I know what you are thinking. “Great, another article on the top 5 mixing tips. There are a million of these online right now. Why do I need another list of tips?” While it is true that there is no shortage of lists of top mixing tips, it is also true that many of these articles aren’t useful in the long run, because these tips don’t help you become better at mixing.
These articles only offer quick little tips that are applicable to very rare situations. Also, they often give advice that is not well thought out and doesn’t explain why their tips work.
That is why I have compiled a list of 5 mixing tips that will improve your mixing skills and can be applied to any style of music.
Here’s my first tip…
1. Monitor at lower volumes
This is probably one of the most important tips for your mixing process! The most fundamental characteristic of a good mix is balance. Having the appropriate volume when monitoring is crucial for you to make accurate mixing decisions.
What level should you be monitoring at?
A normal listening level is around 70 dB. When you are mixing your song, you should be monitoring 10 dB lower, so listen at 60 dB. At 60dB you should be able to easily hold a normal conversation with someone sitting next to you.
But why set up your monitor so low?
According to the Fletcher Munson Curve, certain audio frequencies will appear louder and quieter at different listening levels. At low volumes, mid-range frequencies are more present, while the low and high frequencies appear a bit quieter. At high volumes, the lows and highs stick out while the mid-range fades into the background. In mixing, the mid-range of your track is everything, so you need to prioritize your perception of the mid frequencies.
If you mix with the volume too loud, you drown out the midrange and are left with a hollow and ear-fatiguing mix.
Many producers are used to mixing at loud volumes, especially when they have been working for hours. Resist the urge to crank up the volume and monitor at a quieter level!
2. Layering Synths
The key to a full, rich, professional sound is to have multiple layers that fill out the frequency spectrum and complement each other. A good starting is creating 3 types of layers:
This layer will cover the 50 Hz – 500 Hz range and provide the low-end weight for your sound.
This layer will cover the 500 Hz – 5kHz range and provide the main power and energy.
This layer will cover the 5 kHz -20 kHz range and provide high-end detail. It can be anything from a bell to a high-pitched synth.
As always, be sure to properly level, EQ, and compress these sounds, so they blend together seamlessly!
The sound layering process doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep it simple! Having these foundational layers will fill out your track and provide your audience with enough sonic interest without having to throw in 20 layers that don’t mix well together.
If you find your layered synth doesn’t sound the way you want it to, try swapping out your existing layers for another sound before adding a fourth layer.
3. Parallel Compression
Today’s modern music has never been louder, wider, and cleaner sounding. The area that people struggle with most is the loudness of their tracks. They have a hard time getting their music up to the commercial loudness of their genre. There are many techniques out there that will boost the overall loudness of your music, but there is one simple technique that is constantly ignored.
This technique is Parallel Compression!
Parallel compression preserves the higher volume peaks of your sound and brings up the lower volumes through heavy compression. This makes the technique ideal for getting your music louder and fuller sounding without destroying dynamics, as often happens with other techniques.
Here is how to parallel compress:
- Send your dry signal to a bus/return track.
- On the return track put on a compressor with a short attack time and long release. Then, turn the threshold down so you heavily compress the signal. This long release and short attack ensures that the entire signal is flattened out
- Mix the bus/return track into your original signal until you notice the volume difference and stop before the heavily compressed signal overpowers the mix and destroys the dynamics.
4. Use EQ instead of volume automation
This may seem like a waste of time, but when you substitute EQ low cutting and high cutting for volume automation, your whole track blends together seamlessly. The cutting and adding of low and high frequencies give your sounds more texture and room to breathe rather than just adding and removing the entire sound all at once.
Next time you are about to automate the volume of a certain sound, throw on an EQ and take away the sound with EQ cuts.
Useful Plug-ins: Pro-Q3
5. Widening Your Sounds
What mixing list would be complete without a tip on how to widen your sound. There are many ways to widen your sound and it is important to experiment with different techniques to find out which way works the best.
Also read: Mixing In Stereo
Here are 5 tips for widening your sound:
1. Mid/Side EQing
Mid-Side EQing is the splitting of the mid and side channels of your stereo field. This way you can EQ the mono and stereo signal separately. One sure-fire way to get a wider sound is to boost the high frequencies of the side signal because high frequencies are directional.
Want to know how else you can use mid-side processing? Read my previous article: 5 Mid/Side Processing Techniques To Improve Your Mix
2. Left/Right EQing
Left/Right EQing is splitting the left and right channels of the stereo field. Just like the mid/side EQing, boosting either the left or right channel will give your sound width.
3. Izotope Ozone 7 Stereo Imager
I have used almost all the stereo enhancing plugins on the market and Izotope’s Ozone 7 (Or newer version) takes the cake. Give it a try and hear for yourself the magic it performs on your signal. Ohh and did I mention that it is a multi-band plugin?
4. Use Two Reverbs
Send your signal to two different busses/return channels each with different reverbs on them. Then pan the two busses hard left and hard right. This will open up your sound quite a bit. Be sure to low cut your reverbs at around 250 Hz so you don’t muddy up the mix.
5. Chorus & Panning
Simply pan your signals hard left and hard right and throw on your favorite chorus plugin at the end. You have one chance to make an impact on your listener with your song and the mix needs to be the best possible version it can be.
Useful plug-ins: Stereo Finalizer
Understanding and applying the tips listed above will help you hone your mixing skills so your song has a real impact on your listeners. So open up your DAW and start mixing!