flow looked like. Chances are you have an old session laying around that you might not have finished or a session that turned into a commercially released record. Open it up and look at what’s going on before you press play. Notice anything different? I know for me workflow was completely different: all of my faders would be peaking in the red but my master bus/stereo out was at -6db. Obviously I didn’t know how to properly use the faders, but we all crawl before we walk, right?
“It’s always best to keep your eyes on the road ahead, but doesn’t hurt to look behind you every now and again.”
#2. Remix & Remaster
Aside from looking at what you used to do, why not actually have a competition with yourself? Open that old session and delete all of your EQ settings and start from scratch. Or simply re-record the whole thing. In this blog, I’ve attached a sample of an original mix I did for 'Try Harder' by Duffin & Ladd. One is the original mix that made the album and the other is a brand new mix that has everything re-recorded except for vocals and acoustic guitars. If you compare both mixes, the original mix is OK to me, but sounds like it struggles for clarity once it hits the choruses when everything comes in... making for a big impact. Pay attention to the drums as well; they are much more punchy and the guitars are clearer too. This is only a difference of about eight months between the original mix and new mix. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the comparison. (Bear in mind, updated mix is not yet mastered).
#3. Listen & Replicate
As audio engineers, it’s easy to take the fun out of listening to a song casually or going to see a live band as you often find yourself critiquing the mix and listening for every little nuance within the song. But if you listen intently to some of your favorite records, figure out what defines them and makes them great. For example, if you listen to a Foo Fighters song, it’s huge - a wall of sound with multiple guitar tracks and layers, double tracked vocals in the choruses etc. Bearing that in mind, record a song and try and replicate that.
#4. Serve the Song
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I was doing a session once with a good friend of mine, Timothy Li , an incredibly talented pianist/keyboard player. We were brainstorming ideas for a particular song we were working on together, but nothing we tried or suggested fit the song. If you’re struggling to fit a the space with a riff or some musical passage and it doesn’t work - don’t do it. A good song will always write itself. As an engineer and producer your role is to get the best out of the musicians you’re working with to create a great end product, its a good idea to try and put all your ideas on the table, but it’s an even better idea not to use them all at once.
All in all, you will develop over time if you put the time in. Don’t be afraid to admit that your once thought-to-be-perfect mixing technique isn’t so perfect anymore. Or your signature drum micing technique really wasn’t that great. Always challenge yourself with new projects, new techniques and make your job interesting. If there’s one thing you can take away from this blog it’s this - record like there’s no mix and mix like there’s no master.
Audio Engineer + Session Musician