Mixes Don’t Sound Pro? Here Are 5 Things You Need To Know.

Free eBook: “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making…”
Do your mixes sound like bedroom demos?

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in this video you’ll discover five things you need to know to make mixes that sound like the pros.

But before we dive in, I recommend you first download a free e-book that I put together called “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” This e-book will help you avoid the biggest mixing mistakes so you can get on the fast track to making mixes that sound as good as your favorite records. Click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free e-book right now.

Tip number one is to focus on the why instead of the what. This is an incredibly important thing to understand. Now as mixers, people who are trying to improve our skills, it’s so easy to become obsessed with the what. What do I mean? The tools that people use, the specific choices that they make. So we start watching videos and suddenly we see that somebody added five dB of EQ on a kick drum and then the next mix that we do we do the same thing, right? That’s becoming sidetracked with the what.

Instead, focus on the why. Seek to understand the reasons why people are making the choices that they’re making instead of becoming so obsessed about the what. And the truth is why will actually give you a goal to aim for. When you understand the why behind the decision, you know what you’re shooting for when you go through a mix. And so now it’s just about finding the tools and the techniques that will help you get to that end goal.

But if you don’t have a why, if all you’re focused on is what, then really you’re just going to end up becoming distracted. You’re going to end up running yourself in circles, and you’re going to end up with mixes that you’re not really happy with. Because the truth is the decisions that people make, the actual specific decisions, what they do, are not really all that important. The tools that somebody uses are not really all that important. What’s important is understanding why they’re reaching for a certain tool, or why they added that EQ on a kick drum. And if you can understand the why behind the decisions that people make, that’s the key to improving as a mixer.

So whenever you’re watching a tutorial, instead of focusing on the specific decisions that someone’s making, take a step back and ask yourself why are they grabbing that EQ? Why are they pushing that fader up? Now if they’re a good teacher they’ll probably tell you why, but in some cases you may have to kind of figure it out for yourself. And again if you can focus more on this than the specific surface-level decisions and tools and choices that someone makes, your mixes are going to improve by leaps and bounds.

Tip number two is to invest in what matters most. Now as someone who’s looking to improve your mixes, there’s no shortage of ways to spend your money, right? A million plug-ins out there, lots of different pieces of gear, studio monitors, audio interfaces, microphones. You want to know that when you spend a dollar, you’re maximizing the impact of that dollar spent. So you want to get the biggest return on your investment for that dollar, and this is where a lot of people go astray, right? Because there are things that we invest in – oftentimes the things we spend the most money on are the things that only give us a marginal improvement, an incremental impact, right?

So I want to suggest two specific areas to focus on in terms of investing your money, however much it might be, whether it’s a dollar or a hundred bucks or a thousand dollars. Doesn’t really matter how much money you spend, it’s more so about focusing your impact, your investment on the area that’s going to give you the most impact in return.

So the first place to focus on is investing in yourself. What I mean when I say that is mostly education, so really investing in the resources that are going to help you become a better mixer. Because ultimately it all starts with you, right? If you don’t have the skills and the expertise and the knowledge, then you can have all the best gear in the world but you’re only ever going to be able to make subpar mixes, right? So there’s an amazing, you know, collection of online training. There are universities and schools and programs that will teach you this stuff. There are no shortage of amazing resources when it comes to education. But I highly recommend, if you’re serious about mixing, if you really want to become better, that you spend the money on investing in your own education and improving your own skills, and look at that as the most worthwhile investment that you can make.

The second thing I think is absolutely essential to invest in is your monitoring. Now your monitoring serves as the foundation of the entire mixing process, because every decision you make while you’re mixing is based on what you hear. So if you’re not hearing an accurate representation of what’s really going on in your mixes, then you’re not able to make good mixing decisions, and your mixes are never going to sound that great even if you’re Chris Lord-Alge, right?

So when I say invest in your monitoring, what most people jump to is thinking about studio monitors, buying better monitors or speakers. This actually in many cases isn’t the best place to start. So the best place that you should start actually first before you spend anything, is just finding the right spot in your room for your speakers and your sweet spot. So going through that process can make a massive improvement without spending a dime.

After you’ve done this, I think the best place to start in terms of spending your money is investing in acoustic treatment. Before you spend a whole bunch of money on monitors, acoustic treatment can actually make a bigger impact in many cases than investing in a new pair of studio monitors. So if you’re looking to learn more about this, I actually put together a video that talks about the basics of acoustic treatment and shows you kind of where to start. And you can check that out by clicking the link up there in the video or down there in the description below.

Tip number three is to listen to more music. Now this might sound obvious, but stay with me for a second. So our expectations of what a great mix should sound like have been formed by nothing more than all of the hundreds of thousands or millions of records that we’ve heard over the course of our life. So from childhood to now, we’ve listened to so much music that we’ve formed an internal idea of what makes a great mix. We want the vocals to sound a certain way, the drums to sound a certain way. You know, things just kind of feel right to us when they sound a certain way. And that’s based on all of these records that we’ve heard.

