Getting Too Timid With Mixing

2011 Aug 19, 2011

If you want a good mix, you must mix with confidence. To mix with confidence you have to both trust your ears and your mixing decisions. To trust your mixing decisions you have to have some experience and know a bit about what you are doing (to say the least). Where am I going with this? If you lean too heavily on things like presets or settings you read on an audio blog (like this one) then you’ll always mix timidly, which isn’t mixing at all.

At our upcoming recording and mixing workshop in Nashville, we will be teaching the students how to mix quickly with purpose and confidence. Like I will show them, when time is short you can’t be timid, nor can you drag along crutches to lean on. Here are two reasons I see people mixing timidly.


Via Quinn Dombrowski Flickr

Leaning Too Much On Presets

Honestly, I am a fan of plugin presets. I believe that they can be a very useful starting point for the mixer. Especially when working with an unfamiliar plugin. But that is about it, a starting point. They can show you what an engineer might do for a given situation. They shed some light onto the mixing process. But there are two reasons why you can’t continue on mixing only with presets.

First of all, they won’t work perfectly for your situation. An EQ setting for a snare drum might be in the ball park for making a snare drum sound good, but the preset doesn’t know what kind of snare you recorded, or how you miked it, or what mic you used. It also doesn’t know what other frequencies are dominating your mix. Point being, you must always tweak the preset to fit your mix anyway.

The second reason why leaning on presets to mix isn’t wise is if you set the preset and move on, you never learn to actually mix! The only way you learn to use a compressor is to actually troubleshoot in a mix to get the compression just right. It’s in those moments of committing to a sound and a setting that you actually get better at the craft. How else did guys learn to mix with actual outboard compressors and EQs? They used them!

Leaning Too Much On Suggestions

Now coming from a guy who writes a recording advice blog this may sound weird, but in order to improve as a mixer you honestly can’t continue to simply take mixing advice and blindly use it in your sessions. You should totally try things out that you learn, but you have to listen and decide if it’s working. You have to try it multiple times in different scenarios to see if that tip or technique can be used better somewhere else. But if you simply read about a workflow, implement it and call it a day, what have you learned about your mixing skill? Nothing.

Like with plugin presets, you would be better off collecting some tips and tricks that you’ve learned and want to use on a mix and consider them tools. You will try to use the tools in the mix, seeing if they help. You will then analyze the result and make a decision. Is this helping or hurting the mix? Commit and move on. If something didn’t work that time, keep it in your back pocket for another mix. You never know.

Gain Your Confidence

You want better mixes? Mix with confidence. Don’t lean on crutches like presets or suggested settings and tricks on the internet. Use them as merely tools but then get your hands dirty, try things, see what works, and make a decision. You will improve each and every mix you do.  If, on the other hand, you continue to be too timid when mixing, you will always be searching to unravel the “mystery” of a great mix. Don’t be that guy.

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