If you’re relatively new to mixing music, chances are good that you are making a ton of mistakes. But is it really all that surprising to say? I don’t think so. Most of us got into home recording as a hobby, with no formal training, and we spend time on sites like this one, trying to put all the puzzle pieces together. I applaud you for your dedication and determination.
Most of the learning process when it comes to recording and mixing involves making a lot of mistakes (and bad music along the way) until we finally stop doing stupid things. What a concept! Today I want to start a 3 part series pointing out six common mixing mistakes I see people making, in hopes that you will pay attention and stop making those same mistakes yourself. Your mixes will thank you for it!
Via Jérôme Choain Flickr
Mistake #1 – Mixing Too Hot
Probably one of the most overlooked aspects of mixing for the newbie engineer is proper gain staging. People will literally open up a session in their DAW and start dropping in plugins and effects. They want to get to the “activity” of mixing as soon as they can, likely because that’s what is talked about a lot on blogs and in books. The truth is, you’ll get more clarity in your mix if you leave enough headroom.
In a nutshell, what I typically do when opening up a mix is to get an initial rough volume fader balance all while watching how my level is looking on my master fader (or mix bus). Every track in your mix is dumping to a final stereo track, so you want to see what kind of damage you are doing at that dumping point. I try to keep the meters dancing really conservatively, maybe 50% to 60% of the way up, this leaves plenty of headroom for all my mix decisions later (EQ, compression, saturation, etc). Don’t worry about your mix being too quiet, simply turn up the volume on your monitor speakers for now, and trust your mastering engineer to get the mix louder in the mastering stage.
Mistake #2 – Mixing In Stereo
Mixing in stereo is a mistake? What the?! More accurately I should say that mixing in stereo for the entire time of your mix is a mistake. What you should be doing is mixing (or at LEAST referencing your mix) in mono. Why mono? Two big reasons: first, mono is your worst case scenario. If your mix only sounds good when sitting perfectly between two speakers then I hate to burst your bubble, but 90% of your listeners won’t hear your mix the way you do then. In reality most mixes are heard (or more accurately, perceived) in mono because our ears are rarely in a perfect stereo environment. Better to make your mix sound legit in mono, only to have it sound HUGE in stereo.
The second reason to mix in mono for a good portion of the mix is that you’ll actually pick up on phase issues you might be having. With multi-miked instruments like drums or stereo guitar recording, you open yourself up to phase cancellation problems, where your tracks start to sound thin and weak. It’s hard to notice this in stereo, but the moment you flip to mono, your mix collapses. Mix in mono, identify any and all problems, fix them, then your stereo mix will be that much better!