7 Simple Tips for the Perfect Mix
Mixing is one of the most important parts of a song’s creation. You put enormous work into the recording process, used all the best gear, and now you’re left with a rough draft of the magic you came to make.
This process can be tricky if you’re not careful. It can easily eat up a lot of your time without producing the exact sound you want. With that in mind, it’s important to mix smarter—not harder.
With a plan of attack, you can mix your session in a few hours with great results. Use these seven mixing tips to help guide you down that path.
1. Group Your Tracks
You just opened the session up and are prepared to mix. However, the tracks are all over the place. This can create problems when spending time in the mix.
Simple solution: group your tracks.
By organizing and grouping your tracks, you’ll know where each track is and can mix them along with the other like instruments. You don’t want to spend time mixing electric guitars only to find out you accidentally left one out.
Another tip is bus your tracks. Create a drum, guitar, vocal, and any other bus you’d like. This will allow you to control the volume of many tracks with just one fader.
2. Adjust Your Volumes
When some people think of mixing they immediately think of EQ, reverb, and compression. What they don’t realize is that’s just the icing on the cake. You have to properly bake the cake first.
If your track volumes are all over the place, it’s going to sound messy. You want to adjust the volume of your tracks so each instrument and vocal finds it’s place in the song.
A great tip to keep in mind here is putting the drums, bass, and vocals in the front (volume above other tracks). Think about when you listen to a song. You sing to the lyrics and bob your head to the drums. They carry the rhythm.
Tip number two is to leave headroom. Don’t allow your tracks to clip. Turn your tracks down and your speakers up.
3. Pan To Give Your Mix Life
Here is where you give your track some character. You’re making the listener feel like they’re at a live performance and hearing instruments where the performer stands. If everything came from the center, it’d feel mushed.
Give your listener the full experience. Pan your tracks left and right. By no means am I saying go crazy. Without something to fill the middle, it’ll sound odd. You also don’t want to fully pan anything in either direction without balance on the opposite side.
Pan the drums as if you were looking at the drum set. Where are your toms? Where are the symbols? Tip: Don’t pan any drum track fully to one side. When you look at a stage, the drum set is almost always in the center. Keep the kick and snare in the middle of your mix. Slightly pan the others in the direction of your view.
Guitars are another example. A guitarist is never in the center of the stage. Pan the guitars left and right making sure the stereo mix is still balanced and not leaning in one direction.
Spread the mix. Share the love.
4. Fix Your Frequencies With EQ
EQ is a great tool to create clarity. If you have too many instruments occupying a frequency, it can sound muddy. EQ allows you to fit them together nicely and free up space in other areas for instruments to sit.
A simple tip for EQ is to use a High Pass Filter.
Your drums and bass should be the only thing occupying the low end of your mix. The other instruments don’t have a lot of low end, but it could add up. If you add a High Pass Filter to everything except the drums and bass, you can clear that area for just your true low end.
5. Boost Your Tracks With Compression
So now you’re track fits nicely together and the EQ is just right. But something is missing. Compression is one of the most powerful tools you’ll use to make that mix sound perfect. It allows your mix to breathe, but if you’re not careful it can suffocate the naturalness out of it.
Compression is designed to even out the volumes of your tracks. It turns down the peaks and turns up the quietest parts.
Using compression on drums and bass will fatten them up. Use slow attack to have some snap or a fast attack for some meat.
Tip: Compress the quiet parts of the vocals to give them more presence within your mix. Don’t be afraid of using automation. Not everything needs compression. Be careful to avoid over-compressing.
6. Add Some Depth Through Reverb
To avoid having your mix sound dry and unpolished, add some reverb. Depending where you record, you might not have the space to capture the large sound you’re looking for. This is where adding reverb to your mix comes in handy.
Reverb adds space to your tracks. It creates a room ambience that might not have been there during the recording. You can make a track sound large and powerful (think gospel choir).
Add reverb to your drums and vocals which offer a little more space to work with than other instruments. Just like with compression, be careful not to add too much. Try adding a highpass filter to your reverb to avoid a muddy mix.
7. Create Excitement With Automation
Have you ever been listening to a song that starts off quiet and the loud roar of the electric guitar begins to creep in, slowly getting louder and wondered how they do it? Automation.
You can use automation for volume as well as sending it to reverbs and other plugins. If there is a part of the vocals that get too quiet compared to the rest of the track, automate that specific part to increase in volume. This can help bring the track to completion.
Try adding some cool automation effects. Maybe send the guitar to a reverb or have it drop out and come back it. Be creative and put your signature on it!
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