I often see a lot of producers that have a hard time mixing their beats or completed songs and I don’t really know why they find it so difficult. It’s true that mixing can be overwhelming, but that’s just it – it shouldn’t be. There have been times where I had a bunch of plug-in windows open inside my DAW and my CPU meter was running high, but then one day I realized that I’m doing too much.
Why It’s Often Too Much
The reason why your mixes are overwhelming is because you’re just straight up doing too much. There are times when you need to add reverb to a track and other times you need to add compression, but it’s when you start to go nuts with the plug-ins that your mixes will suffer.
I’ve seen lots of people ask questions such as, “how much reverb should I add to my snare?”, and “should I compress each track or just the master?”. Both of those questions don’t seem to make any sense to me because they’re not necessary. For example, how much reverb you should add to your snare is totally dependent on the snare itself, how you want your mix to sound, and how the rest of your tracks sound already.
Most producers forget about the basics of mixing and tend to focus on what others are doing, and this is wrong. You could have templates set up for your mixes but it makes more sense to instead just mix from scratch each time, because each project is different. Compression is a very useful tool for mixing but there are times when you don’t necessarily need it. Does that sound crazy to you? It should! Because mixing isn’t all about reverb and compression, it’s simply about one thing: mixing!
Turn It Down
One of the first things that I ever learned about mixing is actually quite simple, and that is, “always take away, rather than keep adding”. This should be the basis of mixing, period. I don’t care if you’re a novice or if you’re Young Guru, this should apply to everyone because it makes the most sense.
When you’re trying to nail down a mix, it’s always best to take away from something, rather than keep on adding to it. This could be interpreted as taking away a sound, or taking away from the overall volume. When I mix, if I find that the entire mix is sounding muddy, I know that it’s time to fine tune and take something away. Usually I just start with the volume levels, for example, it could be my piano is a bit too loud and I can get away with lowering the dB on it a bit. It could also be a situation where I decide that at a certain part of my mix, the piano is a little too dominant, (like on the hook), so I might just take the piano away completely for that part.
No matter what you decide, you must always remember to take something out before you start adding more to your mix. If you have reverb on your snare but then you also add some reverb to the vocals, the two could clash. I don’t know if you would actually do that, but you get my point. If that’s the case though, what do you do? You could turn down the amount of reverb on each track, or one track, or remove the reverb from one of them.
It Keeps Getting Louder
The mixes from years ago were much quieter than today’s. There was even a video done a few months ago where they compared a few different versions of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. In this hilarious video, you can see how the different versions released over the years just get louder and louder.
What happens though when it’s too loud is it often leaves your mix sounding lifeless. I know that this is the way it’s done today because the record industry wants all recordings to be in-your-face and so loud that your face will rip off, but it’s really pointless.
What You Need To Do
It’s simple, really. Just keep it simple! You must remember that mixing is about just that – mixing. Forget the plug-ins and tons of Waves effects you have in your arsenal, you have to first make sure that your mix just sounds good with nothing added to it. Make sure the levels on each track are good and not going into the red, then play back your mix. You’ll quickly notice that it sounds off, but this is when you’ll start to take away by lowering the volume on certain tracks and maybe adding volume to others (but don’t go into the red), just until the mix sounds good to you.
Once you have that done, that’s when you can start to open up certain plug-ins and add effects to your tracks, but once again, do it until it sounds good to you.
A great program that can help you with your mixing is Izotope Ozone. This program is a plug-in that you open up in your DAW and you simply choose from their templates and apply whichever one you want to your mix. What this does is it gives you the chance to preview your mix with the preset you choose, and they have some really useful ones. But don’t just stop at their presets because once you apply one, you can then adjust the settings until it sounds good to you.
What I like about this is:
It can be a quick way for you to mix (especially if you’re not sure what you’re doing)
It allows you to tweak the presets
By doing all of this it’s essentially teaching you
Once you start playing with a preset’s settings, you’ll start to learn what sounds good and what doesn’t, like how much reverb was necessary or how much bass should be added to the mix.
The bottom line is that you must remember that mixing is just about mixing. Too many producers will over-process their mix because they want it to sound like something from their favorite artist, but that’s exactly what you should not do. Only mix your song in a way so that it sounds good to YOU. Adding effects will greatly enhance your mix but should not be overused, instead it should complement the basic mix that you’ve already done.