Some Useful Tips When Learning to Mix Music

mixing music tips

In this article I wanted to share a few things to keep in mind when it comes to getting a great mix. These techniques are not only for beginners but also for the seasoned pros as well. Any great engineer should have a few things in mind before they start their work. These tips will serve more as a foundation that can sustain your mixes for year to come.

I’m not going to explain what audio mixing is because there are other good sources like Wikipedia who do that well.  I’m just going to assume that you have a basic understand of what it is.  What I hope to do is give you some actionable steps to use in your mixing workflow.

Your Listening Levels

Even before you get your hands on anything in your DAW and begin mixing your music, you would be smart to set up your monitoring levels from the get go. It doesn’t matter if you are mixing on your headphones or speakers, you should set a proper and consistent level that will remain as your go to volume for the entire mix.

Even the tiniest amount of volume change during the mixing process can obscure how you hear your project. So try and find a spot that you are comfortable with and then stick to that. And how do we find that spot you ask? The best way to judge the level is if you can have a conversation with someone with out having to raise your voice, than you are definitely in a sweet spot.

There’s many reasons why you want to mix your music at lower volumes but here are a couple: better frequency response, less room noise, and your ears will thank you later.

Proper Gain Staging

Now that you have your monitoring levels all ready to go you are going to need to do a little more house cleaning before you start mixing. This is where gain staging comes in. Your tracks are either too hot or too low and you need to set them in an optimal range.

What we are trying to achieve is a level that makes sense but also gives us enough headroom. Because if your master track is dangerously close to clipping then you will have problems. Digital clipping is the worst thing you can do to your tracks. The best way to do this is to add some type of gain plugin which will turn down the input of the track.

If you play back the song now, and you have about 25% of headroom on the master fader, then you are most likely in a sweet spot and you can continue on your music mixing journey.

The Volume of Your Tracks

The last point I want to drive home is probably the most important of them all. Now we want to try and establish the best possible fader position for each track in our mix. You may have done some of this stuff already but this is where you want to finish it off.

Every track in your mix is going to have a sweet spot at where the fader should reside and it’s your job to try and find out where that is. Your going to take a lot of listening to the tracks over and over. It’s your job to find the spot for each track where it delivers it’s optimal impact on the record. Of course, it’s not going to be perfect but it should make your mix sound more musical.   At this point you are 90% of the way to mixing your song, congratulations!

Use References For Mixing Clues

mixing references

Here’s a cool mixing exercise for you: Go and put on your favorite song and really listen to it. But don’t just listen to it and enjoy it, listen to it with reason. So in this article, I’m going to give you a few things to focus on when you turn up those tunes. You need to investigate these music recordings like you were Sherlock Holmes. So once you feel like you have the problems solved, you can include them into your own recordings.

Where Are They Placing Things Between The Speakers?

An important thing you can do is to try and determine what type of panning verdicts were made in the song you are listening to. You can do this while you are listening on headphones, then just jot down what you are hearing. Where are the vocals? The Delays? The Drums? How close and far away are things from you?

By going back to songs that I have loved for a long time, I am often surprised that the panning decisions are not what I thought they were. A perfect example is the RHCP album Californication. That album was done really well and is both fun and energetic but to my surprise, almost all the tracks were panned to the centre. Yep most of the sounds were in mono most of the time.

How Wet or How Dry is It?

Just like fashion, musical trends will come and go and as an engineer, it’s important to try and take note of the amount of reverb and delay is being used. During the 80’s, it was quite common for things to be very wet and sometimes artificially so. But in the decade before, things tended to be more on the dry side. All of that is cool but what’s more important is to find out the styles and trends that you yourself enjoy.

You should try and focus on two things, if you can help it – the vocal and the snare drum. Try to listen to how wet they are. Does the vocal sound like it’s in a small space? Maybe a large hall? Is there any delay on it at all? This is pretty important because they can sound extremely different. Investigate the reverb in a mix and then try to take note of it for your own use. This should help you make better decisions when you use reverb in your mix.

Arrangement

Without a doubt this is the most helpful thing that you can learn from a professional song. You need to really focus on what instruments they used throughout the song to make it pop. Can you notice any pianos, guitars, tambourines, strings?

As you investigate further, you might be surprised to hear certain rock songs that use heavily distorted guitars, actually also have acoustic guitars. You also might shocked to hear a hip hop song with a piano or pluck on the outro. There’s a lot to be learned from the professional recordings to see how they make songs interesting from beginning to end. These should all help in your future recordings.

Get Investigating!

So I’ve done my part, the rest is up to you. Slap on some headphones and listen to your favorite songs. Grab a pen and pad and jot down all the cool and interesting things you hear. Take notes on what you are hearing and then copy it and use it on your own projects, you will see some noticeable improvements.

Creative Ways For Mixing Hip Hop & Trap Style Music

mixing hiphop & trap

One of the first things to take into consideration is the fact that mixing Trap Music is vastly different to mixing other types of Rap Music. For example, coordinating low end is a common aspect of mixing. This is when you try to get the bass and the kick to complement each other perfectly. With Trap Music however, the bass is typically also the kick.

Setting up ambiance is another example. When you’re working with your reverbs and delays in a regular type of mix, you need to choose settings and styles that are relevant to the tempo of the song you are working with. Trap Music on the other hand has a negotiable tempo! Additionally, when you mix you usually try to achieve a balance in the arrangement of instruments, but with trap music the arrangement of instruments can change from one second to the next, making it almost impossible to keep a static mix.

Getting a Killer Low End

Generally speaking, you need a massive “low end” in order to get a good trap mix. Volume also tends to become quite a challenge. You need a kick which is loud, but obviously there is a point where the volume of your kick will simply mask everything else.

Once you have determined the right level, your next challenge is to find ways to make the kick seem louder than it actually is. To be honest, there are many ways you can go about achieving this, but subtlety and taste are incredibly important because can very easily result in the kick appearing smaller or even bigger than it really is.

You Need Movement

The best way to deal with rhythm is to break your rhythm down into sub-rhythm, and then you address each of these individually. Long reverbs and delays should be put on slower elements, while short reverbs and delays should be put on faster elements. Once this has been achieved, you can begin blending the reverbs, but you always need to ensure that the resulting sound is cohesive. In short, you want a unified reverb that doesn’t encroach on any of the elements.

As a general rule, the faster elements should essentially be in attack mode, but you will need to increase the “sustain” of slower elements, including synths and snares. Fortunately, you will almost always find that the kick already has a hefty built-in sustain.

Keep the faster elements more attack driven – like hi-hats – but play up the “sustain” of the slower elements – like synths and snares. Usually the kick already has a huge built in sustain.

Arrangement

If the instrument arrangement changes, it is the mixer’s responsibility to make the necessary mixing adjustments, so as to compensate for the changes. Forget what you might have read about “Set and Forget” – When you are working with Trap Music, the Set & Forget approach simply won’t work. Fortunately, you can overcome most of these hurdles with nothing other than careful level adjustments. Nonetheless, some elements might call for EQ or compression adjustments to be done in certain segments. Lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember, you can copy an instrument onto a completely new track, and you can then treat that instrument differently in different segments of your track. This is one of the beauties of mixing Trap Music, you can be creative.

Mixing Distorted Metal Guitars

Hey There!

Are you having trouble mixing your Distorted guitars?

I know I have been through all the ups and downs.   I have seen a lot of trial and error on this very subject but fear not.  I love to write and talk about mixing but I also like to share :)

Check out this YouTube Video I found from Metal Guitar Stuff.

Really solid information to help get you out of the Electric guitar struggles.

video source: Mixing Distorted Metal Guitars [ Reaper Tutorial ]

How to Use EQ More Intelligently

Equalizer

I’m always advising new engineers that if they can get EQ and compression right in their mixes than they are almost done. I’m not joking, these are your best tools at your disposal to get a a great sounding mix. Then can also be your worst enemies if you don’t use them properly. I’m am going to show you how you can think of EQ in particular so you can be in the crowd that uses it properly.

