How To Mix Music in the Digital Age
I don’t know about you but creating and recording music is one of the most fun and exciting things that I have ever done. I really mean that.
I’m assuming you feel the same way or you wouldn’t have ended up on this website.
So let me impart some wisdom to you if you are fairly new in the game. Beware of opinions! Including mine!
Opinions are a dangerous thing especially if they come from a peer group. It’s a bit of a tightrope walk when it comes to peer groups. On one hand, they’re the people that are most likely going to be able to give you good advice and at the same time, they’re the group that’s most likely to give you bad advice.
The key is to be able to sort through all of this without getting lost.
So what is mixing music?
Here’s a little tip. Look for the things the majority of people tend to agree on and start from there.
Here is an article that was a game changer for me called ” All You Need Is Ears”
So often I would ask myself ” why do my mixes sound bad?” and “why are my mixes not translating?“.
Read on to learn more!
When it comes to songwriting in mixing one thing I found most people agree on is that a good song trumps a bad mix. I’m not saying that you should have a bad mix, but what I am saying is it it’s a lot easier to mix a good song than a bad song. There’s just something about the enthusiasm that a good song conveys to the mix engineer when they’re working on it that makes the whole job far easier.
Mind you, you’re going to write some mediocre songs and still, want to mix them well. So you’re going to have to put in your time. There’s no substitute for experience. One of the best ways to get experience when it comes to mixing is to mix other peoples material instead of your own.
I find that when I mix my own material I am far too self-critical and that it gets in the way of me being impartial enough to just move forward and creates a sound that I could live with.
Whenever I mixed somebody else’s material it was seemed to be a whole lot easier to make decisions. This is a bit of psychology at play but psychology does affect a lot of our perception including what we hear and especially what we think we hear!
Another thing most engineers agree on is that a bad room is really hard to mix in. Unless you live in a very large home with tons of spare room you are probably going to end up mixing in the room that is left over after all other rooms have been taken up by more practical uses. This is not liable to be the ideal mixing environment.
Personally, the room I was left with was 9 1/2 feet by 11 1/2 feet with a 10-foot ceiling. Almost a perfect cube. The worst of all scenarios for mixing.
One trick for getting your mix to translate.
My solution to this was a ton of heavy room treatment, most of which consisted of Roxul Safe and Sound and Roxul Rockboard 60 insulation. This is an area of extreme contention among the audio community. Those who think they know best will argue endlessly on this matter of whether or not a mix room should be live or dead acoustically. Most agreed that small rooms needed to be dead acoustically. Not that dead environments are the best for mixing but they are the best of a series of bad choices when it comes to very small rooms.
Let’s face it, most of us are not going to have at 25 x 35 mix room with a 12-foot ceiling in our house. And yes, I’m speaking mostly to those of you I would likely end up on this website, the majority of which are likely home enthusiasts looking for a way to improve the recording quality of some projects that they’ve already started.
On a side note, there was a really good article that I read that started on music forum which really intrigued me and helped me a lot in the beginning.
What I ran into initially, and what you were probably running up against currently ( likely the reason you are listening to me right now) is that I began to have all lot of self-doubt about my abilities as a recordist and a tremendous amount of self-doubt in trusting my own ears.
If this is you then trust me you’re not alone.
What happened to me was that I stumbled on to this really good article. It wasn’t actually an article but a series of threads on a music forum that ended up constituting what would end up being a small book in the final judgment. In fact, this thread was so well thought out and became so impressive to so many other recording and mixing enthusiasts that someone took it upon themselves to extract all the individual comments by the main forum poster and put them into a book which you can find here.
The theme of this Book,( if you want to call that), is “all you need is ears”. I could never possibly do the justice to what this man wrote in a few short sentences but I will attempt to summarize the general theme. ( Mentioned previously)
The general theme is that one person’s ears are just as good as the next person’s ears. The fact that you can tell that your recordings don’t sound very good is evidence that you should be able to tell when they are good. One kind of goes hand-in-hand with the other.
If you couldn’t tell the difference between a bad mix and a good mix you wouldn’t go looking for solutions would you? So the real problem lies in trust. Trust that you can find the answers to how to make a good mix either through trial and error or education plus trial and error. The simple solution to all of this is really putting in your time and be willing to try a lot of different things. Sooner or later through a process of elimination, using those great ears of yours, you will stumble onto various ways to improve the quality of your recording and mixing.
Of course, along the way, you’re going to get a lot of advice from that dangerous peer group we talked about previously. The key is to sort out the good advice from the bad advice by simply trying these things for yourself, using some objectivity and make your own conclusions about what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.
Makes sense, right?
Another thing but most recordist and engineers seem to agree on is that you have to mix a lot of music to get good at it.
For me, this meant a lot of different songs that I didn’t have an emotional attachment to. Meaning songs I didn’t write of course. So where do you get access to decent songs of relatively good quality and quantity that you can get into a rhythm of “mass mixing”.
One solution I found was to enroll in this particular mixing course.
There’s a bit of cost involved in taking this route but I felt that it was a good bang for your buck considering that there was enough decent material combined with enough instruction along the path to get into a good flow and sorry to have your hand held a bit along the way.
There’s also a free forum made up of other members that you can interact with and bounce ideas off while collaborating on the same group of songs. You can post your mixes and get critiques which of course can be good and bad. However, sooner or later you’re going to have to let people hear your music unless, of course, your sole intention is just to mix music for your own pleasure. I’m assuming that most of us want other people to eventually hear our creation.
The beauty of taking this course was that all the material was supplied and I could just dig in and start mixing.
( Here is a sample of my mixing skills and style )
You could just go out and find some free tracks to mix on the Internet and get some of the same benefits as taking this course, but for me it was great to have a little bit of instruction along the way and to also have a group of people to share the journey with while I was learning.
This meant a lot to me and from the feedback I saw from others in the group there seem to be a consensus of approval.
I’m really surprised that this course isn’t a lot more popular.
So that should give you a pretty good start. Take time to read “ All You Need is Ears”. I found it really helpful as I’m sure you will too.
If you’ve got a little bit of money the burn consider taking the Mix Lessons Online course as well. I found that the 300 bucks that it cost saved me thousands in the lost time going through the inevitable pains that come with trial and error in the beginning.
I will add some more resources to this page as a memory serves me. It’s been a while since I went through all of this and I have forgotten some of the steps that I took a long way.
The two resources I have focused on here were the ones that stood out as the most helpful in the early part of my learning phase.