Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in this video you’ll discover seven popular mixing tips that are taking your tracks in the wrong direction. And for more mixing mistakes to avoid, click the link above or in the description below to download my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.”
Bad mixing tip number one is you should always high-pass every track in your mix but the kick or the bass. Now this is the idea that in the beginning of the mixing process we should apply a high-pass filter across our entire mix to every track except maybe the kick or the bass without even listening. So we should just do it kind of blindly in every single mix that we do.
I understand the intentions behind this tip, which are that oftentimes there’s lots of low end junk on tracks that kind of gets in the way and causes muddiness, boominess. And by applying these high-pass filters, hopefully we can clean all that up right at the beginning so we don’t even have to think about it.
Here’s the problem with this approach. By blindly applying these high-pass filters across all the tracks in our mix, oftentimes we end up taking away a lot of good low end – a lot of low end that’s not actually going to create any problems, but contributes to the fullness and thickness and density of our mixes. So we end up thinning things out unnecessarily, and it becomes way too aggressive of a solution to the problem. It’s almost like if you were to go into the doctor’s office with a splinter, and you said, “hey Doc, I need you to fix this splinter,” and he pulled out an axe and just chopped off your whole arm. Same idea. So we end up being way too aggressive with this approach, and we thin out our mixes.
So a better approach – and really this goes for anything in the mixing process – is whenever we’re doing anything, whenever we’re applying any processing whether it’s high-pass filters or anything else, it should always be predicated on listening to the sound that’s coming out of the speakers, and asking ourselves are we hearing a problem? Is there something that we need to fix? And if there’s a problem, then by all means let’s go and fix it. But if we’re not hearing a problem, there’s no reason to fix it, right?
So if you’re hearing that there’s some muddiness on a track – boominess – or when you listen to everything together there’s some muddiness in your mix, by all means go use high-pass filters to fix that problem. But don’t just blindly apply high-pass filters across every track in your mix, because again you’re going to remove a lot of the thickness and fullness that makes mixes sound dense and impactful.
Bad mixing tip number two is don’t boost or cut on an EQ more than 3 dB. Now I hear this one all the time. People say you should always be subtle when it comes to EQ, and you should never boost or cut more than 3 dB, and there are all these rules that people prescribe on the mixing process. The truth is there’s absolutely a place to be bold when it comes to EQ, or anything else in the mixing process. And it goes back to this idea that we talked about just a minute ago.
When you’re making decisions based on the sound that’s coming out of the speakers, based on hearing these problems and then trying to fix the problems, really the guiding principle is do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Sometimes that means you have to be really bold and aggressive, and apply 20 dB of EQ to something. Other times that means you have to be really subtle and gentle. But rather than having this arbitrary rule that you can’t do more than a 3 dB boost or cut, which is going to be really limiting in many circumstances, instead make sure that your EQ decisions are directed by trying to solve a problem. And as long as you’re being guided by finding a solution to the problem that you’ve heard, then you don’t have to worry about doing too much.
Bad mixing tip number three is use these settings when mixing x. I can’t tell you how many blogs and YouTube tutorials I’ve seen where people try to prescribe very specific settings for different instruments, or they’ll say when you’re mixing vocals you should always use a four-to-one ratio on your compressor, or when you’re EQ’ing a snare drum you should boost 5 dB at 5K.
The problem with all of these prescribed, one-size-fits-all settings is that they might work sometimes, but in many other circumstances they may be the exact opposite of what you’re looking for. And the truth is there is no formula when it comes to mixing, certainly not when it comes to individual tracks.
So rather than being bound by these specific settings and feeling like you always have to use the specific settings on the compressor if you’re compressing vocals, instead go back to this principle of what problem am I trying to solve? What am I really trying to do here? And then really doing whatever it takes to solve that problem, and not worrying so much about the specific settings that you feel like you need to use. Just trying to tweak the knobs until you feel like you get to that point where that problem is solved. And if you can let that guide you towards the solution instead of saying I need to use these specific set of settings, your mixes are going to sound a whole lot better, I guarantee it.
Bad mixing tip number four is if it sounds good in the car, it’ll sound good everywhere. A lot of people think the car check is some magic process, and if you can make it sound good in your car, that’s the key to making your mixes sound great on all sorts of different speakers. The truth is the car check is useful, but car speakers are not magical. There’s nothing magic about listening in the car. They’re just another reference point for how your mix might sound. And you really have to be careful about the decisions that you make in your mixing process to accommodate one set of speakers, because oftentimes those same decisions that you make that make things sound better on one location can make your mixes sound worse in another location.
So great example might be let’s say your car has a whole lot of low end, and when you take your mixes out in the car you constantly feel like the kick and the bass in your mixes are too loud. So if you’re putting too much stock in that, you might go back to your mixes and turn down the low end to accommodate the car, and then your mixes will sound balanced in the car. But what about on speakers that sound flat to begin with? Suddenly you’ll feel like there isn’t enough low end. And certainly on speakers that don’t have enough low end, then your mixes are going to sound really really thin.
So you want to be very careful about making accommodations to make your mix sound better on one specific set of speakers. And oftentimes the best approach is just to mix on one set of speakers that’s flat, that give you kind of the middle of the bell curve in terms of all the different speakers you might encounter in the real world. Because if you can aim your mix right down that middle and make a mix that sounds balanced on a flat set of speakers, then it’s going to translate to the widest variety of different speakers. It’s going to sound pretty good on speakers that have more low end, pretty good on speakers that sound less, that have less low end, right?