Take Out What You Don’t Want

With the more experience I get and the more mixes I do, I realize just how right my mentors were in saying that it’s better to cut with EQ than it is to boost. There’s a few reasons with this is the case and I’ve only come to grips with this in recent years.

The first reasons why you should look at your EQ as a cutting tool is because there are a lot of frequencies that compete with one another, masking them in the mix. If you want your kick drum to stand out, then you should consider removing the sub frequencies for other instruments that don’t need it. At this point, the kick and bass should have room to shine.

The same thing is true when thinking of frequencies in the upper frequencies. If your snare drum isn’t quite popping out the mix, than why not try and cut the guitars so that the snare has room to poke through the mix. With just a little bit of tweaking you will end up having that snare cut through just perfectly.


video source: 5 Minutes To A Better Mix II: Subtractive EQ

If it Isn’t There, You Can’t Add It

I think that most people get the idea of cutting but for some reason they still want to boost. I know I do. If I want my drums to have some more bite, I’ll reach for the EQ and turn up the mid frequencies. Just because you can boost the EQ doesn’t mean you are doing anything. Basically, if it doesn’t exist already in the sound, then you can’t turn it up.

If a guitar wasn’t recorded very aggressive than I can only bump up what was captured into the microphone. Does that make sense? In this case it might be best to remove any frequencies that have bite and are competing with our guitar sound. We could also add some more distortion using a plugin. Either way it’s impossible to turn something up that doesn’t exist.

You Need Headroom, That’s the Secret

Your job as an engineer is to take the recorded tracks and sum them all up to your stereo mix bus. And if you don’t remove some of the garbage, or worse you add more with EQ, then you are going to run out of headroom and potentially clip the master bus. But f you cut more than you boost, you will slim down your tracks and send a lot less level to your mix bus which will result in a much better summing process.

So, Never Boost?

Don’t worry, you can still boost if you think it fits the situation.  There are times when boosting is really your only option. Just try to use subtly as much as you can. But you should be aware that if you are doing some crazy extreme EQ moves when you are mixing then you probably did something majorly wrong during the recording process. Just try as much as you can to get out of the habit of boosting.

With all that said, there really isn’t any rules to recording or mixing. Try and experiment with this bit of advice I haven given you and if it doesn’t work out then you can always go back to the way you’ve done it.

Some Vocal Mixing Tips

In this post I wanted to share a cool Youtube video from Mr. Dave Pensado of Pensado’s Place.

Dave is one of the most generous guys when it comes to his knowledge and skills.  In this video, he shares some of the vocal mixing techniques that he has learned in his career and they are your to learn FOR FREE!!!

Sweet!

Anyways let me know if you have any cool vocal mixing trick.  Enjoy.

video source: Into The Lair #6 – Vocal Mixing Techniques

Tips For Buying Home Studio Gear

studio gear

When you are looking to purchase new instruments for your home studio, it becomes pretty apparent that it’s a big investment. You can easily become discouraged and get lost.

I’m going to provide you with some tips to help you on your quest.

The Good Old Black and White Ivory

If you are going to be working with songwriters and bands then it’s very important to have a piano in your studio. They can be a bit of a pain because they need to be maintained, they need climate control, as well as a tuning from time to time. But nothing can beat the sound of a real piano and you can also be more creative with your mic placement, which is lacking in the emulation world.

Something you should be aware of when you purchase a piano:

If you want to find one cheap then it’s best to look for a used one. There isn’t a shortage of people who are looking to get rid of them so this is good news for you. They are extremely hard to move and most people don’t usually want to deal with it, so this is a win for you.

Now you are ready to get your search on since are ready for a deal. You are going to encounter a lot of Spinet pianos for sale which I don’t recommend. They can sound good but usually they tend to lack a lot of low end.

As far as size is concerned, I wouldn’t consider anything less than an upright. If you use some interesting mixing with a nice sounding room, you can really get away with a big piano sound.

