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!