Top 5 Reasons Your Mixes Suck
After hours upon hours of recording take after take and long nights, you finally are ready to begin mixing your current project’s songs. The band obviously wants you to make them sound radio ready with a Master that is as loud as possible. But first things first, you have to Mix!
As you begin your journey into owning your own recording studio, you will begin to see that the processes, procedures and demands are typically the same with every band you work with.
So, you spend a week mixing their first track. On the studio monitors it sounds loud and proud but when you play in your car it sounds dull, cluttered and not very clear at all. What happened? Below we are going to review the Top 5 Reasons your mixes don’t sound as they should.
Reason 1: Panning
Panning is basically the art of moving tracks out of the way for the lead element, typically the vocals. When mixing, it is extremely important to find the proper place of each element of the song. Keeping things in the center because you think it is louder is typically a misconception. A true “Stereo Mix” contains elements all over the stereo spectrum. The center of the stereo spectrum should usually be the low end, rhythmic part of the instruments for example bass guitar, kick drum or snare drum. Your vocals, which is usually the main element and focal point of the song should dominate the center, mono area every time. Try keeping things like guitars, synths, cymbals and harmonies on the left and right channels of the stereo spectrum. I personally believe in the “Hard Left and Hard Right” concept. As in, if you are going to pan things you might as well pan them all the way left or all the way right. This really opened up my mixes when I first began.
Try panning 100% left and right on your next mix
Reason 2: Low End
Low end heavy instruments such as bass guitars, kick drums or even synths are very heavy frequency wise as compared to instruments such as guitars, vocals, snares and cymbals. If you do not balance the low end correctly, you will have a muddy, dirty mix in which listeners will pick up right away. Muddy mixes are signs of inexperienced engineers and producers and will cause you to lose business if you own a studio, trust me. The keyword with low end is balance. A good thing to remember with low end is
“Just because you cannot hear it, Does not mean it’s not there”
Most home studios consist of two monitors and their DAW. Most home studios do not implement the use of a subwoofer in their setup. This causes most mixers to over compensate the low end simply because they cannot hear it. So, they boost low end frequencies until they are audible on their monitors. You have in essence thrown off the balance and made your mix bass heavy. If you do not have access to a subwoofer use a frequency analyzer. Frequency analyzers show you visually exactly what is happening in your mix. I love these because they not only taught me to lay off the low end, but they taught me where each instrument is typically found on the frequency range. I learned if two instruments occupy the same frequency range, I need to pick the one I want more prominent and lower or carve out the other instrument’s frequency so that they blend harmoniously.
Reason 3: Trying to Do Too Much
We’ve all been there where we saved up enough money to buy our home studio. We bought our dream DAW, the perfect audio monitors and we finally bought that brand-new plugin package we’ve been dreaming of. So, it is in our nature to use all at our disposal when we begin mixing. My advice to you is, DON’T. Your main mission as a producer and engineer is to make what was given to you sound as good as possible. It is not to change what was given to you. This may be hard to understand when you first are getting started but as you progress in your career this will begin to unfold in front of you. You cannot make a band that is starting out with very little experience sound like their favorite band. It’s just not going to happen. You are going to find yourself using 5-10 plugins on each channel just trying to make each track sound as good as it can get. This is going to cause muddy, latency driven mixes that will make you sound like an amateur producer. You’re going to find yourself trying to change the natural sound of the mediocre instrument that was given to you and your mixes will sound fake and dull. Always ask yourself why you are putting a particular plugin in the chain and does it truly have a purpose there. If not scrap it!
Reason 4: Reverb & Delay
Let’s face it, every band loves reverb. Whether it’s a guitar drowned in epic flowing reverb that sounds like it being played in an ocean cavern or if it’s a voice with a never-ending decay of repeats that sound like they are singing from heaven, be careful when mixing with too much reverb and delay. I know reverb and delay sound awesome, particularly on their own but when you begin to add them in a mix and you don’t understand the concept of balance yet, you’re in for a muddy mix with clashing frequencies everywhere in your stereo spectrum. Be sure to understand where delays and reverbs need to stop in your mixes and use automation to lower the level of these channels when it is appropriate. If the lead vocal is the center of the mix, then consider lowering the mix between the guitar drenched in reverb and delay and the original guitar signal. Always ask yourself when dealing with reverb and delay, do I really need this? You are going to need to understand that when you introduce reverb and delay that they too contain a plethora of new frequencies being introduced to the mix and that you need to balance them out with a frequency plugin just like below.
Reason 5: Experience
The last reason plagued me when I first began recording music. Why can’t I sound like the pros? Well the answer is, because you’re not a pro and you simply don’t have the experience yet. We established 1st Year Producer with the intention to help new producers and sound engineers grow their experience at a faster rate than normal due to our downloadable sessions. You need to know what it is like to record with bands of all skill levels and dedication. You need to understand what it is like to mix a “trash can” drum set with an out of tune guitar that cannot keep its intonation. You need to learn to autotune a vocalist who thinks they are the best singer in to the world but can’t hit the high notes. You need to keep practicing and exporting different mixes and listening to them on different platforms, studio monitors, car speakers, headphones. You will begin to develop your own style and understand what moves you as an engineer. Time and experience are something to look forward to in this industry.
When you start mixing, it is very important that you examine what was discussed above in order to understand the mixing process. Learning to create radio ready mixes can take years to accomplish. Practice and experience will lead you to better and better record. Do not get discouraged when you are first starting out. Your mixes will get better and better as time goes by, trust me. Stick with it and remember why you got into owning a studio in the first place and you will have your mixes blowing away your clients in no time!