Mixing is definitely one of the most fun parts of the music production process.
It’s super rewarding to take your recorded tracks, make them fit together, and really get them to shine.
And assuming you’ve done your work up front and recorded great sounding tracks, then you’ll skip over most of the frustration that people often feel when mixing.
But that all being said, mixing can be very complex. There are tons of skills, tips, tricks, techniques, and hacks to learn.
So having just released my new EP, I thought I would give you my 5 “Big Win” mixing tips that helped me the most while producing the EP.
Most mixing tips give you incremental improvement. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s best to focus on the Big Wins first. If you just take these 5 tips and apply them, you’ll see huge improvements in your mixes.
Use a Reference Track
I firmly believe that one of the best things you can do for your mixes is to use a reference track.
I avoided it for a long time. I guess I just couldn’t be bothered.
And whenever I did listen to a professionally mixed track, it sounded so much better than my mix that I preferred just to not listen to it (and live in blissful ignorance).
That’s fine. If you’re the only person who is ever going to listen to your mix.
But chances are, you want your mix to sound good enough for other people to listen to it, right?
It’s worth getting good at using a reference track. It’s probably the single best thing I’ve ever done for my own mixes, and I bet you’ll find that it will help your mixes too.
If you’ve never used a reference before, start by listening to the reference when you’re all done your mix. Turn the volume down so it’s the same level as your mix, and compare the EQ balance. Slap an EQ plugin on your master fader, and make a few small tweaks to make your mix sound a bit closer to the reference.
That will start to get you used to using a reference, and seeing the benefits. As you progress, start using it for more of the mixing process. Let it guide your level balance, compression, volume automation, panning, etc. Don’t try to copy it exactly, but let it guide you.
This is something I started relatively recently as well.
It’s a mixing method that saves quite a bit of time, uses less plugins, and focuses on the “big wins” throughout the mixing process.
Essentially, the idea is that you route all of the tracks in your DAW through a few “top level” tracks.
So for example, all of the drums would be routed through a “DRUMS + PERC” bus track. The guitars would be routed through a “GUITARS” track. Vocals would go through a “VOCALS” track. And so on.
The picture shows an example of one of my songs from the new EP. As you can see, I have 5 top-level tracks that everything gets routed through.
The beauty of this method is that you can start with the top-level tracks. Start your EQ, compression, automation, etc. on these tracks.
You’ll find that your mix gets closer to being done with less work, and a lot less plugins.
Of course, you’ll probably need to go back through the individual tracks later and do some tweaks.
But you normally won’t need to do much. In several songs on my EP, I have many tracks with no plugins on them at all. That’s the beauty of top-down mixing.
Use a High Pass Filter
This is a pretty simple trick. But it’s an easy way to prevent a cluttered low-end in your mix.
If you notice on the picture above, each of my tracks has a small EQ graphic at the top of the channel strip. On the left hand side of each of the graphics, you’ll see that I do a big ol’ cut on the low frequencies. This is a “high pass filter” in action.
In recorded tracks, and even in some sampled instruments and synths, you can get some low end “rumble”. This rumble doesn’t contain any musical information. It just simply adds to the clutter.
Using a high pass filter on almost every track will get rid of this rumble for you, so your low end will be much cleaner.
Typically, I’ll roll up the high pass filter until just before it starts to negatively affect my recording. For example, on my “guitars” bus, I might roll it up to around 200Hz or so. If I feel like it thins out my guitars too much, I’ll dial it back down until it sounds good.
I stop when I’ve found a place that removes the low end rumble without ruining the “body” or “warmth” of my tracks.
I can hear your next question already: what about the bass and kick drum?
I actually apply a high pass filter to them as well, but at a much lower frequency. Believe it or not, even bass instruments can contain some undesirable low end rumble.
Typically, I’ll roll those instruments off under 30-50Hz or so. Doesn’t get rid of much, but it helps some.
Keep it Subtle
In mixing, we usually tend to want to make big changes that will have drastic effects on the mix.
But in reality, a great mix is the sum of many small mixing moves.
When using EQ, compression, or other plugins, try to keep your mixing moves subtle. You want to be able to hear the effect, but you don’t want to overdo it.
This is especially true when you’re affecting a bus with several instruments going through it, such as the mix bus or a top-level track. Changes to those tracks tend to affect the mix more drastically, because they affect everything at once.
In other words, if you want to screw up your entire mix all at once, make a drastic move on the mix bus 😉
The trick is to keep things subtle. Your mix will come together slowly, but naturally.
Copy Settings from One Song to the Next
This is a tip for working on an EP or full length album.
When you’re working on similarly recorded songs, copying settings can save you a ton of time.
A simple way to do this is to mix the first song, and then save it as a template. Then, when you move on to the second song, you can open the template, delete all the audio, and pull the new audio in.
Chances are, the new song will sound pretty close to being done. Of course, you’ll need to spend some time on it. Each song will need its own little tweaks.
But as a starting point, it’s a great time saver.
So there you have it. Five tips that can give you Big Wins in your mixes.
Earlier this week, I mentioned that I’ve created a video series to go alongside my EP.
It’s called the EP Insider Pack. In the series, I talk about all of the above mixing tips and more. I even jump into my mixing session and show you how it looks.
And that’s just the mixing video. There are a total of 10 videos, totalling over 2.5 hours of content. In these videos, I tell you how I went about the whole process, and I talk in depth about each part.
If you haven’t already, you should enter to win a free copy. The giveaway is only open until this Friday at 11:59PM Central Time, so go ahead and enter now.
Update: the giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Mark on winning a free copy! Go check out the EP Insider Pack here.
What are your favorite mixing tips? What sorts of things have you done to get “Big Wins” in your mixes? Leave a comment below!