Mixing is one of the most difficult parts of the production process to master. Time must be spent developing your ears, learning the ins and outs of your mixing software, and gaining experience through mixing numerous tracks. While the time and effort put into this part of the production process is necessary, there are a few tips and techniques that you can apply to your mixes to help speed up the learning process and help you get to a professional mixing level quicker. In this article, I will go over the top five mixing tips that music producers should be using.
1. Dynamic volume automation
Volume automation is often overlooked when mixing in tracks. It can seem quite boring to automate a simple volume knob when there are so many other fx and parameters that can change the sound in a more unique way. Do not underestimate the power of volume automation. It can be an incredibly effective tool to add more impact to your mix.
Here is how you can apply dynamic volume automation to your track:
- Place any gain plugin on your master channel.
- Gradually automate the volume down around two decibels 3 bars before each section change and then bring it back to unity when the following section plays. For example, right before the breakdown, gradually automate the volume down two decibels and then bring it back up to zero when the breakdown plays.
- Do this for each section change.
Adding volume automation will give each section more impact as the human ear will perceive the section as louder. As the volume automation drops by two decibels, the human ear won’t notice a drop in volume and when the volume is brought back to unity, the new section will appear to have more impact without sounding like the volume was boosted.
2. Have correct panning positions
Having the correct panning positions of your instruments is important for the overall balance of your mix. There are only five different panning positions that the human ear can perceive at one time.
- Middle Left
- Hard Left
- Middle Right
- Hard Right
When you are deciding where to put the elements in your mix, choose one of these panning positions for a clean and balanced mix.
3. EQ in key
When we think about having our track in key, we usually only think about the notes that are played by the various instruments in our track. In the mixing process, we can also mix in key to create a more balanced and harmonically pleasing mix. Every frequency has a corresponding note on your piano roll as a note is just a snapshot of a specific frequency. You can view a chart here to view all the specific frequencies and their notes. Knowing this, we can EQ our sounds in the key of our track. If you are looking to boost the high end of a specific sound, then go into the frequencies of musical notes chart and find a frequency that is close to the one you were trying to boost that is in the key of your track. For example, if your track is in the key of C major and you are looking to boost the high end of your track at 6,600 kHz, then boost at 7,040 kHz instead. The note that corresponds with 6,600 kHz is G sharp, which is not a note that is in the key of C major. The note corresponding to 7,040 kHz is A which is in the key of your track. The next time you are looking to put an EQ boost on any of your sounds, add take a look at the frequencies of musical notes chart and pick a frequency that is in the key of your track.
4. Monitor at low volumes
Monitoring at an appropriate volume is crucial for the success of your track’s mix. The Fletcher Munson Curve states that certain frequencies will appear louder and quieter at different listening levels. 60 decibels is the optimal monitoring level according to the curve. If you monitor at higher volumes, the mid-range frequencies will fall to the background while the high and low frequencies will pop out. If you monitor at lower volumes, the lows and highs fade into the background and the mid-range sticks out. All your mixing decisions are based off what you are hearing. If you are hearing frequencies that are misrepresented, then you are going to mix your track in a way that is inaccurate. This is why it is so important to monitor at the 60 decibel level. Imagine if you were a painter wearing glasses with one cracked lens. Your damaged lens would skew your vision making it impossible for you to paint accurately. You would paint what you see through your damaged lenses, not what is really there.
5. Keep your high frequencies in check
Modern mixes are bright and clear. Often, producers add too many high frequencies to their mixes in the hopes of achieving the level of brightness heard in a top record. This frequently leads to an imbalance in the high end of your track. Yes, certain instruments need to be present and bright in the high end, but don’t overdo it. To make sure you are not adding too many high frequencies to your track you can follow these steps:
- Group all your high frequency elements together in your DAW.
- Throw on a multiband compressor and set one of the bands from 5kHz to 20kHz and lower the threshold a few decibels. The goal should be to have only a small amount of gain reduction, no more than two decibels.
Applying this multiband compressor on your high frequency elements will help control the high end and make sure you have a balanced mix.
Clarity, cohesion, and power are all characteristics of a professional mix. By applying the five tips listed above to your productions, you will instantly start to see improvements in your mix. With practice and development, these tips will help you achieve the level of mixes that you know you are capable of creating. Apply these tips to your mixes and keep learning and improving!
Daniel is a caffeine-dependent entrepreneur, music producer, sound design junkie, and world traveler crazy about teaching modern electronic music production through his site SoundShock.