3 easy tips to make better mixes

I have been working with musicians for many years, and more people are recording themselves at home than ever before. They like the fact that they can spend more time experimenting, without an hourly studio bill growing. More affordable and easier to use gear has made this possible. However, I still get asked often to help with mixing or to give advice in this area. Here are 3 ways that you can get better mixes without upgrading gear or spending more money.

  1. Know what to focus on.

    Many beginners think that everything in the song has to be heard equally. Its reasonable: you spent time writing and recording the parts, so you want to hear all of them. A great mix will focus on one or two of the key elements of the song so that they are memorable to the listener. I like to first listen to a track and make notes on what jumps out at me; and then what has the most lasting impact. This may be the same element, or two distinct parts of the track. Example: A song with a catchy rhythm section and a strong vocal that sticks in your head.

    I like to start my mixes by soloing out these elements and devoting all my initial time on them. I treat it as though if I had to play someone only those elements with everything else muted, that they would stand on their own. Then I will lock those elements and spend the rest of my time bringing in the rest of the elements but never competing with those ‘signature parts’.

  2. Have a strong listening process

    Having good monitors and a great sounding room to mix in are certainly top priorities, but I would argue that having a clear, repeatable listening and review process are just as important. I start all of my mixes on my best pair of monitors, and get everything to where I am satisfied with the overall mix. Then I listen back to the track on a secondary set of speakers (that I use less often) and make notes on what I hear. Then I listen through good headphones and make notes, then cheap earbuds and make notes. Then I take the mix to my car and go for a drive. I’ll pull over after each listen and make notes.

    Upon returning to the studio I will read over all my notes and make the necessary changes based on a summary of all of the results. Even if the new mix doesn’t sound quite as strong in my studio, I’m aiming for the mix that works best across all platforms. Remember that the majority of people are listening on phones, bluetooth speakers, and car stereos.

    Over time and experience you will start to adjust what you think ‘sounds right’ in your studio, based on your knowledge of how it will translate to these other sources.

  3. Give yourself a break

    One of the most damaging things you can do is engage in marathon mix sessions. Just like if you were to run for hours on a treadmill and feel sore and fatigued……so do your ears when you mix for too long. I like to set my timer for 1 hour maximum, and get the mix as far as I can, then I take a break. Grab a bite to eat, go for a walk, or simply do something else at my desk.

    When you work for too long without breaks, you will find that all the changes you are making start to have less and less benefit to the song, and in some cases make it worse.

    something that bothers you may sound completely acceptable or even great after coming back with a fresh set of ears.

There you go, 3 very easy tips that you can try TODAY to get better mixes, without spending a dime. I’d love to hear how these tips helped you, or what you would like to hear about in future posts.

Ben Srokosz