For many producers, achieving a professional sounding mix can sometimes feel like an impossible task that’s best left to the experts. It can be tempting to just do the bare minimum and hope that an engineer can “work some magic” at the mastering stage.
While there are many talented mastering engineers out there, they’re ultimately limited by the quality of your initial mixdown. The better your mix is, the easier it will be for them to deliver a master that holds up in the club or on the radio!
Like any project, achieving a great mix is all about having the right tools, and understanding when and how to use them. Don’t panic - this doesn’t have to mean splashing thousands of pounds on a fancy studio!
In fact, many of the tools you need can be found as stock plugins in your DAW!
Put these tools in your mixing toolbox and you’ll be well on your way to overcoming your mixdown anxiety.
One of the most powerful ways to make the mix process less stressful is to compare your mix to reference tracks from some of your favourite artists.
Switching back and forth between your track and a reference (a process known as A/B) helps you work out which elements need more presence in your mix.
The best reference tools are incredibly simple to use, but offer a wealth of detailed metering that will simplify difficult decisions you need to make in your mix.
Some even offer filters that you can use to compare certain sections of the frequency spectrum (for example, you could just focus on referencing the low end of your track)
Do you ever feel that your mix sounds cluttered? Do you find that your sounds get lost in busy sections of the track? An EQ might just be the answer to your problems.
By using an EQ to remove unnecessary frequencies from your sounds, you will quickly find your mix becoming clearer and less muddy. For example, your hi-hat may have unwanted low end information that competes with the bass - but not if you use your EQ correctly!
Once your mix is cleaned up, EQs can also be used to boost important frequencies and give sounds more presence in the mix. They’re a powerful and versatile tool that you’ll be reaching for throughout your mix.
Compressors are powerful, versatile workhorses that can help your mix in countless ways.
The core job of a compressor is to narrow the dynamic range of your music. That means that they reduce the volume difference between the loudest and quietest parts of your track.
By narrowing this gap in loudness, compressors prevent any of your instruments from overpowering the track - they give each sound a chance to be heard.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg - we haven’t even gone into how compressors can be used for sidechaining, parallel processing or adding character to your mix.
Speaking of adding character to your mix, saturators are another great tool for giving your mix a distinct and pleasing sound.
By combining compression with harmonic distortion, saturators can thicken a sound’s signal. This little magic trick means that our ears will perceive the sound as louder, without actually increasing its loudness (so it won’t overpower the rest of the mix!)
Different saturators offer their own unique sounding distortion, so you can use them creatively as well as functionally!
Whereas an EQ allows you to fine tune the frequency range of a sound, a transient shaper allows you to alter a sound with even more precision.
Transient shapers give you the power to affect the attack, delay, sustain and release (also known as ADSR) of a sound. In a nutshell, that means you can affect how the level of a sound changes over time.
For example, you could boost the attack of your clap to help it cut through the mix with more clarity. On the other hand, if you wanted your shakers to be more subtle in the mix, you could always decrease their attack.
If you’re looking to tweak a sound to help it sit perfectly in the mix, you can’t go wrong with a transient shaper.
When you compare your mix to your reference tracks, you might find that your music sounds flat and dull while theirs sounds bright and spacious.
If that’s the case, you need to reach for your reverbs and delays.
By emulating reflections and echoes of your sounds, these tools create the feeling that your digitally produced music is actually being played in a room.This gives your music a sense of depth and space that is really pleasing to the listener’s ears.
Not only that, it creates more space for each sound to sit, which further reduces the competition between each sound - leading to a brighter, cleaner mix that stands up to your reference tracks!
So you’ve added these tools to your mixing toolbox - Great! Now you need to understand how and when to use them.
Don’t worry - we’ve got you covered!
On July 15th we will be launching our next Masterclass, which will teach you everything you need to know about mixing your music like a pro.
Sign up below to be the first to hear the full details of the Masterclass.
We’ll make sure you’re first in line when this hotly anticipated Masterclass goes on sale! Are you ready to open your toolbox?