Unlike pictures and videos, music has its own drawbacks, as we cannot see it. Therefore, when it comes to editing, which is mixing and mastering in the case of music, it is not that easy. And no matter how good the recording quality is, how good the vocalist has sang, how good the instruments sound – without the proper mixing, everything will sound like a mess.
That is something you do not want when you are dealing with professional clients. So in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the audio, you either need to have exceptional audible skills or expertise over tweaking parameters. You do not need to have the knowledge of all the plug-ins and effects in the world in order to mix better. Sometimes just reducing the levels can prove to be more fruitful to give your mix its final touch. Therefore, here are some tips for how you can improve your mixing skills and make your mix sound better:
1. Knowing the Genre
Knowing the genre of music you are working on really helps in promoting the overall intended concept. In addition to that, if you know the genre that the artist mainly follows, you can give them exactly what they want. If needed, discuss if they need any specific characteristics to be amplified in their sound. Do they want it more natural or authentic with the intended flaws, or do they want it smooth as silk? Understanding their need brings out the best in the mix.
2. Be Experimental
Keeping the genre in mind, do not be hesitant in trying out new effect-combinations, which might help to bring out another dimension to the sound. Being creative is the foremost thing you need to be as a musician or mix engineer, and that is why being experimental is very vital to create something new.
3. Texture and Tone
If asked what brings out the x-factor in any soundtrack is its well-balanced texture and perfect tonality. Tweaking the volume and EQ of any instrument will not do any good if the tone is not right. A good tonal quality blends the instrument or vocals right into the mix. Likewise, the texture is balancing the tonality in a mix. Overdoing or under-doing it will just compromise the entire mix.
Maintaining the melody is very crucial in any mix. Even the loudest distortion guitars have a melodic harmonics in them, which is easily comprehensible by our brain. Make sure there is at least one prominent dominant melody in a mix. If there is more than one, make sure they do not clash with each other. Align it along the bassline to create a groovy symphony.
Ever noticed how the different instruments in a particular mix gel up together and play in harmony? That is the result of pocketing in the different tracks into the natural groove of the track. Scrutinize the alignment of the different tracks in the perfect gridlock positions. Quantization can be helpful in this regard.
6. The Simple Three
Any song has three main tracks – lead, rhythms, and fills. The rhythm section covers the bass, percussions, drums, guitars, the lead is mainly vocals and lead instruments and the fills are usually sweetening elements like ensembles, wind, and brass instruments. The sign of any good mix is not about focusing on one instrument or one track but achieving and maintaining an unbiased balance of all the instruments and vocals that are playing in the track. Do not let one superimpose the other.
7. One at a Time
Never, ever try to mix all the tracks in the song at once. The track takes a new shape after you are done tweaking and filtering one instrument. Therefore, if you focus on all the instruments simultaneously, you will end up meddling with the original tonal quality of the track.
Therefore, the best-recommended way to do it taking one track in hand at a time and then moving to the next one. It may be a little time consuming but it does give out the best results. When you are done adjusting the entire track individually, then you can proceed with the overall balancing.
8. Bass is the Key
Dealing with the bass has been a real headache for most mix engineers as it can either uplift a track or completely ruin it. It can be quite tricky as the bass needs to work well, both in big speakers and small ones too. To get it right, it is better if you mix the bass in small speakers to attain the right level. Once you are done with that, switch to the large speakers to adjust the tonal quality. That will fit the bass right into the track.
9. Do not over-compress
The use of compressors in any mix is very important. However, you have to clinical while using compressors. When you are compressing a sound signal, make sure to keep the tonal quality as natural as possible. Otherwise, the sound will become artificial and synthetic. Do not over-compress sounds when it is not required. If you are not being able to compress a certain instrument, leave it to the mastering engineer who will do the final compressing and limiting.
10. Use a reference
Mixing from the scratch for an unknown genre can be challenging. Sometimes the artists may fail to explain what kind of a mix they want. They would rather give you a reference track about how they want their track to sound like. That is a good way to improve your mixing skills. Refer to a popular track of any genre and try to replicate the technique as closely as possible.
Make sure you listen to the reference track using good studio monitors or planar magnetic headphones (preferably headphones with high-fidelity) that add no coloring to the recording – to get the best results.
Also, read the Importance of using a reference track.
So to conclude, all we can say is that you are always open to experimenting with new techniques. And keeping these pointers in mind will give you a nice foundation about how to approach mixing and getting good results from it.