Mixing is all about fusing together the different elements of a song to make it sound cohesive and awesome. It can sometimes seem overwhelming, and there are heaps of opinions on how to do it right. If you want to improve your tracks by mixing, here’s what NOT to do.
1. “Fixing it” in the mix
This mistake happens before you even start mixing. Modern music production can do a lot, but you can’t fix a bad song, production, arrangement or recording in the mix. Make sure everything is the best it can be, and then mixing will become much easier.
2. Not thinking about levels
Levels are everything when it comes to mixing, but still, they are often overlooked. If you mix the levels too loud, you get digital distortion, which sounds awful! Mix with plenty of headroom and instead use a limiter on the master channel to make it louder. Also, when using effects, always level match the input with the output. Our ears get fooled into thinking louder sounds better. Did you like the difference in sound or volume? Maybe you just needed the volume fader.
3. Mixing without purpose
It’s easy to get stuck in old habits while mixing and to just go through the motions without actually listening to what the audio needs. Don’t do anything without a goal. Mindlessly adding effects won’t do any good. Instead, think about what problems you’re hearing, and then try to solve them. It’s perfectly fine to not know exactly what to do, and the plan can be to experiment!
4. Ignoring ear fatigue
When mixing for long periods of time, your ears will get tired and thus can’t be trusted! Cloudy and dull hearing leads to bad mixing decisions. Your ears will also get used to the tonal balance of your mix. This can lead you down the rabbit hole of bad decision making. It can also be avoided by simply taking frequent breaks and listening on a lower volume. You can also hit the reset button by using reference tracks, comparing your mix to other mixes you love, like a palate cleanser!
5. Mixing in solo
There’s nothing wrong with using the solo button to focus in on what you’re doing. However, what sounds good in solo doesn’t necessarily sound good in the mix. If you make any moves in solo, you need to listen to it in the mix and make sure it serves the big picture.
6. Misunderstanding stereo width
Stereo width is like ear candy, especially when listening on headphones. What creates width is the difference between the right and left channel. Having everything centered doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity. Hard panning contrasting instruments and rhythms to the opposite sides of each other makes it sound super wide! Stereo widener effects can be cool, but don’t overuse them. Making everything wide just clutters up the mix; some things should stay centered.
7. Not using automation
A mix that sounds the same all the way through is a boring mix. A lot of it comes down to arrangement, but you can enhance it with automation. Change the dynamics with the volume fader, create a build-up with filter cutoff, move instruments around the stereo field with panning, and change the ambiance with reverb and delay. Get creative and keep the mix evolving!