So you’ve been working tirelessly on your next track and it’s finally at a point where you’re satisfied with the production. What now? Well, most of you probably aren’t in a position to send your finished track to an expensive mixing engineer, so you’ll be doing the mixdown yourself. This can be a daunting process, especially if you’re working with a larger project. It can be difficult to get started and to stay focused throughout the mixing process. We’ve gathered 5 essential tips for you to help you nail those mixdowns!
Organise Your Project:
Producing music is a creative process and more often than not it can quickly result in messy projects, with instruments and samples all over the place…not an ideal situation for mixing! Therefore it is extremely useful to organise your project before starting your mixdown.
- First of all get rid of (or hide) any instruments/channels/plugins/samples that aren’t being used, as these will only get in the way of the mixing process.
- Next, you’re going to want to group your instruments and create a mix bus for each group. For example, take all the elements that make up the drums in your track, group them together, and send them to your ‘drum bus’. Grouping instruments in this way gives you a clear overview of the elements in your track, and allows you to focus on specific groups of instruments in your mix and gives you more control over them.
- Colour coding your instrument groups is also a good way to make your project more organised. Use bright colours so that each group stands out. This, again, makes it easier to find specific instruments while you’re mixing and improves workflow.
- Finally, create arrangement markers that highlight the structure of your track: Intro – Break/Verse – Buildup/Pre-Chorus – Drop/Chorus. This allows you to easily identify the sections of your track while working on your mix.
Start From The Bottom and Work Your Way Up:
For every mixdown, you want to start by balancing the driving elements of your track, the ones that take up the most space in your mix, like the drums and bass. It’s widely understood that the relationship between the bass and the kick is something that can make or break a track, so naturally, this is a great place to start. You want to make sure that the bass and kick work together really well as they are the lowest and most powerful sounds in your mix. Think of them as the foundation of your track, kind of like the foundation of a house. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to build a big and sturdy house on a flawed foundation, and it’s the same with your mix, if the low-end elements don’t work, you’ll struggle to get the other elements sounding right. So, once you’ve got the kick and bass down, balance the rest of the drums relative to the kick. After that you can start balancing the rest of the elements one by one, working your way up the frequency spectrum, until finally, every element is nicely balanced. If you’re working with vocals, it’s good practice to balance those last so they sit on top of the mix nicely.
EQ, EQ and more EQ:
The way to a clean and crisp mix is making sure that there are no clashing or resonant frequencies. Properly EQ’ing your sounds is therefore a fundamental part of the mixing process. If you’ve got a muddy mix and you’re struggling to get it sounding clean, it probably means you need to make more use of EQ’ing!
There are really only two elements in your mix that should be covering sub and low-bass frequencies. These are the kick and the bass. For any other instrument, you want to add a low-cut around at least 80-160hz (if not higher). As a rule of thumb try to pull the low-cut up as high as possible without sucking the life out of the sound. Even if you think a sound isn’t producing any low frequencies (a hi-hat for example) it’s still a good idea to add a low-cut just in case. Removing the low frequencies from all your elements (apart from the bass and kick of course) creates a lot of space in your mix which automatically makes the mix sound a lot cleaner. Furthermore, you should make use of EQ’s to remove frequencies from some elements so that they don’t clash with others, as this allows for each sound to be heard clearly. For example, if you have a layered snare, there is no use in both layers blasting out the same frequencies. It’s the same if you have a synth lead with multiple layers, you want each layer to cover a certain frequency band so that the mix is more balanced.
Mix with purpose:
Each sound should have a purpose so keep this in mind when you’re mixing. As mentioned already, you want to make sure each sound occupies its own space in the frequency spectrum. However, there are many more things to keep in mind when playing your sounds. Thinking about where each sound is placed in the stereo field is also very important. Having everything right in the middle will create an overly dense and unexciting mix. It’s good practice to have the kick and bass in the centre, as well as the lead vocals (if your track has them). With the other sounds, you can be creative and fill up the stereo field nicely. Be careful though to retain a balanced stereo field, meaning that if you have something panned to the left, you should have something else panned to the right so that the mix as a whole still sounds centred. Lastly, you can also place elements upfront or further back in the mix by using FX such as reverb and delays. However, here it is especially important to have a purpose because FX is easy to overdo. Try to think about why you want to add a specific reverb, or what the reason is for adding a delay to one of your sounds, doing so will result in a more focused approach and as a result a better mix.
Don’t overuse FX:
Using FX is a great tool to add depth to your sounds and to make your mixes sound more professional. However, you shouldn’t overuse these as this will be counterproductive and may result in a cluttered and washed out mix. If you’re adding reverbs, try to avoid adding lots of different reverbs throughout your track as this will cause the elements in your track to sound disconnected. The same story for delays, you don’t want multiple elements with different delays playing at the same time because it will sound very messy. The use of FX is meant to help each element sit in the mix better, so that everything sounds like a whole, not make the mix busy and incoherent, so keep this in mind when using FX.
Finally, mixing your tracks takes lots and lots of practice so don’t worry if you don’t get it spot on right away, the more you practice the more you’ll improve. Hopefully, these 5 tips will help you on your way and give you a good starting point! The main thing is to trust your ears and keep at it!
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