Looking to become a better mixer or have better-sounding productions? No matter what level you are at I believe there is always room for growth and improvement. If you are like me then you are always looking for new and different ways to improve your workflow and create better-sounding music. Over the years I have learned a thing or two that I believe can really help you improve the quality of your mixes. So here are three tips that will help you on your journey to getting better mixes.
1. Reference Tracks
This is a technique that I learned a while back and it has helped me to produce some great results. You will see a lot of people using or talking about this technique simply because it works. When you are mixing a track, find a song that you really like the mix of. It can be in the same genre or a different genre. Usually, I will pick a song or two that has some qualities that I find similar to the tracks that I’m working on.
Now you can either import the track directly into the session or you can use a reference track plugin like Magic AB or Reference to load the song. Either option is good, just make sure that your reference track is bypassing any mix bus/master bus processing. This is typically done by routing the track’s audio directly to the output of the audio interface, instead of the master.
When you are feeling pretty good about your mix you can compare your mix to the professional mix. Here are a few things that you can check when comparing the two mixes:
- Overall clarity and separation between tracks
- Brightness and high-end balance
- Thickness and low-end balance
- Kick/Bass relationship (which one sits on top of the other in the mix)
- The impact and punch of the drums
- The volume balance of each instrument
- The panning position of each instrument
- What the mix sounds like in mono
Comparing these things should give you a good idea of how your mix stacks up to a professional mix. From there you can make any necessary adjustments to your mix to get it up to par. The idea isn’t to make your mix sound exactly like the professional. The idea is just to get some perspective on your mix and how it will translate to the real world. This one tip can be a game changer for many mixers and, when used correctly, can really increase the quality of your mixes.
2. Have A Reason for Everything
Instead of meaninglessly adding a bunch of plugins to a track, why don’t you try to have a reason for every mixing decision that you make? Unless you decide to share your session or plugin chain, no one is going to see what’s going on under the hood. So it really doesn’t matter if you have a long “impressive” plugin chain or a very modest one. The only thing that matters is the result and I have found that you can get great results from simply simplifying your approach.
One way that you can simplify your approach is by mixing in stages. The first stage is to focus on getting the right volume balance with the faders. Next focus on panning elements in different places to create space. Only after you’re feeling good about those two things should you move on to EQ and then compression. Once the core of the mix is complete feel free to add character, space, and depth with console emulation, tape saturation, delay, reverb, etc. Taking a simple staged approach to mixing will help you to get the balance right at each stage. And of course, you can always go back and tweak things if necessary.
I know, I know… this isn’t the super secret “game changing” technique that you were looking for. But the truth of the matter is this: the more mixes you finish, the better you will get at mixing. If you don’t have access to projects to mix there are a lot of free multitracks online available for download. I will link a few at the bottom of this post. You can also sign up to paid services like Audio School Online, Nail The Mix, PureMix, and The Pro Mix Academy. Each of these places will send you the multitracks for a song to mix. They will also send you an accompanying video showing you how a world class professional mixer mixed the song.
Download the multitracks for a few different projects and mix them. Try not to spend too much time on each mix. If possible, try to get your mix done in one day. Try your best to get the song mixed as soon as you can or you may end up abandoning the project. And you certainly won’t learn nearly as much as you would have if you finished it. Just trust your ears, your instincts, and do the best that you can.
If you need some help staying on task try timing yourself and see how much you can get done in an hour. Once the hour is done take a quick 10-15 minute break and then get back to it. Repeat this process until you feel good about your mix. Once you feel good about your mix bounce it down and you are done! You are now ready to move on to the next mix.
Side note: Most multi-track providers allow you to add your mix of their song to your mixing portfolio. So you can not only use these multitracks for practice, but you can also use them to help you get more work as a mixer!
Every mix that you finish is going to move you a little bit closer towards your goal of getting better mixes. Each time you finish a mix you are learning and you are figuring out your individual sound and taste. You can then take what you learned and apply it to the next mix. This knowledge (that you can only obtain from finishing mixes) will slowly accumulate over time and will eventually lead to great sounding mixes. Just keep an open mind and always be willing to try something new.
I hope these tips help you cut down your mixing learning curve and start getting better mixes. Start using these tips and let me know which one helped you improve your mixes the most!
Stay creative, stay encouraged, stay inspired, and stay motivated.