Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you grab my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” Click the link above or in the description below to download this free e-book now.
The first thing you can do to become a better mixer is to listen to unfamiliar music. Now when I was a kid growing up in northern California, I was a big fan of rock music. And I completely wrote off the entire genre of hip-hop. I didn’t listen to hip-hop music, I didn’t make it, didn’t work on it. I felt like hip-hop had nothing to offer me, so I completely ignored it. And it took me years to realize how much my own ignorance had actually cost me, because I had closed myself off from an entire genre of music that contains so many lessons and opportunities to learn and grow as a musician, as a music maker, and as a human.
So the truth is we all do this. And regardless of what genre you create, we kind of have this tendency to stay in our own camp. You know if we make rock music we tend to listen to rock music. We tend to watch tutorials online that are all about rock music. If we work on EDM same thing, hip-hop, whatever it is we tend to stay in our own bubble.
So one of the best things that you can do that will actually make you a better mixer is go out there and listen to music that’s unfamiliar to you – in a different genre than you typically work in, stuff that you may not have turned on normally. And what you’ll find is that you’ll walk away with ideas and approaches and techniques that you can actually apply to the genre that you are working on. So it will broaden your perspective, make you a better mixer, make you a better music maker, and you’ll learn a lot along the way. So I promise you if you can step outside of your own bubble, you have so much to learn and gain. And listening to unfamiliar music is one of the best ways that you can grow as a mixer.
The second thing you can do to become a better mixer is to train your ears. Now when I was in high school I took music theory, and one of the things that we did in that class was we actually learned to identify musical intervals just by listening to them. So every day in class for five or ten minutes the teacher would go over to the piano and he’d play let’s say a C and an E, and we’d have to listen to that and go that’s a major third for example. And over time over the course of months, it got much easier to identify the correct intervals just by listening to them.
So this is ear training in the traditional sense when you talk about playing an instrument for example. But there’s a whole form of ear training that applies to the mixing process, and you can actually in the same way train your ears to identify frequencies. So when you hear, for example there’s a little bump in the frequency spectrum at 200 Hz, you can learn to identify exactly where that is just by listening to it so you don’t have to hunt around on an EQ to find problems and fix them. You know when you hear something exactly where it is on the frequency spectrum, and this can really help you become a better mixer. It can help you become more efficient so you don’t have to spend so much time hunting and searching for problems. And overall it’s just one of those skills that really plays in to being a great mixer.
So if you want to learn how to train your ears, I actually put together a video with a few apps that I recommend. And you can download them and basically spend five or ten minutes a day using these apps. And just by using these tools you will learn over time to identify these frequencies in the same way I learned in high school to identify those musical intervals. So all it takes is practice. So if you want to learn more about the tools that I recommend, I put together a whole video on the topic. You can just click the link up there in the video, or I’ll add it in the description down below as well.
The third thing you can do to become a better mixer is to focus on the fundamentals. Now whenever I see a famous basketball player practice, what always surprises me is that the things that they’re doing are always pretty basic. They’re dribbling, they’re practicing three-point shots. The fundamentals of basketball don’t really change. And even the pros are spending just as much time focusing on those things as a seven or eight-year-old who’s maybe practicing basketball for the first time, right?
So in the mixing process, the same thing applies. And there are these fundamental things, these fundamental parts of the mixing process, that are really essential to get right. And what happens is oftentimes when we start to progress as mixers, as music makers, we tend to forget the fundamentals. And we start focusing on more advanced tips and tricks and tactics, and we ignore the stuff we think we already know.
But the truth is we can always gain something from going back to those basics, because there are so many layers and levels of depth to uncover in even the most basic aspects in the mixing process. So if you’re trying to improve as a mixer, one of the best things you can do is actually get back to the fundamentals and focus there. And there are three very specific things that I recommend that you focus on, three fundamentals that I think are so absolutely essential when it comes to making great mixes.
The first is balance. It sounds obvious, but the most important part of the mixing process is the position of your faders in the mix. And you’d be surprised how far you can get with just balance alone. So if your mixes aren’t sounding good, sometimes the best thing you can do is just strip back your plug-ins and start spending more time focusing on the balance of your mix. And if you get the fader positions right of the tracks in your session, oftentimes you find you really don’t need that much processing to make a mix that sounds really good. So spending more time focusing on balance is one of those fundamental things that will absolutely improve your mixes.
The other fundamental that I think is really important is EQ. EQ is another one of those mixing fundamentals that if you can really focus your attention here and get that part of the process right, it’s one of those few things that will create a dramatic improvement in the sound of your mixes. So making sure that you’re really spending the time to get that aspect of the mixing process right, making sure that you understand exactly what EQ does, all the different parameters and controls, and focusing more time and attention here can make a dramatic improvement in the sound of your mixes.
