Audio Mixing
I’ve been teaching and working as an Audio Engineer for the past 11 years and through the years I’ve encountered a number of upcoming mix engineers who find themselves stuck at a point, not knowing what the next step should be. In this post, I’m going to break down some of these common mistakes everyone makes starting out and hopefully, this should save you some time and avoid the frustration.

Letting your intuitive mind kick in is very important as it helps you make quick decisions during the first 15 minutes of your mix.

No. 1

Not using References

I’m sure everyone has been at a stage in their mix when they listen to a reference and find out that they spent the last 2 hours tweaking the drum sound and its nowhere close to what they want it to sound like. Not having an Anchor point when you start your mix can be a very big mistake when you’re mixing. Reference Mixes help you in two main ways:
1.Finding a balance between the elements of the song you’re mixing i.e depth.
2.Help you set an anchor point for the correlation between the low:mid:high frequencies.

Every mix will obviously need a very different treatment depending on the sounds and the performances that you’re dealing with, but having a reference mix gives you a good starting point. Having a reference mix also helps you find out how much closer you are getting to your end goal.
No. 2

No Editing or Comping

If you’re an engineer starting out, the chances are that you’re working with a lot of new musicians who are still trying to find their sound. Usually, the performances from such newer musicians aren’t the best and you might find that the drums, bass guitars, etc are all over the place in terms of time and performance. This is where Comping and Editing come into play. Spend some extra time getting the performances as right as you can on the way in. No matter how good you make the drums and bass sound individually, if they aren’t sitting tight together i.e the Kick Drum and the bass are not interacting with each other in time, your low end will never sound TIGHT. Editing can be extremely tedious and cumbersome but a well edited and comped session is the first step to building a good mix.
No. 3

Not having a clear Perception and Direction.

When I was starting out as a mix engineer, I would often find myself soloing a track and listening to it and trying to get every individual element to sound precise. This system used to take me hours tweaking everything, and in the end, I would find myself with a very average sounding mix without any direction and focus to the elements of the song. In the process of making everything sound good, I used to lose context on which elements needed to take up a certain amount of attention of the listener. Perception is everything when you’re working on a mix. Having a very clear idea of which elements you intend to keep in focus and building your mix around it is key to getting a good sounding mix. It takes time and practice to develop this skill but once you do, you will find it much easier to build mixes.
No. 4

Overuse of EQ and Compression

We’ve all been in situations where we tend to overprocess sounds. The reason might be that the sound is either badly recorded and/or doesn’t fit into your perception of the mix. It is important to know that there is a certain extent to which we can manipulate sounds. When we start applying too much compression or eq we end up adding extra artifacts to the sound thereby making them even harder to fit into a range of sounds. This usually happens with acoustically recorded sounds more than synthesized sounds. I have seen numerous students trying to make a guitar sound full by adding a lot of 120 to 200 Hz into the guitar almost making it sound fake and boxy. When working with EQ and Compression, know how much you can change the sound. For example, if the guitar has been recorded using a small diaphragm condenser at the neck, it is intrinsically going to sound thin. Instead of adding extra lows to the guitar find out how you can fit this sound in context to whatever else has been recorded.

No. 5

Overthinking / Not Mixing Intuitively

When I sit down to mix I like to think that I have two systems of my brain that analyze sound and process them. System 1 which is the intuitive system which reacts immediately to a sound being out of place and gives you a general direction of what sounds right and wrong. System 2 which is the analytical side, breaks down individual elements and critically analyses every sound. (This is my interpretation of Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow wrt to Audio Engineering and how we perceive sounds)
Usually, when I sit down to start a mix, I let my intuitive self kick in and set a balance of all the sounds that sound right to me without overthinking it at all. This is the first step to getting a good balance of the song. In this stage, it becomes very clear to me which elements of the mix are going to dominate which sections of the song i.e is the bass going to dominate the low end or is it kick and so on and so forth. Letting your intuitive mind kick in is very important as it helps you make quick decisions during the first 15 minutes of your mix.
In my opinion, this is a much better way to mix than to sit down and tweak the Kick and Bass for the first half an hour of your mixing stage. Make Quick Decisions and move forward. Sometimes your intuition will lead you astray, but this is where you can sit down and critically analyze your mix to find a good balance between both systems. As you keep practicing further you’ll find your intuitive sense getting stronger and better.
No. 6

Not setting up the right Listening Environment

Almost every single student I’ve taught has asked me this question once. “The mix sounds so great on my headphones but why does it sound so bad on speakers ?” We all know the answer to this, and I’m sure all of you guys reading this post must have had this question at some point in time. The answer is simple, not having a good listening environment and not testing your mixes out on different speakers or monitors or earphones, etc.
When we work with only one listening environment our mix will depend on the frequency response of that room, say for example if we work in an untreated room without bass traps where the low frequencies are getting canceled out, mixes done in this listening environment will tend to have way more low end on other speakers or headphones. Since the room we are mixing in has less of low frequencies we will tend to add more while mixing so that it sounds balanced.
But here, although your mix will sound fine on those set of speakers in that specific room, if you take this mix outside it will not translate. The only way to fix this problem is to listen to your mix on different speakers, headphones, etc while your working on your mix and tweaking them as you go along. If the bass sounds alright on your speakers but sounds like its too boomy on your headphones, try to find a balance between both those points. The more you practice this, the better you will get at understanding how your speakers sound in that specific room. This will in turn help you set an anchor point listening.

Check out this blog that talks about mixing on Headphones!

I hope this blog gave you a few ideas to tweak your mixing process and maybe rectify a few things. Maybe you were having some of the above mentioned issues, but know you know exactly what to do to fix it. Happy Mixing!

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