As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, mixing should be kept as a simple procedure. Even though a lot of us don’t necessarily enjoy mixing for hours on end, you can easily be overwhelmed if you have too much going on at once.
One of the most important factors in mixing is your ears – and the ears of the listener. When mixing, you will most likely be sitting in front of your studio speakers for quite a while, so it’s important to keep the levels of your tracks in check, and I will tell you why.
1. Your Ears Will Thank You
When I took and audio engineering course a long, long, way back time ago (I’m not THAT old), one of the most basic things that I was taught was how to listen. I was given a few cassettes (that’s how old I am) that I could take home and use to train my ears.
The cassettes had different frequencies and I would listen to the various tones and try to figure out what frequency they were at. Not everyone has perfect hearing, so it’s important to train your ears so you can be ready when it comes time to record or mix in the studio.
When mixing, however, you will probably spend a good amount of time listening to the same track over and over again. Yours ears will instantly become tired past a certain point because, well, it’s tiring! So when you’re adjusting each track of your mix, your levels should be below the zero mark, and way down from any red signals. The last thing you want to do is to damage your ears. With the tones I listened to on the cassettes, I couldn’t hear very high frequencies (most of us can’t), but that’s when I realized that as you get older and you listen to lost of music, your hearing will degrade. You can minimize the degradation by giving your ears a break and lowering your levels.
2. Your Master Output Won’t Be So Loud
One of the easiest tricks that I use (if you want to call it a trick, it’s basically common sense), is to keep all of your track levels well below zero. Some people will go -1dB or -2dB, or maybe even more than that. The whole point, of course, is so that the master channel won’t be anywhere near the red zone OF DEATH.
It’s interesting because when I receive beat submissions for various battles or radio shows that I do, I would say about 95% of the time, the beats are in the red zone and beyond. It’s scary because they shouldn’t be at all. I was taught in my engineering course, plus from old school “books” (for the young people who don’t know what a book is) that I read, was to never go into the red, except for just a very small amount.
What I tend to do is keep my master channel around the zero mark, but it also depends on the actual sound of the song and whether or not it’s bass-heavy, for example. But I basically stay around zero, to which I then bump up the entire mix later on after I’ve exported it into WAV format. I’ll then import my WAV file into an audio editing program so I can see the waveform, and then decide how many decibels I should increase the mix, if needed.
3. It Makes Mixing Much Easier (and simpler)
As I said in an older article, mixing should be simple, but unfortunately most people over-complicate it by adding in tons of fades, compression, EQ, and a boatload of plug-ins.
It’s fine to use those things in your mix because they’re extremely useful, but if you simplify everything then mixing will become much more fun, and interesting.
Now when I have to mix down a beat, I actually look forward to it. Part of the reason is because I have some cool plug-ins that I like to play around with, but it’s also because I challenge myself each time to see if I can make the mix better than the last one.
Too many mixes are super hot nowadays and they shouldn’t be. If you were to keep your levels in check then you will avoid obvious problems like distortion, and the possibility of killing the ears of music fans all around the world. * I once heard about a guy whose head literally exploded after listening to a Trap beat that was 8dB over the legal limit. True story.
*Not a true story, I lie a lot.