And the last fundamental that I think is essential to focus on is compression. Compression is one of those things that a lot of people kind of understand but they don’t really have a solid grasp on it. So if you’re not 100% confident what the different parameters on a compressor do, what attack time does, what release time does, what threshold and ratio do, and how they all connect and contribute to manipulating the sound of a compressor, then I highly recommend that you go back to those basics and make sure that you have a very firm grasp on those compression fundamentals.
So balance, EQ, and compression are those three fundamental aspects of the mixing process that if you can get those things right and really nail and master those, you’re 90% of the way to making really exceptional-sounding mixes.
The fourth thing you can do to become a better mixer is to challenge every decision you make. A mix is really just a result of thousands of tiny little decisions. And on their own, any one of those decisions don’t really make a dramatic difference in the sound of your mix, but they add up. And so becoming a better mixer is really just about learning how to make better decisions in the mixing process. If you can make better decisions, the sound of your mixes is going to improve as a result.
Now when it comes to making better decisions, it’s not just about making more good decisions. It’s also about avoiding bad decisions, and becoming better at catching yourself in those moments where you’re about to make a bad move. Because the truth is – you may not believe this but it’s 100% true – there’s a very good chance that a significant portion of the decisions that you’re making during your mixing process are actually making the mix sound worse and you don’t even know it.
So becoming a better mixer first is really about catching yourself in those moments, and stepping back and making sure you don’t make those bad moves. And if you can do that, I promise you the sound of your mixes will definitely improve.
So one of the easiest things you can do to make sure that you avoid these bad decisions is just check every decision you make. And what I mean when I say that is check the decision, check the move, check the plug-in that you’re adding against the version before you added the processing. And make sure that what you’re doing is actually making something sound better and not making it sound worse.
So the easiest thing to do here is just whenever you add a plug-in for example, flip that plug-in in and out of bypass after you’ve already set up the processing. And ask yourself, do I prefer the sound before the processing or after the processing? And do this every single time you make a decision. So don’t move forward before you’ve actually checked that decision and made sure that you’re actually making an improvement.
Now something else you can do here that I talk about quite a bit in my videos is a technique called the blind bypass. So one of the things that’s tricky about this whole bypass technique is if you’re staring at the screen when you click that button in and out, your brain is naturally going to have this bias towards thinking that the sound sounds better when the plug-in is in. Because if you just spent five minutes tweaking an EQ, you know your brain doesn’t want to think that you just wasted your time, right? So if you’re actually looking at the screen when you’re flipping that plug-in in and out, there’s going to be this tendency to feel like the plug-in’s making an improvement even in some cases when it isn’t.
So one of the things that you can do to kind of protect yourself against this bias and make better decisions as a result is what I call the blind bypass technique. So basically what you do is whenever you’re checking one of your plug-in decisions, you move your mouse over the bypass button. And you close your eyes, and you click the button like twenty times until you don’t know whether the plug-in is in or out. And then with your eyes still closed, you click that bypass button once and then you listen. And you click it again, and you click it again, and you click it again. And you ask yourself which version sounds better, and the key is you don’t actually know whether the plug-in’s in or out when you’re asking yourself this because your eyes are closed.
And so you make a decision about which sounds better with your eyes still closed, and then when you open your eyes you can actually look at the screen and see whether the plug-in’s in or out. And I’ve done this quite a bit. I do this all the time. And what’s crazy is oftentimes you’ll find that you actually come to a different conclusion when you’re looking at the screen versus when your eyes are closed.
So the bottom line here is you need to be checking every decision you make throughout the mixing process. I know it seems like it’s, you know, an extra couple of seconds, and it’s maybe a waste of time. But I promise you if you do this, what you’ll find is that you end up doing a lot less because you’re going to find that a good portion of your decisions aren’t actually making things sound any better. And when you can strip back all that unnecessary processing, the sound of your mixes is going to improve right away.
And the fifth thing you can do to become a better mixer is to share your work. Now it sounds obvious, but nobody stands to gain anything from mixing in a vacuum. And if you’re in your home studio cave just working by yourself and you’re never really sharing anything that you create with the world, you’re only limiting your own potential to grow and develop. Because if you’re making music for other people, and most of us are, if we’re trying to build a fan base, if we’re trying to share our music with the world, then ultimately the only way to get better at making music for others is to create something, put it out in front of other people, and see how they respond to it. And then go back to the drawing board, and react based on the feedback that we get from putting it out there.
So you have so much to gain as a mixer, as a music maker, as a human being from putting your work out into the world and seeing how people react to it. I know it’s scary. I know it’s hard. I still struggle with this, so I’m not speaking from a place like I figured it all out. But I can say that whenever I’ve been able to kind of get past my own fear and put my music out there or put a video out there or put something that I’ve created out into the world, I’ve always benefitted from the results. So please put your music out there, and I promise you you will grow and develop as a mixer and as a music maker as a result.
Now if you enjoyed this video, don’t forget to grab my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to mixing like a pro. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free e-book now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – which of these five things are you going to start doing today? I’d love to hear your reply, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing videos like this one right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.