5 Ways To A Better Mix That Don't Cost A Penny

04-06-2014 09:58 AM

Mixing can seem like a dark art reserved for the chosen few, for some mixing their first tracks can send their head in a spin. Great mixers are worth their weight in gold and in high demand, but for many the chance of ever having a top mix engineer get near your stuff is highly unlikely. Here are 5 ways to a better mix that don’t cost a penny.
5 Ways To A Better Mix 1 - Listen To Reference Tracks

This is something that even top engineers do. Find tracks that sound the way you want your track to sound and then spend some time listening to them. Listen to the tracks on speakers, listen on headphones. Listen to the tracks at different volumes and start to listen into the track to the component parts. How does the bass sound? How do the drums sound? How does the guitar sound? How do the vocals sound. Is the track wet or dry? Does the track have a wide or narrow stereo image? Is the vocal forward or back in the mix? Are there any special effects such as delays or filter sweeps? Is the track compressed hard or very open and full of dynamic range? Developing a critical ear is essential if you are going to get better at mixing, knowing why a track sounds the way it does is not down to anything magical, it is down to the art of deconstructing a track back to its component parts. The more you do it the easier it becomes, one word of warning, it can ruin you ability to listen to music
5 Ways To A Better Mix 2 - Learn About Instrument Range

It’s no good chasing 60Hz if you are trying to get a flute sound right, or tweaking 10Khz to get a kick thumping. Understanding the frequency range of instruments, which include the voice is an essential step to getting better sounding mixes. There are plenty of free online resources that will help you get to grips with the range of each instrument, one of the best is this one from the Independent Recording website, it is interactive and shows you quite a lot of information. If you don’t know your 20Hz from your 20Khz then you’ll never master mixing, so getting these fundamentals right will transform your mixes.

5 Ways To A Better Mix 3 - Find The Problem Frequency

One trick used by live sound engineers when looking for feedback is to create a narrow Q on a frequency band, boost it and the sweep it to find the point at which the feedback triggers. You can do the same when mixing tracks. Start by soloing the track and the open up and EQ with a visual display such as Avid EQIII 7 band or iZotope Alloy. Then choose a frequency range roughly near the problem, create a narrow Q (that’s the sharp looking if you are a newbie) boost it hard as you can and then start to move the frequency range. You will hear it sweeping and as it sweeps the range you will hear the sound change and you should be able to find the problem. Once you have found the problem then simply cut it. Some suggest that when it comes to EQ one should boost in wide bands and cut in narrow bands, there are no exact rules, but it is a good place to start. If you try and cut in wide bands you may wipe out an adjacent frequency you are trying to boost and in doing so start chasing your tail. The more you use this tehcnique the better you will be at identifying certain frequencies and in time develop a better ear.
5 Ways To A Better Mix 4 - Start Using Filters

Filters. Use them to clean up a mix. Use filters to clean up guitar sounds, piano sounds, vocals, drums.
Use low cut filters to remove low end information on guitars, vocals, hi-hats, overheads and some keyboards. Use hi cut filters to remove the sibilance in vocals or the fizz in electric guitars.
Another excellent use for filters is to use them in conjunction with compressors and gates to the compressor to only compress certain frequencies or for gates to just catch the problem frequency. The great news is that the comps and gates that ship with Pro Tools free have filters built in, so get used to using them. For example if you have a drum loop and you want to compress the snare but not the kick then use the filter to make sure the compressor only triggers above a certain frequencies.
Filters are the magic weapon in mixing, get used to using them and you’ll find you have mixes that are filled with more space and clarity. Take care not to set the slopes too extreme or the frequency too high or low otherwise you will end up with mixes that are thin and lifeless.

5 Ways To A Better Mix 5 - Get Other People To Listen To The Mix

It may be stating the obvious, but the more sets of ears you have listen to a mix then the better chance you have of getting a great mix.
After spending hours and days on mixes there is a tendency to become ‘mix-deaf’ where you are so involved you sometimes miss the obvious. So find people you trust with a good set of ears and ask them to take a listen to your mix. Often they will confirm to me something I thought was wrong but wasn’t sure, or they will say that there’s another issue I have missed. One small word of caution, don’t try and mix by commitee, in other words having a room full of people during the mix. Mix the track on your own and then get feedback. Having lots of people in a mix is like having three hands on a steering wheel - there’s going to be a crash.
5 Ways To A Better Mix - Homework

Here is some homework, go listen to the track ‘Magic’ by Coldplay produced by my buddy Rik Simpson, it’s a beautiful piece of work, simple yet powerful so a good track to use for critical listening.
Spend some time listening to the track in its parts. Listen to the sound of the drum machine, the vocal, the piano, the guitar, the bass and see how it was created.
A couple of tips, the drum sounds change in the second verse and only certain parts of the track use really wide panning to create the sense of space and leave room for the main vocal. Try and figure out what the sound sitting right in the back of the mix is, it’s a regular sound treated to give an ethereal effect, it’s beautiful and without it the track would have less to glue it together.
5 Ways To A Better Mix - Go Do It!

You can mix better tracks, not by accident or by luck, but by learning to listen, learning about the fundamentals, and letting others critique your work.
You can mix - go do it!