6 Mixing Mistakes - How To Avoid A Bad MixAugust 31, 2012
Mixing is subjective. There are very few rules that MUST be followed because a lot of what you do is based on your own style. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because it allows mixers to be creative without limits. It is bad because some folks think that you don't need to follow any guidelines when mixing and that can lead to trouble. So that being said lets take a look at my 6 Mixing Mistakes – How To Avoid A Bad Mix to help give you a few guidelines and hopefully help to improve your mixes.
Okay, first let me say that the purpose of this article is to give you 6 common issues that can come up in your mix. It is not meant to be an “end all be all” guide to mixing mistakes or to be used as a must avoid checklist. Instead it is meant to be a way to recognize some common problems that may come up in your mix and learn how to tackle those issues so that the end result is (hopefully) a much nicer sounding, balanced mix. No one thing listed here will magically make your mix sound better, but instead take these 6 things and keep them in mind while you are working. So enough talk. Let's get started.
These are in no particular order.
TOO MUCH BASS
I hear this one a lot. The bass is overpowering the rest of the track. This is usually due to poor monitoring or a mix that is poorly balanced. Generally speaking the bass should be working with the other instruments on the low end not working against them. If your bass is taking the front seat in your mixes then it will make your mixes unbalanced on the low end of frequency range which may cause you to overcompensate in other areas like the mids and the highs.
Watch out for overdoing your bass sounds and instead focus on a nice balance between your kick and your bass drum. It's okay if you like a lot of bass. As matter of fact depending on the genre of music a heavy bass sound is expected if not required. So once you have your low end sounding the way that you want you can always bump things a few dB's once you have all the tracks going the way that you want. The key is not overdo it unless the track calls for it.
TOO MUCH ON THE HIGH END
Yep, beginner engineers will often have the opposite problem too where there is too much on the high end of things. Sometimes this happens because you are trying to compete with a heavy low end and sometimes it happens due to an exciter or some other effect that is affecting the high end of the frequencies.
An EQ is a great way to get rid of some of those high end issues, but more importantly you want to have a balance mix (at least starting out) so that you can get a good feel of the groove of the song and where the mix is taking you. This means that you high should not be sticking out too far from the other sounds. Now as you progress through your mix and you have your balance, then you can adjust sounds as you see fit and as the mix calls for them.
NO ROOM FOR VOCALS
I hear a lot of mixes where it seems that the vocals on the track were an after thought. At least it sounds that way. Even when working with a two track you want to carve out a spot for your vocals to sit in. A track where the vocals sound detached is hard to listen to and the emotion of the track is usually lost.
Simply make room for the vocals. As you are mixing you don't need to always mix your vocals last. You can bring you vocals in from time to time to hear how they are sitting with the rest of the mix or you can even start with the vocals first (usually when dealing with a tough vocal) and create your mix around your vocals to ensure a spot for them. Whatever way you want to do it is just fine as long as you make sonic room for your vocals.
More than likely this is due to over compression and limiting. Not having a proper understanding of how a compressor works (as well as poor hearing skills) may cause someone to over compress certain sounds. Lots of times this is because they don't hear the compression so they keep going until they can hear the compressor working.
Compression is NOT always the problem. Sometimes it is instrumentation stepping on one another and a number of other reasons why the track may lack dynamics. But for the most part when we are talking about a lack of dynamics within the track for a newbie, 9 times out of 10 it is do to too much limiting or compression.
WHERE IS THE TONE?
If you can create tone from the instruments in your mix you will find that you mixes will begin to improve greatly. In most cases this is severely lacking in a amateur mix. Finding the tone of each instrument can be a bit tricky and often times very time consuming, but it is a necessary evil in the world of mixing.
There really isn't one easy fix for this one. As matter of fact it is really quite hard to put into words how to overcome this issue. I will say that it really does help to understand how the instruments sound “in the real world” to help you hear and capture an instruments true tone. For example; if you have never heard a guitar then it makes it very difficult to tweak a generated guitar sound in order for it to sound realistic. This takes some time and practice to get right. It might help to have reference tracks that you can use to compare your track to until you master this process in the mix.
WIDTH AND DEPTH
Do your tracks not sound like the commercial mixes that you hear on the radio? It could very well be because they lack width and depth.
When you listen to music in a live environment you hear the music coming from different parts of the space in which it is played. So you will hear it on the left, the right, close to you and farther away as well as all points in between. Well you also want to mix in this way as this is the way we would naturally hear these instruments being played.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.