I get asked for tips and pointers on mixing and production matters in general quite often. I decided I would drop a line or two of some SOLID mixing tips and production pointers. Often times too many, the art of mixing is filled with propaganda, marketing ploys, and downright disinformation. If you are reading those “music magazines” to learn about mixing, please understand that while you may find useful info, there are advertisers and reviews intended to sell gear and software within those magazines. I have met people convinced that they need certain special plugins to get certain results. It’s simply not the case most of the time. While it is true that having high quality gear or plugins is essential in most cases, you can do most basic techniques with stock plugins & FX in most digital audio workstations. To put it more precisely, it is more essential to know the techniques and the foundations of the craft vs. having the latest shiny new toy. There is no plugin that can replace skill, but a skilled engineer can create industry quality results with the stock plugins in Pro Tools for example. Here are a few pointers and basics to keep in mind.
EQ: Cutting frequencies is just as important and often MORE important than boosting them.Simply going in and boosting the hell outta frequencies is a bad strategy. Your mix is like a puzzle, everything has it’s place. Make it all fit together! You need to get a technique down for knowing when to “cut” or reduce certain frequencies, this is crucial.
Use panning to your advantage: Panning isn’t as basic of a function as it appears. Panning if used properly can define the sonic field and stereo depth of your mix. It’s not just left or right, but part of the foundation of your palate. This simple factor with other elements MAKE or BREAK a mix.
SIGNAL/EFFECTS/PLUGIN CHAIN: The order of your plugins are important.What order you put your plugins can be advantageous or outright counter-productive. Let me give you a perfect example:
“If you have an instrument you are trying to control the dynamic range of in a mix with a compressor, don’t place a boosting eq directly after the compressor ot any effect that will affect the dynamic range of the signal”
Sounds obvious when put in that context correct? Okay great. There are no hard and fast rules in mixing, but you don’t want to do anything specifically in your signal chain that’s counter-productive or that will sound bad. I want to point out when I say “signal chain” I’m also referring to anything you are recording into your mix. If you are running vocals or synths into Fl Studio or Pro Tools, you want to be very careful about what you run them through, gain etc. If you are using a pre-amp with a compressor or limiter built in, you can over-compress your vocals on way in if you don’t know what you’re doing. I have even been sent mixes where the vocals were recorded with reverb and delay on the way in, impossible to undo that (completely) once its already recorded.
Be creative! There is no “Textbook”Most importantly be creative man! Just because you got that EQ trick or a reverb preset you like to use on EVERYTHING, don’t settle. Learn the basics then develop your own tweaks to create a unique mixing style. After all anyone you consider a great mixer does something unique that is not “textbook” by nature.. Keep up the good work! You will get this mixing thing down in no time!
About Joey Cutless
Joey Cutless is a Music Producer, Composer & Engineer that has been a pioneer in online beat sales, TV licensing, and marketing of all things production related for over 15 years.