This post will tell you everything you need to know about mixing.
OK, not really. If that was possible there would be no need for this site ! In fact, it won’t even scratch the surface of everything there is to say about music and audio mixing – but it will tell you ten fundamental rules that – if you follow them – will enable you to make your mixes sound better and achieve the best possible results from your music and audio productions, every time.
But before I get to the rules, I want to point out a few things that DON’T matter. At least, no-where near as much as the things on the list. These things which are NOT important to achieving a great mix are:
- Dedicated studios or expensive acoustic treatment
- Expensive recording equipment
- Certain “must-have” plugins or software
- “Golden Ears”
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with any of those things.
A purpose-built, dedicated studio with carefully chosen acoustic treatment is a beautiful thing, especially with an engineer who knows how to get the best out of it – and effective soundproofing will make your life MUCH easier. But are they essential to making a great recording ? No.
Similarly, the more expensive the equipment you use, the better quality it’s likely to be, the more reliable, the more rugged and so on. But modern technology means that you can get superb results even on a limited budget.
Some plugins sound better than others, no question. But the best are not always the most expensive – in fact sometimes, they’re free.
And you DO need good hearing to be an engineer or producer – but you don’t need “Golden Ears”. As a mastering engineer I can confidently say that many of my customers have hearing every bit as good as mine. You just need to couple this with focus, determination and ruthless attention to detail – and hopefully, a few of the attributes of other successful producers.
So, enough about what you don’t need – here are my rules for achieving great mixes, every time. They are:
- Use the best monitoring speakers you can find – and even more importantly, learn what all your favourite music sounds like on them
- Find a great-sounding space
- Use the best mics you can lay your hands on
- Find great players, and make sure they have decent instruments
- Rehearse, and make sure the arrangement is sound
- Take time to get the mics in the best positions
- Make the monitor mix sound as good as possible – keep it simple
- Record until you get good takes
- Spend time mixing and editing
- Remember – attention to detail is the key
And that’s it ! If you can follow those rules to the letter, I guarantee your mixes will sound fantastic.
Easier said than done, I hear you say ?
Well, you may have a point. But here’s the good news – even if you can’t follow all the rules in every case, they still work. Even in a dodgy recording space, careful mic placement can help. Even cheap mics can give great results, if you use them well. And there is a common thread that runs through many of those rules – time.
- Take time to find great-sounding monitors. They don’t have to break the bank.
- Take time to find a good space for the recording – it may be someone’s front room, the rehearsal space you’re used to, or even a performance venue, but the bottom line is that if the music sounds great in the room, recording a great sound becomes much easier.
- Like monitors, great mics don’t have to be expensive. For example you can get a fantastic ambient drum sound using a single PZM mic – provided the kit is in a good-sounding space.
- Take time to rehearse properly. Putting someone under the microscope of a recording situation can introduce all kinds of pressures and difficulties of it’s own – especially if you are paying for studio time. Make sure the artists are as well-prepared as possible before you ever get to this point.
- Take time to work on the arrangement – which instruments play when, and what they play. The best way to make sure everything is audible in a mix is to make sure has it’s own space musically. If you can do this, sonically everything will fall into place too.
- Take time with the mic placement. I absolutely guarantee that moving a mic three inches will make more difference than your pre-amps, mixer, soundcard and plugins all put together.
- Take the time when recording to get great takes – modern digital editing provides a great fallback position, but you just can’t beat an outstanding original performance.
- Take time to get these details right at every stage and everything else will just fall into place. So often you’ll hear people asking “what plugin do I need to get my recordings to sound like [insert classic track here]” – but they’re completely missing the fact that when the recording they are asking about was made, there were no plugins !
Of course I realise that in the real world, we can’t all get all these things right all the time – that’s why this site is here. There are tips, tricks, rules of thumb and suggestions to make each stage easier – and, perhaps even more usefully, ways to deal with something that’s gone wrong.
That’s OK, though – just keep these ten rules in mind – and always remember to take the time to listen. If it sounds right, then it probably is.
If you found this post useful, you might like to check out some of the other popular posts from the site archives – take a look here: