Tips To A Great MixDecember 15, 2011
Audio Mixing Tips: One question that is often asked a lot is “how do I get my mixes to sound better?” Well that is a question that does not have a simple answer. Every mix is different from the last and there are very few rules when it comes to mixing audio if there are any at all. Getting good at mixing takes time through trial and error but if you know some of the keys to a great sounding mix, then you are half way there already. So this week we are going to cover the areas that should get the most attention if you are shooting for a great mix.
SOUND SELECTION – A painter always starts with clean brushes before they start painting. A mixer is no different. Starting with clean high quality sounds play a crucial role in the overall success of your mix as a whole. Choosing high quality sounds is the very first step in achieving a great mix. Throw away all of those “junk drum kits” and only stick with quality drum kits and you will see a great improvement in your mixes right away. Sometimes you don't have control of the sounds that you are asked to mix, but if the recordings are not up to par for the mix don't be afraid to ask for a re-record.
BALANCE – A great mix should be balanced. Other than the vocals (or the instrument that is the focal point on an instrumental track) nothing in the overall mix should be standing out unless you are shooting for some kind of effect. Tracks that are mixed well have a great balance to them in volume as well as in frequency content. Now everyone has a different opinion on what instrument you should start your mixes with. Some start with the drums whereas others start with the vocals or some other instrument. Neither one of those methods are right or wrong as there are no rules when it comes to what needs to be mixed first. It is really a personal preference as to what you want to start with.
I start with the drums in about 90% of my mixes and I start with the focal point first in the other 10%.
I like to start with my drums for two reasons. #1- in most cases getting the kick and bass to work well together requires the most work. I like to tackle the problems in the mix first while my ears are fresh. #2- I like to get a groove going with the kick, bass and snare early as this often directs me as to where I want to go with the mix as a whole.
The focal point is usually the lead instrument (can also be a vocal depending upon the song). If I think the drums may be overpowering in the mix then I may start with the focal point first and build the drum bed around it.
ITS OWN SPACE – In an earlier tutorial I talked about mixing in an imaginary room. If you visualize your mixes in this way it is much easier to understand the concept that every instrument in your song needs to have it's own space. You don't want to have instruments fighting for the same part of the audio spectrum. Using an EQ to roll off the low end and tame the top end if needed is a good place to start depending on the instrument. Followed by addressing another often area of concern which is the mid-range. The mid-range needs a lot of focus while you are mixing because this is often where the vocals sit and clutter in this area is very noticeable. Some advanced techniques could be the use of sidechain or gates to better control space.
GRAB AND HOLD INTEREST – The track needs to grab and hold the listeners attention in order for the song to be memorable in that listeners mind. Of course lyrics and a great melody are a large part of making a song stick in the old memory banks but the way it is mix also plays a part. Take for example Kelly Clarkson's Breakway. The way John Shanks mixed this track is pretty brilliant. It starts with Kelly signing a bunch of da, da's at the beginning right? This is cleverly placed there so you can immediately start singing to it when you hear it on the radio because you don't need to know the words of the song to start singing to it. Now at this point we have all heard this song way too many times and know most of the words to it even if we don't want to or want to admit that we do. I know what you are thinking and it is not one of my favorite songs either but there are some clever things done with the arrangement of this song that I find interesting.
SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER WHILE MIXING
Emphasize the hook in the song by using different instrumentation.
Your song should have dimension (width & depth).
Easy on effects like reverb & delay as they take up a lot of sonic space.
Make sure your kick and bass are still working well together as you add more sounds.
Take breaks while mixing to give your ears a break.
Check you mix on different speakers.
Stay tuned for more weekly tips and tutorials every Wednesday.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.