Marketing Your Music/Mixes:
I was recently asked by someone "how do you know if your mix is good enough to be sold?"
This is a great question and one I am quite sure that you have asked or at the very least thought about yourself.
In order to have your mix ready for sale and good enough that someone will want to buy it takes a little planning. From the point of creation all the way up to the point in which you sell it you should be asking yourself is this track good enough to sell if that is your goal for the track. Let's take a closer look at what we will cover:
YOU NEED A GOOD MIX
YOU NEED A TRACK THAT WILL SELL
YOU NEED MAJORITY APPEAL
WHAT IS A GOOD MIX?
WHAT IS A BAD MIX?
FIRST THING IS FIRST...
First in foremost a track that you are going to sell needs to be mixed well. No one will buy a track no matter how good it is if it is not mixed well. Now keep in mind that “ a good mix” is subjective. A good mix to my ears may or may not be a good mix to yours. It is almost like asking what makes a good pizza? Some will say lots of cheese where as others may say it is in the sauce. Still others may say it is in the toppings or the crust. Okay, I am getting hungry so I think I will stop there...
The point is that it is based on an opinion. We all have one and most of us are not afraid to give it. So what makes a good mix is a very broad question with no real definitive answer. As I said, “good” is subjective. I am sure you have heard if it sounds good to your ears then it is good and if it doesn't then it is not. Well that is all fine and good if only you are going to listen to it. If you are going to put it up for sale then you want it to appeal to people beyond just yourself.
SELL OUT TO SELL IT...
You have to sell out to sell your tracks! Now wait before you start sending the hate mail. I don't mean that only tracks that are like what is played on the radio will sell. I also don't mean that you need to change the style of music that you make in order to sell your stuff. I am simply saying that if you provide buyers what is so called “mainstream” tracks that they have a better chance of selling then let's say a track with a tuba, cowbell and a kick drum being played along to the sound of your uncle snoring. Now someone may want to buy your cowbell and snoring masterpiece, but the majority of your buyers will want something that is a little more mainstream I would think.
This doesn't mean that you have to lose your style in the process. You can offer some tracks that are of your style and some tracks that are of a typical radio style. It of course is all up to you, but if sales are your goal then a little selling out may be needed.
MIX TO THE MAJORITY...
If I were asked to make pizzas for a large group of people, but I could only make one kind, what type of pizza do you think I would make? Well I am going to take a guess that your answer would not be anchovy and olive pizzas. Although there may be someone in the group that would enjoy a good anchovy and olive pizza chances are it would not be to the liking of everyone in the group. Now if I choose to make peperoni pizzas then my chances are higher that the pizza would be liked by the majority of that group of people.
When you are mixing you will want to mix to the majority of the likes of most people. Now if you are mixing for a client then of course you must defer to the likes of the client, but in the case of mixing your own track for the purpose of selling it, then you want to mix it to the majority. You want to mix it in the same vein as other tracks like it. Mix to the genre in which your track belongs to. So for example; if you are mixing a dirty south hip hop track, it would only make sense that you would want to mix your track similar to a dirty south hip hop track that you have heard on the radio or in a club.
THE DEFINITION OF A GOOD MIX
So what is a good mix anyway? As we covered, it is subjective and based on opinion but I did an article on the tips to a great mix that you can take a look at HERE.
The perfect mix, a good mix, a great mix (whatever you call it) is a dynamic, moving target, but knowing this simple fact before you start the mix process will guide you to better mixes and mixes that hit close to the perfect target more often. Imagine that you are holding a bow and arrow in your hand. Now imagine you are aiming at a target that is moving from left to right and back and forth. Now if you are told to aim at 2 o'clock and then release your arrow every 20 seconds how many times do you think you will hit the target? My guess is maybe a couple times out of 100 or maybe never. Who knows because in hitting the target it would only be by chance and not by skill.
If you follow this same principle in your mixing you would quickly be able to see how advice to always set your compressor here or to always cut this certain frequency there would give you about the same chances of hitting your target. You are just aiming at a spot without taking into account anything else. So what does every mix need to give you a better chance of hitting the target? Well as I have said many times there are few rules in audio, however every “good” mix should take into account the following:
Balance – There should be a good balance between your instruments and the frequencies within your track as well as a tonal balance to the track. Now granted this is all subjective in itself, but most of us would agree that a balance mix sounds a lot better than an unbalanced one.
Clarity - Clarity in your mix means starting with clear good-quality sounds. Using sounds that are noise free and of professional quality will go a long way in creating a good mix. It also means having a good understanding of frequencies so that you mix is not muddy or mushy. A good rule of thumb is to remove the bass frequencies to all the instruments that are not bass instruments. Also the use of quality plugins is a key to a good mix if you are mixing in the box. Inferior software may introduce artifacts and/or unwanted sounds to your mix.
Separation – Each instrument within your track should have it's own space. Any bleeding or frequencies stepping on one another is counter-productive to our goal of a good mix.
Volume – A good mix will have everything at a good volume level. This means that there shouldn't be any instrumentation that is sticking out or more noticeable then anything else in the mix. A mix with good volume means that nothing is too low in volume and nothing is too loud and over powering in volume.
Openness – A great mix equals an open one. A mix that is crowded with sound can really be challenging to listen to not to mention fatiguing. A crowded mix lacks definition and openness. When we talk about openness we are also talking about a wideness to the mix. If you look at your track as being in a room then it is easy to look at it as three dimensional. You can create openness in your mix through panning and sound placements left, right as well as far away or close up.
IDENTIFIERS OF A BAD MIX...
Sometimes in order to know what you need you have to take a look at what you don't need. Knowing the identifiers of a bad mix will help us to know what not to have in our mixes and in turn create better mixes. This again is something that is subjective and is not meant to cover each and everything that could be wrong in a mix. That would take the whole length of this article. No instead this is meant for you to be aware of the major mishaps in mixing audio.
PEAK LEVEL OVERS – Peak levels are the highest parts of your song. These levels should not be going over zero or in the red. Very bright or boomy bass songs often have this problem. Watch your levels.
BASS FREQUENCIES – Bass frequencies are great when the low end is handled properly. The problem with bass frequencies is that they are also in instruments that are not bass instruments. This causes low end frequency groupings and muddiness.
POINTLESS – Another identifier of a bad mix is a lack of a point of interest or a focal point. Listeners like and almost need a focal point in your song to follow. This could be a guitar, a synth, a vocal or most anything. The instrument is not that important, but the lack of something for the listener to focus on is.
OVER USE OF EFFECTS – Rather it be too much compression or reverb or delay, the over use of effects in your mix is a big no-no. On a bad mix you will often hear the over use of effects. When it comes to effects less is more. Now that does not mean that certain tracks don't sound good with an over use of an effect, but as a general rule less is more and then you season to your own taste.
This article is not meant to give you rules or guidelines that you can never pass. For example there are some great songs in the history of music that had over the top effects in them. Over compressed drums or delays that seem to last the entire song. These are not rules nor are they set in stone, but use them as a guideline for getting your track ready sonically speaking. Only you will know if and when your track is ready and good enough to be put on your Soundclick, Soundcloud or Reverbnation page and ready for a possible sale.
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.