If you do have the money than it would be a wise decision to look at some of the grand piano options. Most people don’t have the space or budget for a project studio but it is something to consider.

Guitars

I’ve never really given much though to studios that have guitar collections because I think that guitars are a very personal choice for every individual. If you are looking for a guitar to purchase, here are some tips for you…

Electric Guitar: By far the American made Telecaster will yield you the most flexibility.

Acoustic: I would seriously consider looking at the Martin HD28 as it’s a very familiar sound and is hard to beat.

Drums

If you are making a record than the sound of a vintage drum set is going to be hard to beat. That is of course, unles you are into metal, which a modern sound is better suited.

The sound of vintage drums is just so good and they have a real pleasing tone. You should easily be able to find a used 1960′s Ludwig set for a reasonable price. I would recommend looking for 50′s and 60′s Rogers, Slingerland and Gretsch kits.

Keyboards

It’s always nice to walk into a studio and see a real Wurlitzer, Rhodes or B3.  I’m a huge geek for the classic sounds of these gems. There’s much more air when you mic the real thing, plus real instruments are unpredictable in a fabulous way. Those little surprises can be the best thing that happens to your record. You don’t have to have all of these pieces but the more you own the better off you are or you could be part of the few that don’t and end up suffering.

That’s It For Now

So there you have it. Just a few tips to help you get settled with making a new purchase. Now its time to go off and make some classic sounds. Cheers to that!

A Few Mixing Hacks You’ll Be Glad You Read

mixing console

As many can attest to, putting a great mix together is not as simple as it might at first seem. It is quite a complex process, and if you think you can pull off one or two tricks and churn out a good mix, you are in for a great deal of disappointment. Producing a mix that really stands out in a crowd actually involves having to make countless small decision, but all the small decisions are going to determine whether you are left with a good mix or a bad mix. In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to share a few mixing hacks with you, and I can assure you, if you apply these, you’ll almost certain be able to improve your mixes.

Keep the Volume Down

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen people trying to mix with the volume cranked up as high as they can take it and when they’re done they’re often pleased with the outcome, but most change their minds if the listen to their mixes with the volume turned down. Even a really poor mix can begin to sound good if there’s enough volume, but that doesn’t mean you have a great mix.

A really good mix will sound good no matter how low the volume is, so my advice to you is that you should always keep the volume down when you mix. You’ll also find that decision making be easier and more accurate as well.

Some of the most talented mixers in the world, including Chris Lord-Alge, have their volume so low they can even have a conversation with someone in the room. I can guarantee you, if you can hear instruments doing their thing at such a low volume, then you are definitely on your way to creating mix that is well and truly going to rock.

Hold Back with Stereo

If your desire is to create a mix that is both clear and balanced, then you should periodically check your mixes in mono rather than relying entirely on stereo. I recommend watch a video I did about this a short while ago called: 5 Minutes To A Better Mix. Some professionals even take this whole think one step further, starting their mixes in mono. A good example would be Keven Ward from MixCoach.com. Kevin, who is a close friend of mine has also written a book and produced a companion video about this subject, and while our methods differ somewhat, I recommend reading his book and watching his video too.

Generally speaking, you put your mix in mono while you fine-tune your volume and EQ balances. Without the help of stereo, you mix will often sound a bit lifeless at his point, but it is going to make things so much easier for you in terms of volume balance and frequency adjustments. It will also give you a great opportunity to correct phasing issues if need be.

High Pass Filter

Even if you are not an EQ guru, you can very easily incorporate it in your mix, simply by using a high pass filter on all tracks. The only two possible exceptions would be bass guitar and drums. If you roll off the low end on all tracks (from 80hZ to 200hZ), you’ll instantly remove any mud, thereby opening up the bottom end, and this in turn will result in far better clarity.

Putting the Hacks to Work

Admittedly, you might still need to develop your mixing skills, but regardless of your level of experience, if you actually use the hacks I’ve discussed above, you’ll inevitably end up producing a better mix than you currently are. If you are already using these hacks, please consider leaving a comment.