How To Never Make Another Mixing Mistake


Hey, this is Jason from BehindTheSpeakers.com, and today you’re going to discover a simple technique that will eliminate mixing mistakes and improve the sound of your tracks immediately.

So a while back, I heard this story about this famous mixing engineer who had this secret button on his console, and whenever an artist would come into the studio and listen to one of his mixes and make a suggestion that he knew would tank the mix, he would just reach over and press the secret button, and the artist would listen and go, “Aww, man, that’s perfect. You totally fixed the problem”, right? But the catch was, this secret button wasn’t actually connected to anything. So it was just a dummy button on the console. Wasn’t even wired in. So the artist was watching this change being made and thought the engineer was making an improvement, when in reality, he was listening to exactly the same mix.

We do this so often within the mixing process. If you’ve ever experienced this situation where you add an EQ to a track, and you’re playing with knobs, and you start tweaking things and you go, “Wow, that sounds so good,” and then you realize that the plugin is in bypass, you know exactly what I’m talking about, right?

So many times within the mixing process we either do things that don’t really make things any better, or we actually make things sound worse and we don’t even know it. So we have all sorts of biases, right. All different ways that we get fooled into making bad mixing decisions within the mixing process. And the bottom line is that mixing is as much about avoiding these mistakes as it is about making the right moves. And so, if we’re trying to improve our mixes, it makes sense to focus on our decision-making process, right, and improve that process so that we can avoid making these mistakes.

I want to show you a simple technique that I call blind bypass. This is such a massively important technique. If you incorporate it into your workflow, I promise you, you’re gonna make better mixing decisions, and the sound of your mixes is going to improve noticeably. Let’s jump into my DAW and take a look.

Okay, so I have a song here called “Heroes of Hope” by Clean Green Music Machine. I want to play ya a little bit of verse one before we dive in, so you can get a sense for what the song sounds like.

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super-power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

♪ To keep it level spinnin’ ♪

Cool, so everything sounds good, but I’m wondering if maybe the vocal could benefit from a little bit more grit. Just sounds kinda clean. I wanna see if we can add some distortion to this vocal by just adding a compressor plugin to it.

You might be asking yourself, well, “Why are you adding a compressor, Jason? Why not add a distortion plugin or a saturation plugin?” The reason why is because a lot of these compression plugins actually change the tone of the track as well. So they’re not just compressing, and this Waves CLA-2A plug in, which is an emulation of an LA-2A compressor, which is a classic analog compressor, is a great example of one of these plugins.

At this point, my question in my head is: is this plugin actually making the vocals sound better? I’m going to solo the vocal just so we can hear things a little bit better. Normally I would do this in context with a track, ’cause you always want to make mixing decisions with the rest of the tracks playing, but in this case I just want to focus a little bit more on this individually, just for the sake of this demonstration.

I’m going to go ahead and flip this plugin in and out of bypass with the vocal playing and just, you know, try to figure out which version I like better.

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super-power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

♪ To keep it level spinnin’. ♪

Okay, so right off the bat you can hear there’s a significant increase in level when the plugin is engaged, right? This plugin is adding a lot of level to the vocal. The problem with this is that we are predisposed to think things that are louder sound better. It’s just how our ears work. It’s how our perception of sound works. If there’s a level increase when this plugin is engaged, we can’t possibly make a fair comparison, because the plugin might actually be making the vocals sound worse, but if it’s louder, we’re going to think it sounds better. Right off the bat, you know, you probably heard this already, you want to make sure that you’re always level-matching the before and after versions.

I’m going to go ahead and turn the gain down on this plugin. And the goal here is, I don’t want to hear any difference in level when I flip this plugin in and out of bypass. It shouldn’t get louder, it shouldn’t get softer. It should stay exactly the same.

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super-power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

♪ To keep it level spinnin’ ♪

♪ We’re wise and we’re ready to try ♪

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super-power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

♪ To keep it level spinnin’ ♪

♪ We’re wise and we’re ready to try ♪

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

Okay, so that’s close enough. All I did there was just flip the plugin in and out bypass while I was adjusting the gain and tried to make it as even as possible so there wasn’t any increase or decrease in level when the plugin was flipped in and out of bypass. Now, we can start to make a fair comparison.

Most people at this point will just move forward. They’ll flip the plugin in and out of bypass and they’ll decide which version they like best. But the problem with this approach is that we’re actually predisposed to think that this vocal is going to sound better with this plugin in, because we’ve gone through all the work to add this plugin to the track and we naturally think that the more that we do in a mix, the better things are going to sound.

So whenever we add a plugin or add processing, we think that we’re making things better, and so just by seeing this plugin engaged, our brain is actually going to be predisposed to think that that version sounds better, when in reality, a lot of the time, either there is no difference or it could actually be making things sound worse. We want to make sure that we’re not fooling ourselves by this bias that we have to actually feel like the plugin is making things sound better.

This is what I call the blind bypass, and this is such an important technique because it takes away that bias, and it actually allows us to make truly fair comparisons about whether or not a plugin or processing is making something sound better. The way that it works is, I’m going to move my mouse over to the bypass button. Now it’s right over the bypass button and I’m actually going to close my eyes. You can’t see this right now, but my eyes are closed. I’m just going to click my mouse 20, 30 times. I’m not counting how many times. The point is, I just wanna kind of toggle this button as many times as possible, so I lose track of whether or not it’s in or out of bypass. So I’m going to do that right now.

Okay, so now I don’t know how many times that was, but I don’t know whether the plugin’s in or out. My eyes are still closed at this point.

So now, I’m going to play the track again, and I’m going to flip the plugin in and out of bypass. I’m just going to click my mouse button. Now my eyes are still closed. And so this way, I’m not being fooled by seeing whether this plugin’s engaged. I’m actually just using my ears. I’m going to decide while my eyes are closed which version I like better.

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super-power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

♪ To keep it level spinnin’ ♪

♪ We’re wise and we’re ready to try ♪

♪ We’re seein’ all we are ♪

♪ With super-power vision ♪

♪ A worried world that needs us ♪

♪ To keep it level ♪

Okay, so this version sounds much better to me. I don’t know which one it is because my eyes are still closed, but I’m going to open them now.

Okay, so it looks like I preferred the sound with the plugin engaged. I did hear that there was a small increase in level. I might want to go back and make sure that I’m not being fooled by that increase in volume, and maybe turn this down a little bit, and do this test again. The point is, I’m making the decision while my eyes are closed, and I don’t actually know whether the plugin is engaged or not, and by doing this I’m taking away this natural bias that we all have towards feeling like we’re actually making things better when we add plugins, when in reality a lot of the times they’re not doing anything at all, or they’re actually making things sound worse. If you can do this every time you’re making comparisons within the mixing process and A/B-ing a plugin before and after the processing, if you can always do this blind bypass approach instead of just staring at the screen, I promise you, you’ll make better mixing decisions. Over the course of a mix, by doing this, it’s going to lead to much better-sounding tracks, I promise. Try this technique out, and if you can really bring it into your world and implement it into your workflow, I promise you the sound of your mixes is going to improve significantly.

I hope you enjoyed this video and if you want more mixing techniques like the blind bypass, I put together a free PDF with five more of my favorite mixing techniques. These techniques are going to improve the sound of your mixes right away. To download this free PDF, click the link in the description below or in the video, and you’ll get free, instant access.

Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips at BehindTheSpeakers.com. Take care.

Video features music by Clean Green Music Machine.