As a Professional Producer in it for the long hall we are always looking to improve our mix. It’s never “perfect” and there are always tricks and things you can learn to get faster, and better at mixing. Here is a list of a few Tricks I’ve learned along the 8 years of mixing and mastering in Ableton live.
1. JUST THE RIGHT EQ, NOT TO MUCH!
Lowpass and Highpass can sharpen your mix, if used right. There are two techniques here. First being Low Pass. If you have a bright guitar you might think having all that high end is good, but staking it on top of all the other high end might make it seem harsh and not “bright” so cutting off the top lets the clear frequencies through and leaves room for the hats, or anything else you need be more in the realm of shimmers and accents.
Then you have the High Pass. You don’t want to over do this, but it’s the same idea. If you have a melody and harmony that has some harmonics under 150 hz it can start clashing with your bass. Then you see your bass has little volume, but is clipping. This is because a lot of mud and other low end are staked on top of your bass. If you EQ out the low end of the parts that don’t need it you give more room and clarity to the bass itself. Something to keep in mind though is too much cutting of the low end in your music will lead to a “cold” mix. Having some low end in your harmony and melody leads to more “warmth”.
2. MIXING AT DIFFERENT MASTER VOLUMES
You are working on your track and when you have your speakers turned up it sounds GREAT! Well, when everything has that extra punch and all the elements can be heard, yeah it will sound better. The other side of this is if you mix with a quiet volume, then certain elements, like the highs, come out clearer while other elements, the bass, are quieter. This is because we perceive things differently at different volumes. So… use this to your advantage.
Have you ever gotten a mix sounding good, but when you play it on another system, it sounds over hyped or to quit? This normally happens because you are listening to the track over and over with the same volume as a reference point. Remember mixing is all about a smooth overall volume of the parts. So listen to your track loudly and notice how the different parts are, and then listen to it quietly and notice how it changes. This will give you a better overall perspective of the track.
A good example of this is sometimes I take a track I am working on and turn down the master track a lot. I mean a LOT! down to -36 and lower. As you turn it down you won’t be able to hear certain sounds. Take note of what those are, and what is left. If you find the last few sounds you can hear is just the snare, or the kick, then those are way too loud in your mix. If it’s quiet you want to hear the melody a little, and a few other elements. Now turn it back up and play with it.
flip Side is turning it way up. Is that bright bell now melting your brain? Is the bass just too loud! This helps you also tell what doesn’t fit equally with the rest of the sounds. Remember you aren’t trying to be just loud, you are trying to have all the elements be equally balanced so you can hear all the parts in such a way that the overall mix is even.
When all said is done, you’ll find that a record that creates the impression of a big sound at low levels, will sound absolutely huge when it’s cranked.
3. KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE WITH DYNAMICS
One of the keys to a good mix is dynamics. If everything is loud and in front the whole time you are going to fatigue your listeners really quickly. It’s important to understand this and allow space in your mix so it’s not in your face, but still very present and full. Dynamics is the key to this.
You can affect the dynamics by using Compression. What Compression does is attenuated a signal that exceeds an amplitude threshold. In most cases that will squash the sound, or in other words lower the dynamic range. With a long enough attack and the threshold low enough, a compressor can actually exaggerate the attack. This way it lets the attack through for so many milliseconds, and then compresses the sustain part of the sound. This lets you give more clarity to the transient (hit), but also give a nice dynamic range.
Another thing to keep in mind with dynamic range is juxtaposition. Basically if you have all your sounds at 20 dB and higher than it can seem pretty flat, but if you have a part where it gets really soft, or you have this really light, high shimmer sound that you can barely hear, then it gives you a reference part to know how much louder the loud parts are.
4. MIXING IN MONO
Sometimes in my mix I like to switch over to Mono. I do this by just adding a utility to my master and turning it to mono. This helps because it lets me remember that all these sounds make up one track, not just left and right. It really helps when eq’ing all the parts. If I can EQ the parts and give each one it’s own sonic space in the mix it will sound fairly clean. Then when I open it back to stereo the mix will feel like it has that much more space and clarity.
Granted this doesn’t always apply when you have multiple voices over the stereo field to create a cool effect, but it does help give you a fresh perspective and can help you tighten your mix.
5. LITTLE TOUCH OF REVERB GOES A LONG WAY
Having a sound a little to the left, or a little to the right adds a little sense of space, but humans are way more intelligent than that. We perceive not only where the sound is coming from, but how that sound reflects in the space. Not only that we can actually determine where something is by how it bounces off our shoulders to our ears. That is how we can tell something is above us.
This is where reverb comes in. It can help all the parts be defined within a space. Especially if you are using Convolution reverb. One technique that can help with this is having one or two reverbs as a return track. Then you can send a small amount of your drums, that pad, and so on to the return with the reverb. This way all the parts sound like they were recorded, or live in the same space. this will deeply “glue” your track together. You don’t need to overdo it, but a touch here and there will make it all gel together.
6. REFERENCING OTHER TRACKS
After all this mixing your ears begin to get fatigued. YOu find that you don’t like it so bright, or you like that mid range turned down. This is because your ears are just tired of hearing it. If you turn on a reference mix you might notice how much clearer, and brighter it is. Then when you go back to your mix you can hear how you eq’d out too much here or there. This is why referencing other music is so important.
To give you a fresh perspective and more attuned ears you should switch over to a reference track every 30 minutes. this can help you keep your ears on the final goal instead of getting caught in the minutia or just getting too fatigued. Also take breaks. I like to take a break every 1/2 hour as well. Then come back… listen to a reference track, and get back to it. This will keep your ears fresh and your perspective clear.
These different techniques are all about letting you see your mix from different angles. The wider your view, the more likely you are to get the overall mix sounding good.