• Phil McDonald

A few quick mixing tips

Mixing - An Art form or a Science? Or a bit of both? Whichever way you approach it getting a good mix depends on a number of factors and can make all the difference between your record sounding amazing or sounding a bit, meh. So what can you do to give your hard work a bit of sparkle? This is by no means an exhaustive list and you may choose to approach your mix in a totally different way. However, the below steps should set you on the way to cranking out a great mix.

The first thing to consider is the room where you are mixing and how you are listening. Do you have proper monitors and is the room suitable? Somewhere with large reflective surfaces and high ceilings is going to give you all sorts of headaches with sound reflections making your job much harder. Some simple sound treatment, even a couple of duvets or blankets hung up will help. If you can’t treat the room consider mainly mixing on headphones. This will cut out any nasty room frequencies in the first instance to make your life easier. You can always use another pair of speakers or listen in the car to give you an idea of how it’s sounding.

The second thing I would suggest is not to be tempted to start throwing effects and plugins at your session. With so many stock plugins available for free these days the temptation is to start adding compression, reverb, delay, etc, etc and you’ll just end up with a muddled mix. This is not only a waste of time but will dishearten you too as you’ll feel like you’re going nowhere and will have to start over. Instead, take your time. Listen to the song and try and balance the individual instruments. If you think the bass is too quiet, try listening from an adjoining room. You’ll be surprised at what you can hear. Once you have a basic unprocessed mix in place with the vocal sat just on top you can think about adding some extras.

Think about the stereo image. With panning, you can spread things out so the individual instruments aren’t all competing for the same space. Move guitars out left and right, not 100% (unless you want to do the George Martin thing) place the backing vocals off centre. I tend to keep the bass central as well as the lead vocal but experiment and note what sounds good. At this point, you can think about some plugins but beware, only use it if it’s really necessary. Some compression will make a lot of difference and make the mix more punchy. Some subtle reverb will give the mix some depth and you can add a slight to delay to the vocals as a point of interest. But use these things sparingly. Nothing is more likely to kill a mix that overuse of effects.

If you follow the above points you should be able to put a good mix together. There are one or two other things you should consider. Use a high pass filter on the guitars, keys, etc so as not to muddy the bottom end. That should be occupied by the drums and bass. Some other subtle EQ here and there should make the mix clearer. Try thinking about EQ in a roundabout way. If something sounds too low, you don’t necessarily need to add a load of high end. Try removing some of the lows. The same rule applies to anything that’s too tinny. Roll of the high frequencies rather than throwing a shed load of bass at it. That sounds like common sense but the temptation to add rather than remove often wins if you’re not careful.

As with anything, mixing is trial and error. Remember what works and what doesn’t. I like to keep things as simple as possible, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A well recorded session will make your life so much easier when it comes to the mix, never fall back on “we’ll fix it in the mix” when tracking. Once you’ve got a mix you’re happy with listen to it on at least one other set of speakers and tweak if needs be. But the chances are if it sounds good to you, then it’ll sound good to everyone else.

Do you have any mixing problems you'd like help with?

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