So as a mixer, what we’re really trying to do when we’re trying to create a great mix is create a mix that meets listener expectations. Create a mix that conforms with this idea, this concept that we all have of what a great mix should sound like. And so really the only way to improve is to listen to more music, to develop and hone in on what that concept is. To understand more deeply, you know, what makes a great mix. And the only way that we do that is by listening to music.

So you need to be listening to more music if you want to improve as a mixer, and I recommend making this a daily practice. And it doesn’t have to be rigid or boring. You know, go listen to stuff that really you enjoy, or go find stuff that’s different. Maybe if you listen primarily to hip hop go listen to a bunch of rock music, and immerse yourself in different styles and sounds. And over time you’ll develop an intuitive sense of, you know, what the right and wrong moves are within the mix, because you have this concept, this idea, so deeply rooted in you of what a great mix should sound like. And then it’s just about picking the tools and techniques and the tactics to actually help you achieve that goal and that vision. So listen to more music. It’s one of the easiest ways to improve the sound of your mixes.

Tip number four is to share your work. Now you will not grow in a vacuum, meaning if you’re just sitting every day in your home studio toiling away making music and never actually releasing it, never actually showing it to anyone else, never actually getting that feedback that in many cases we’re all so afraid of, you will not grow. You will not progress.

Ultimately at a certain point, the best way to develop is actually to share your music with others. To put it out, to be vulnerable, and to get that feedback that’s going to allow you to grow and improve over time. And I don’t just mean showing it to your mom or your dad or your girlfriend or someone who’s just going to say oh yeah that sounds really good, I like that. I mean showing it to people who are better than you. People who are going to give you critical feedback, who can actually point out where you need to improve. This is one of the best ways to grow as a mixer.

And specifically if you’re looking at, you know, okay, well who do I share my music with? One of the most helpful things I’ve found is building a relationship with a mastering engineer who can give you that feedback while they’re working on your tracks. So if you send a track off to mastering, either right before they master it or after, you can just ask them and say what do you think of the mix? What did I do good? Where do I need to focus on more? And as part of the mastering process, they can give you that feedback. And for me this is one of the most valuable aspects of mastering in general, having that objective third party person that I can kind of bounce off of and get feedback on my work.

So I’m always looking for that when I’m working with a mastering engineer. And if you don’t have a mastering engineer or you self-master your own tracks, it can be a great opportunity to put your mix in front of someone who is a really, you know, critical set of ears that can give you that feedback that will help you grow.

So don’t be afraid to share, and don’t tell yourself that you’re just going to kind of wait until everything sounds perfect and then you’re going to share. There is no such thing as perfection. There’s never going to be a time when it feels like okay, now it’s time to open up to the world. You’ve just got to do it. It feels uncomfortable at first, but I promise you as you do this more and more, as you put yourself out there, as you share your work, you’re going to continue to learn and grow, and your mixes are going to sound a whole lot better too.

Tip number five is to be patient. This is frustrating for everyone, me included, because we all want to get to the finish line fast, right? We want to wake up one day and be able to be a world-class mixer, and we don’t want to wait years to get there. But mixing is a skill just like riding a bike or learning to play an instrument. And with practice and time you will improve, but when you first start you’re probably not going to be that great as you haven’t been doing it for that long. It’s kind of unrealistic to expect yourself to be an amazing mixer.

So I remember this big moment for me. A couple years ago I was having a conversation with my mentor Bob Power. Now Bob’s a Grammy-winning mixer. He’s been mixing for forty years. He’s in his sixties now. And he told me “Jason, the last ten years my mixes have improved more than they have over the course of my entire career.” I was like wow, if this is, you know, someone who’s been mixing for thirty, forty years and has told me that, you know, he’s still making progress, then clearly I can still be making progress too. And that goes for you wherever you are in your journey.

Look, it’s more important to feel like you’re moving forward. And if you can get that momentum and if you can feel like you’re making progress every single day, that’s what’s going to keep you going. So for me whenever I get discouraged I listen back on my old recordings, and I laugh, right? Because many of them really don’t sound good. And I remind myself how far I’ve come. And if you can stay in that mindset of, you know, okay I’m making progress here. My mixes are getting a little bit better, and I may not be exactly where I want to be yet but I’m making improvements. That’s where you want to be. So just remember, you know, mixing is a skill. You got to be patient, you will get better over time, but you gotta show up and you gotta practice, and it’s going to take some time, and that’s okay.

Now if you’re ready to dive deeper, I recommend you again download that free e-book I put together called “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” This e-book will help you avoid the biggest mixing mistakes so you can get on the fast track to mixing like a pro. Click the link in the description below or up there in the video to download this free e-book right now.

Now before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – which of the five things that I mentioned today do you struggle with the most? I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below.

Thanks so much for watching, and you can check out more mixing tips right here on my YouTube channel or at BehindTheSpeakers.com.

About Jason Moss

Jason is an LA-based mixer and the founder of Behind The Speakers. He's a graduate of New York University's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. His how-to articles have been featured in leading industry publications by Berklee, TuneCore, SonicScoop, The Pro Audio Files, and Disc Makers.