Take Your Mixes to the Next Level

So I’m in the final stages of my new EP that I’ve been working on. And I’m super excited about it!

I’ve finally finished recording, and I’m moving on to mixing. I haven’t done a lot of mixing for the last few months because I’ve been focusing my free time on recording. So it’s nice to be getting into the mixing process again.

In the spirit of mixing, today I want to share with you the #1 tip that took my mixes to the next level.

There are many important techniques, of course. EQ and Compression are super important. You need to get comfortable with reverb and delays. Spending time on the static mix and listening in multiple environments helps a lot. And of course, practice, practice, practice.

But the #1 tip is this: Use a reference track.

This is something I avoided for a long time.

I felt like it took too much effort. I would have to find a song that is similar to the one I’m mixing. Then I had to use the reference to guide my mix.

Furthermore, whenever I would listen to a reference track alongside my mix, it was discouraging! Compared to a professionally mixed track, I felt like my mix sounded horrible!

If you don’t yet use reference tracks in your mixes, I bet you probably struggle with some of those same problems.

But let me tell you, it’s worth it. When I finally forced myself to use a reference track in mixing, my mixes improved dramatically.

If you don’t yet use a reference track, or if you’ve been using one for a long time, here are some pointers to get the most out of it:

1. Pick a song in a similar genre and style

It doesn’t have to be identical to the song you’re mixing. But it should be close. Pick one with similar instrumentation and similar overall feel. A professionally mixed track is best.

2. Listen to the overall EQ balance

This is probably the most important thing to do with a reference track. Flip back and forth between your mix and the reference. Listen to the low end. Then the low mids. All the way up to the high end. Compare with your mix. Put some subtle EQ on your master fader to match the reference a little closer. Remember to listen to the reference at the same level as your mix! Otherwise you won’t hear the EQ equally between the tracks.

3. Listen to the level balance

Listen to where the vocals sit compared to the instrumentation. How loud are the drums? The guitars? Try to balance your levels similarly to the reference.

4. Don’t try to make your mix sound “better”

I mean, yes you want a good sounding mix. And you may even get to the point where you like your mix better than the reference.

But as an example, maybe you’re listening to the reference and decide that it doesn’t have enough low end. So you crank the low end in your mix, and you’re really enjoying that sound. You don’t want to match the reference because you think yours sounds better.

Guess what? You probably have too much low end.

If your reference mix was done professionally, the mixer is probably really good at making mixes translate. They probably have just the right amount of low end, and you should try to make your mix match theirs. Otherwise, you might have trouble translating.

Do you use a reference track? If so, what are some other tips you have for using it to guide your mix? If you don’t, why not? Leave a comment below!

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4 thoughts on “Take Your Mixes to the Next Level

  1. Using reference tracks is so important for this reason:
    Your room is lying to you.
    You need to know what professionally mixed and mastered tracks sound like in your room so that the decisions you are making are not based on what you are hearing in your tracks. If your room is bright with professional mixes, then your mixes should be bright. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to reduce the highs or, like you said, crank up the bass because you think it sounds better.
    The only way to get used to the way your room sounds, and be able to mix reasonably in it, is to hear what it is doing with reference material.

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    1. Hey Jim,

      You’re so right. It’s so easy to be fooled by our rooms. Especially since we don’t tend to listen to a lot of music in our studios (other than the stuff we’re working on of course). So of course we don’t know how music is supposed to sound in our rooms!

      Reference tracks are definitely very helpful for this. They can also help if you need to mix in an unfamiliar environment, such as on headphones.

      Thanks!
      Alex

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  2. Hey Alex,

    Great to hear you are at the final stage of your EP.

    And yes, I also feel the same about reftracks. I mix, listen and think I’m the world’s best mixing engineer. Then I listen to the reftrack and… my mix just sucks. But since I know, it’s a long way to the top, I take a deep breath, straighten my back and start to compare and analyse where I have to make improvements.

    The (untreated/poorly treated) room, as Jim stated, is definately one of our most undercover enemies (as is lack of experience). The reftrack is a wonderfull tool to check the acoustic conditions of your room.

    So, yes, most of the time I use reftracks, I get frustrated and would like to turn them off. When I don’t use them and listen to my mixes on different systems, I get frustrated because they don’t sound good at all.

    To compare your mix with professional mixes is the best way to get better at it.

    As my dad always used to say after bringing home a “D” for math (which I try to soften with: but there were also a lot of “E”s and “F”s):
    Don’t compare yourself with the ones who did worse than you, compare yourself with the best….and see where you stand. That’s the only way to get better!

    That said, I wish you all a wonderfull sunday.

    Greets,
    Pete

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Very good points. It can certainly be frustrating, comparing your mixes to a reference. But I’ve definitely seen it give good results. It’s totally worth it! 🙂

      Alex

      Like

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