Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in just a minute you’re gonna discover what this button is and why misusing it could be a big mistake.
But before we dive in, I also put together a free PDF with 35 mixing mistakes just like this one. So if you wanna learn how to avoid the biggest mistakes and mix like a pro, click the link in the description below or up there in the video to get free instant access.
So tell me if this sounds familiar. You solo the kick drum right at the beginning of the mix and you EQ and compress and process it to sound amazing. And then you move through the mixing process, soloing individual tracks whenever you need to hear them more clearly. And then at a certain point, you combine everything together and it sounds like garbage, right? So why is this? Why is it that tracks can sound good on their own, but when we combine them all together they sound like complete crap?
The most important thing you need to understand about mixing is that mixing is all about context. So it doesn’t matter what tracks sound like on their own, all that matters is how they fit in with the big picture, with the entire mix itself. And this is something that can easily lead us astray while we’re working through the mixing process.
If we wanna hear the vocal more clearly and adjust the EQ, we can solo the vocal. And that way we don’t have to get distracted by the bass or the kick drum or the guitars or anything else. But the problem with this is as soon as we solo a track, we completely remove it from the context of the rest of the mix. And this makes it almost impossible to make decisions that help that track fit in with the rest of the mix. So if you’re using the solo button to isolate tracks throughout the mixing process so you can focus on them more clearly, you’re making a big mistake. And this is why I think the solo button is the most dangerous button in your DAW.
So next I wanna jump into my DAW and show you in a real-life mixing scenario how avoiding the solo button can help you make better mixing decisions.
Okay, so I have a session here pulled up from a track called “Joshua” by artist Leah Capelle. And I wanna use it to show you how context can help you make the right decisions in the mixing process.
So this track was recorded in a real studio very traditionally, and we have a couple of different mics on a lot of these tracks. So I had a lot of options to choose from in the mixing process.
So you can see here, like on the kick, how we have a kick in mic and a kick out mic. And if you scroll over to the bass, we have a bass DI and bass Motown, which I’m assuming is some kind of amp. And then we have bass amp, which I’m guessing is another type of amp. So point being, we had a lot of different options to choose from in the mixing process.
So let’s go ahead and take a look at the bass here. So again, you can see we have a couple different tracks on the bass, so bass DI, Motown and amp. And then I have all of these routed out bus three and going into an aux track here, labeled bass, so I can control all of these with one fader. So I’m gonna solo the bass track and let’s take a listen to these mics kind of one at a time. So first, let’s start with this bass amp track.
Cool. So that sounds great to me, it’s got a really thick low end. It really sounds nice and balanced. Okay, let’s take a listen to the bass Motown.
Okay, so that one kind of has a woodsier tone. It doesn’t have the same kind of body and thickness on the bottom. It’s got more of a midrange, kind of upper-midrange presence. Now let’s take a listen to this bass DI track.
Cool. So that’s got a little bit more bottom than maybe the Motown track, but it sounds very similar. It’s got kind of a similar tonality. Now, listening to these three tracks on their own, my favorite is the bass amp track. It feels like it just has a lot of power and low end. It sounds really thick and full. But if you notice the balance that I used in the mix, I actually favored the Motown mic. And I had the bass amp turned down a little bit. So let’s listen to these all together.
So you can hear that the bass doesn’t actually have that much low end. It feels a little bit more midrangy. It has more of that tonality than that kind of low power that we heard from the bass amp track. And so you might be asking why did I make this choice in the mix? Why not favor the mic that sounded the best?
Normally if we were listening to this in solo, we would favor the bass amp track because it sounds it’s best. But the reason why I favored the Motown track was because when I was making this balance decision, I listened to this track in context with the rest of the mix. So what I was really listening for was—how does this bass fit in with the kick? And so let’s go ahead and take a listen to this kick track over here. And first of all, let’s un-solo the bass. And I just wanna listen to this kick track by itself.
Cool. So you can hear there’s a lot of low end on that kick. I really wanted the kick to kind of dominate the low end of the frequency spectrum. I wanted to give it that power so we could really hear that punch on the bottom of the mix. But I knew that if I did that, there wouldn’t be a lot of room for the bass to sit down there too. So going back to my decision to favor the Motown mic on the bass, the one that had a little bit more midrange, I was really thinking about context and I was trying to make these two fit together. And so when I was listening to everything together without soloing the bass, I found that with the bass Motown mic favored the bass and the kick just fit together much better. So let’s take a listen to these two together with the final balance that I chose and you can take a listen to how they sound.
So you can hear there’s not a lot of competition between them, they’re actually fitting together pretty well. And we don’t miss the low end on the bass, because we have it on the kick. So we’ve defined separate spots in the frequency spectrum for these two tracks to sit.
Now the important thing that I wanna communicate here is that if I were to solo the bass track and kind of decide which mic I liked the best, I would have never made this choice. I would have favored the bass amp track, because that sounded the best on its own. But in context, I had to choose the one that fit better with the kick. And so by avoiding the solo button and making these decisions in context, you’re gonna be lead towards decisions that help tracks fit together. And that’s what mixing is all about. So by avoiding the solo button and listening to tracks in context with the rest of the mix playing, you’re gonna be lead towards better mixing decisions.
Now if you wanna dive deeper, I also put together that free PDF with 35 mixing mistakes just like this one. So if you wanna learn how to avoid some more of the biggest mixing mistakes and mix like a pro, click the link in the description below or up there in the video to get instant access.
Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know—do you use the solo button while mixing? I’d love to hear from ya, I read every comment and reply to as many as I can. So again, leave a comment below.
Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips like these right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.
Video features music by Leah Capelle.
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