Music production tips and tricks are being released on a daily basis. By doing a quick search on the web, you can find countless articles and videos that go over the latest and best mixing tips. While these tips may be helpful to you in the mixing process, they often just help you mask the fundamental errors that you have in your mix.
Below I have gathered five of the most important and fundamental mixing tips that you aren’t using to help you improve any mix that you are working on.
Quality Sound Selection
The sound selection in your tracks is the most important part of your mix.
No matter how advanced of a mixing engineer you are, if the source sound that you choose to add to your mix is of poor quality, there is only so much it can be improved. If you choose quality sounds for your mix you will ensure that you have the necessary components to build a professional-sounding mix.
Think about if you were a chef. How good of a meal could you actually make with spoiled ingredients? The same applies for a music producer. If your sounds are not good quality and don’t work for the specific genre you are working on, then the mixing process will not matter.
Action To Take:
Before you even begin working on your EQing, compression, and other mixing processes, make sure that all the sounds in your mix compliment each other and are of high quality.
Use a Reference Track
Reference tracks are an absolute must when you are working on a mix, especially if you are struggling to create professional sounding mixes. When you work on a song without a reference track, it can be hard to paint a picture as to what your song will actually sound like. Even if you have a clear idea of what you want your song to sound like, it can be easy to run into issues during the mixing process that change your perception of the mix.
A reference track will give you a sonic footnote to aim for in your mixes. It will give a reference as to where certain elements, should go in the mix, how they should be compressed, EQ’d, etc.
Action To Take:
Before you start working on your mix, find a track in the same style/ genre that you are working on and load that into your project.
Before you mix each element in the mix, take a listen to that element in the reference track and base your mixing decisions off of what you hear in the reference track. It is important to remember that you do not have to make a certain sound in your mix sound exactly like the reference tracks sound.
Your reference track is just that, a reference. Use your ears and guidance from the reference track to determine what mixing decisions you will make.
Focus On One Task
Mixing can be a very hectic process.
You need to adjust volumes, EQ, compression, reverb, and many other processes. The amount of work that needs to be done can be overwhelming. This chaos often leads to problems in your workflow.
We have all started doing a particular mixing process only to find ourselves working on a completely different sound and doing a completely different mixing process to this sound. Skipping around in the mixing process will slow down the mixing process and create more errors in your mix.
Action To Take:
Focus on one task at a time. If you are working on EQing your bass, stick to EQing your bass until it sounds correct to your ears. You can always go back and readjust your mix. Taking it a step further, you can write down a list of tasks that need to be done and then work through this list one by one.
Start with Gain Staging
The first step in the mixing process is the most important. All the decisions that you make in this first process will have a direct impact on the other processes.
What mixing process should you start with?
The first step for mixing your track is to start with gain staging. Gain staging is simply the volume levels on the individual instruments and groups on instruments in your track. The reason it is so important to start with gain staging is that the mixing processes that you apply to the different sounds in your mix will be significantly different depending on the volume level of the specific sound or sounds that you are working on.
Having the appropriate volume levels in your track set first will lay the foundation for your track and allow you to make the best possible mixing decisions later down the line.
Action to Take:
Begin your mixing with gain staging. Set the levels of your individual instruments and groups of instruments as best you can and then worry about EQing, compression, and effects.
Take Time Off
The final mixing tip is one that you have heard many times, but many never seem to use.
That mixing tip is to take time off from your mix. When you are mixing your tracks, you are listening to your track over and over. Your ears become used to your track and the perception of the track becomes distorted.
Once your perception of the track becomes distorted, your subsequent mixing decisions are also distorted. The only way to get rid of this distorted perception is to take time off from working on your track and let your ears reset.
Action To Take:
When you have made significant progress on your track, take a week off from your song. This does not mean that you cannot work on another song, it just means to take time off from the song you were mixing. Once you come back after a week, you will have a completely new perspective on your track and you will be able to make the best possible mixing decisions.
While the above mixing tips aren’t the most cutting edge or exciting, they are some of the most important tips that you can adhere to. The fundamentals of mixing your tracks still remain the same and are the biggest factors to the overall success of your track.
So the next time you are looking to use that new mixing tip that you just read about, think back to this article and ask yourself, “Have I employed all five of these tips?”
If the answer is no, then review the tips in this article and put them into action!
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.