So aiming down the middle is often a much better approach than trying to listen to your mix on all these different variations of speakers, and trying to hopefully hit some midpoint where you kind of sound okay on everyone. That can often swing you in the wrong direction. So just being careful with the car check, recognizing that there’s nothing magical about it. It’s a nice useful set of information you can get by listening to your mixes in the car, but it’s certainly not magic. And being very careful about making decisions to accommodate one specific set of speakers when you’re mixing.
Bad mixing tip number five is you should use pink noise to balance your mix. This is the idea that you can import pink noise into your session, and listen to the pink noise while you’re balancing out all the different tracks in your mix, and then you can mute the pink noise and somehow everything’s going to be magically balanced perfectly.
Here’s the problem with this approach. When we’re trying to balance things in our mix, we’re really trying to do three different things. We’re trying to achieve what I call musical balances, which means that there’s a ratio of all the different tracks in our mix that sounds musically appropriate to us. For example, we typically want the vocal to appear louder than everything else. That’s an example of a musical balanced decision that we’re trying to achieve, right?
We’re also trying to achieve what I call tonal balance, meaning that we want to achieve an even distribution, all the different frequencies in the frequency spectrum in our mix. So we want a good amount of low end, a good amount of midrange, good amount of high end, and we want those things to be fairly in proportion with each other.
And the third goal we’re trying to achieve is we’re trying to achieve what I call emotional harmony. So there are certain balances that seem to represent the emotion of the song better, and oftentimes we’re trying to manipulate things when we’re adjusting balances so that our balances reflect the emotion of the song that we’re mixing.
So this pink noise technique really only addresses this second goal of tonal balance, because pink noise is tonally balanced. And so when we are balancing out our tracks against pink noise, really all we’re paying attention to is that second goal, that tonal balance. So oftentimes if we use pink noise, if we use this technique when we’re mixing, we end up with mixes that sound very tonally balanced. There’s a good distribution of all the different frequencies, but we completely ignore the first goal and the third goal – musical balances are completely out of whack half the time, and emotional harmony isn’t something we even consider. We kind of hit one target, but we miss the other two. And in many cases those other two are more important than this idea of tonal balance.
So it seems like it’s a nice shortcut, but in reality pink noise is not an effective way to balance things out, balance different tracks out in your mix. And you’re much better off just listening to the tracks without pink noise, and trying to approach this idea of balancing the good old fashioned way by using your ears.
Bad mixing tip number six is you don’t need acoustic treatment if you listen at low volumes. People will find all sorts of ways to get out of buying acoustic treatment, and this is no exception. So this is a complete myth, and it’s based on the premise that when we turn down our speakers, we don’t hear the sound of the room so we shouldn’t need acoustic treatment. But this is completely untrue, because the ratio between direct sound – meaning the sound that comes right directly out of your speakers, directly to your ears – and reflected sound – meaning the sound that comes out of the speakers, hits various walls in your room, and then hits your ears – that ratio doesn’t actually change depending on how loud or quiet you listen.
So if you’re turning down the speakers, you’re definitely hearing less of the reflected sound – meaning less of the sound that’s bouncing around the room – but you’re also hearing less of the direct sound coming at you directly from the speakers. So because that ratio doesn’t change, you’re still hearing the same impact of the room on the sound. So it really doesn’t matter how loud or quiet you listen, the room is still having an impact on the sound that’s coming out of your speakers, So you can’t really get around this one.
If you’re really serious about improving your mixes, acoustic treatment is important. And if you want to learn more about this I actually put together a video where I talk about the basics of acoustic treatment. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. You can really get started without spending a ton, and it really does make an impact. So I definitely recommend if you’re serious and really want to improve your mixes, this is something that you pay attention to. You can check out this video by clicking the link in the video above or in the description below.
And bad mixing tip number seven is that the mix bus is where the magic happens. I think in the music-making community we have this reverence about the mix bus, like it’s this magical place where your mix is going to be transformed, and a crappy-sounding mix suddenly becomes incredible. And this reverence that we all have I think causes many of us to be much, much too aggressive on the mix bus with our processing.
The truth is that if you look at really good mixers and what they generally tend to do on the mix bus, it’s generally pretty subtle and gentle. Maybe a dB or two of EQ, a couple things going on, maybe some compression. But there’s not these big, massive, aggressive moves going on. And I think this idea, this mindset of feeling like the mix bus is where the magic happens causes many of us to be much too aggressive when it comes to the processing that we add here.
This speaks to a broader point about mixing in general, which is that there really isn’t any one place or any one move that makes a dramatic difference in a mix. When mixing is done right, all of these little tiny decisions add up over time. And any decision on its own may not make a huge difference, but those decisions together, those thousands of little tiny decisions together are what take a mix from not sounding very good to sounding exceptional. So the mix bus is not where the magic happens, and if you can take a more subtle, gentle approach to your mix bus processing, oftentimes it’s going to lead to much better-sounding mixes.
I hope you enjoyed this video, and for more mixing mistakes to avoid don’t forget to download 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.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – which of the seven tips we talked about today are you going to stop using? I’d love to hear from you, so leave your answer in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for watching, and for more mixing tips like these check out my YouTube channel right here, or my website at BehindTheSpeakers.com.