Mixing is one of the most important stages in the development of a song. It’s also one of the most complicated stages. There can be dozens or even hundreds of moving parts, all interacting with one another.
It can be difficult to avoid making mistakes along the way, especially when you’re first starting out. That’s why we put together this list of the most common mixing mistakes that you should avoid at all costs.
Mixing In Solo
It can be tempting to solo tracks while mixing in order to hear them more clearly, but listening to tracks in isolation clouds your judgment.
Instead of making the track sound good in the context of the mix, you end up trying to make the track sound good in solo. Then when you try to shoe-horn it into the mix, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Instead, make your mix decisions in context. Adjust EQ settings and dial in compressors while the whole mix is playing in order to make sure you’re working towards the big picture. The listener doesn’t have a solo button—they only care about how the whole mix sounds.
We’re not saying ‘never solo’. We’re saying be careful to not make all of your decisions whilst listening to a channel in solo. Jump between listening in the context of the whole mix and listening in solo to get different perspectives.
Monitoring Too Loud
There’s no greater feeling than nailing a mix. It really makes you want to crank the volume and sing along. But consistently mixing at high output levels can cause hearing damage.
Science suggests the ideal sound pressure level (SPL) for mixing music in a home-studio-sized space is between 73 and 76 dB because our hearing is the most linear at that volume. A good rule of thumb is to mix a level that you could hold a conversation with someone without having to speak up.
It’s still important to check your mixes at different levels for brief periods of time. Before printing your final mix, be sure to crank the dial for a chorus or two to see how things sound. You should also check your mix at whisper-quiet levels to make sure that the mix remains balanced and the vocal cuts through the mix.
For a full run through of how to set the perfect monitoring level in your home studio click here.
Not Having a Plan
I was definitely guilty of this one when I first started out. I would load up a mix and just start adding EQs and compressors on every track. There was no rhyme or reason as to why I would select each plug-in. I would just listen to the track and start spinning knobs until it sounded better.
Instead of wasting time spinning knobs, you should determine what you want a track to sound like before you start adding plug-ins. That way, you can always work towards a goal. Otherwise, you won’t know which direction to go in, or even when to stop.
How do you know which direction a song should go in? One easy way to make sure your mixes sound competitive is to use reference mixes to help determine your sound.
Use REFERENCE to load up a few of your favorite tracks and see how your mix compares. REFERENCE gives you detailed notes on adjusting the frequency response, dynamics and stereo width of your track to sound more professional.
Too Much Or Not Enough Reverb
Mixing in an untreated space also makes it difficult to assess how much reverb you’re using. It can be hard to tell if the reverb you’re hearing is coming from your speakers or your room.
Too much reverb can make your tracks sound washed out, making it difficult to hear or identify instruments. Not enough reverb makes your tracks sound dull and lifeless—like they were recorded in a vacuum.
To avoid this issue, check your mixes on multiple sets of speakers. People generally add too much reverb when working on monitors and too little when listening through headphones. In addition to your studio speakers, listen on your home stereo system, in your car, on your favorite pair of headphones, and even on your phone or laptop to make sure your mix translates to every system.
Mix Is Muddy Or Thin
One of the most common mixing mistakes is a lack of balance in the low-end. Often caused by mixing in untreated rooms where standing waves make it difficult to make critical mix decisions, problems in the low-mids can cause your mix to sound unbalanced and make it difficult to hear the kick, bass or synth parts.
If your mix sounds muddy, make a small cut with a wide bell on your mix bus around 100 - 300 Hz. If your mix sounds thin, try making a small boost instead. However, even when you know where to look, it can still be tricky to isolate and correct this issue.
That’s why I always use BASSROOM to fine-tune the low-end on my mixes. Insert BASSROOM on your mix bus and select one of the genre-specific presets to automatically suggest corrections for issues below 320 Hz.
The vocals are the most important instrument in almost every mix, except for instrumental tracks of course. But most vocal performances are very dynamic, meaning sometimes they’re too loud and sometimes they’re too quiet.
In order to make sure the listener can hear every word, you either need to do some serious fader-riding, or use a compressor to create more consistent dynamics.
Start by turning the vocal up so it’s always audible, and sometimes too loud. Then use a compressor to tame the peaks for a more consistent sound. The amount of gain reduction and compressor settings will vary greatly from song to song but the approach is always the same.
For a full run through of how to mix vocals click here.
Too Much Compression
Compression is one of the secrets to a good mix, but too much can ruin any track. Over-compression makes tracks sound small and squashed. It sucks all the life out of the dynamics, making it sound flat and boring.
To avoid over-compression, try to make your compressors breathe in time with the tempo of the song. Start with the slowest attack time and the fastest release time. Increase the attack time until you start to lose too much of the initial transient, then back off a bit.
Then slowly decrease the release time to make the compressor “breathe” in time with the tempo of the song. The needle should return back to 0 just before the next transient. Many compressors feature an auto setting that also works well for this.
To read: The Secret To Compressor Attack And Release Time, Click Here.
No Song Dynamics
Some engineers spend so much time mixing each individual track that they forget to listen to the song as a whole. Mixes that stay at the same level throughout the whole song can sound stale and boring.
When the chorus comes on, you want the listener to know it. Don’t be afraid to automate your levels up by a dB or more during the chorus to help make it pop and add separation between the verses.
Not Knowing When To Stop
Leonardo da Vinci once said art is never finished, only abandoned. You could endlessly tweak every mix and never feel like you completely nailed it.
Mixing is an exponential process. At first, you make huge amounts of progress in a short amount of time.
Within 20 minutes, you should be able to map out a rough idea of your mix. The more time you spend mixing, the less effective you become. Eventually, you actually start making the song sound worse because you lost sight of your vision.
To avoid this issue, make a checklist of everything you need to accomplish in a mix at the start. As you work your way down the list, cross off the items you complete. After crossing off the last item, print your mix.
Sleep on it, then listen again the next morning. While you’re listening back, use LEVELS to make sure there are no technical issues. If nothing needs your attention, mark it as complete and move on to the next track!