Mix Tips at JustMastering.com
By Rob Stewart - JustMastering.com - Last updated August 7, 2017
Here are some of what I consider to be the most critical mixing tips that will help you create better-sounding mixes. These suggestions will help you achieve an engaging professional sounding mixes.
The best sounding mixes are well edited
Carefully edit all tracks as cleanly as possible. Do it manually, avoiding the use of gates if you can. It takes a lot of time and effort but it pays off in a big way. The audio on each track should be removed or muted whenever there is no playing or singing to reduce noise as much as possible. It is amazing how just a little bit of noise in one track may not seem like a big deal, but when you combine it with another 24 or more tracks that also have a bit of noise, it can add up very quickly - dramatically reducing the clarity and impact of your mix. Noise can often be removed to a degree in the audio mastering process, however, your mix and master will sound dramatically better if the noise is reduced or removed during the mixing process.
Please note that live recordings are an exception, since bleed or room tone can preserve the original listening experience. Same for a drum kit. I prefer filtering instead (see next tip).
Use high pass or low pass filtering for clarity
Use a low pass, high pass, or band pass filter on every track to remove parts of the sound that do not contribute to the musicality of your mix. A clear mix will always sound better after the audio mastering process than a muddy mix. This step goes a long way towards clarifying and focusing your mix. It also makes the task of mixing music much easier to do. It can be a challenge to know when to use each filter and how much filtering to do. Something to keep in mind is that in a mix, most of an instrument’s tone is usually masked by other tracks in the mix. What you largely end up hearing are the strongest elements of the instrument’s tone. For example, you can band pass most distorted electric guitar tracks between 120Hz and 7kHz, even though they often have some information above and below those extremes. Same for the voice, you can high pass it at 80Hz or more, depending on the vocalist’s range. Cleansweep II by Brainworx is a free filter plugin that works very well.
Note: I recommend putting that filtering as the last process on each track. Avoid putting it before dynamic range compression or limiting because those processes often add harmonics, so in my view it is better to allow the filter to get rid of that added distortion as well.
The two-column mix approach
The audio mastering process involves enhancing the inherent musicality in your mix. The best way to ensure that your mixes are as musical as possible is to ensure that the listener's focus is kept on the strongest, most musical elements at all times.
The two column approach to mixing can help you do just that. You can find more information at TheRecordingRevolution.com. Have you ever wondered how professional mix engineers achieve such clear, open and musical mixes? The two column approach to mixing can work extremely well, and it couldn't be any simpler! It's all about enhancing the musical elements of the mix that you want to shine, and removing the the elements that do not contribute in a useful or musical way.
In my view, this is truly what mixing is all about. The more you practice this technique, the better your mixing results will be.
The nicest sounding mixes leverage dynamic range creatively
The attack principle
Did you know that you can trick the brain into thinking something in your mix is louder than it is, just by allowing the attack to shine through a little? You can learn more about the Attack Principle in Kevin Ward's video at MixCoach.com, and some more detail in this Recording Revolution video.
You can easily apply the attack principle to your mix when using dynamic range compression. Choose longer attack times and carefully timed release settings. By doing that, you can keep the compression where it's needed while allowing the transients and remaining attack portion to poke through. By using the attack principle, you can sit the track a little lower in the mix which contributes to better dynamics and depth while reducing listening fatigue! Remember, a vibrant, dynamic mix will turn into an even more lively and dynamic master after the audio mastering process.
Use Mix automation to build drama in your mix
Mixing is all about creating an engaging listening experience. You can use mix automation to transform a dynamically flat-sounding performance, or to magnify the drama of any recording to draw your listeners in or to call attention to certain passages. Mix automation can be time consuming but thanks to today's modern audio workstations, we have more power and flexibility than ever before. Consider that years ago mix engineers would ride faders "live" during a mix session. Here's a video of the late Glenn Gould directing a mix session. Imagine doing that today, with mixes consisting of dozens of tracks!
Remove excess noise from your mixes
Never underestimate the impact that noise has on the perceived quality of your mixes. Noise is cumulative because it begins at the source sound, and can build up during the recording and production process. Noise drastically reduces the quality of your mix by obscuring finer details and dynamics. In severe cases the noise itself becomes a distraction. You can read my thoughts on noise in my article: Preventing Noise in Music Production.
Other quick tips:
- Some shortcuts for creating depth in your mix
- Mix above and beyond your monitors to increase size and space . More information in this RecordingRevolution.com link.