Four Common Mixing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Jan.01 / 2011
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Four Common Mixing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

I love making mistakes and you should too. Doing things the “wrong” way not only teaches what best to do the next time around, but gives us the motivation to want to prove to ourselves that we can do better.

Fortunately for you, when it comes to mixing there are a ton of errors to be made. For that reason, we put together a couple common mistakes recording professionals make, and how to fix them! Read and learn:

1. Not Enough Headroom

Problem: This is a big one. Often new engineers don’t leave enough headroom on their tracks and that can lead to some serious trouble. Headroom is the space between the highest peak of a given track and 0 dBFS. When it gets too high, your tracks will clip and become distorted. 

There’s two main reasons you want to avoid leaving little headroom. First, it minimizes distortion and clipping, which makes it easier to patch your mix bus through plugins. Headroom is also extremely important when it comes to mastering. Simply put, if there’s no headroom, there’s no room for improvement.

Solution: A commonly mistake when it comes to headroom is that mixers will send their peaking track through plugins and then turn those plugins down before going to the next. The problem is you’re still sending distorted signal through your plugin, so to avoid that always turn your levels down to an appropriate amount before sending.

2. Stereo Widening

Problem: When someone says a song lacks depth, what they mean is that it lacks a proper stereo image. That added depth is what brings the listener into the song. They are able to pickout instruments in different places, as if they are floating around in their head. 

In the quest for a 3D-sounding song, some people come up with some not very effective solutions that end up making the track worse than before. For example, a common mistake is sending parallel tracks to both the left and the right, and reversing one of their phases. This is a cheap solution that won’t make for a professional sounding mix.

Solution: Although it may seem contrary, starting your mix in mono will help you add depth to your track. This way you will be able to better EQ your song, cutting out overlapping frequencies and building out a full sounding song. Another quick and easy way to add that depth to your song is to add reverb.

Keep your core elements like kick, snare, bass and vocals tight in the center, and pan out other parts like harmonies and melodies left, right, and up and down. Instead of the mistake previously mentioned, take two similar tracks and pan them left to right. They won’t cancel each other out this way, and will fill out your image.

Common Mixing Mistakes

3. Overbooking / Take Breaks

Problem: One of the biggest issues audio engineers and mixers face is the time crunch. Every artist has limited money, and therefore limited time to record. To the inexperienced mixer, this usually means working long hours and booking sessions evenings and weekends.

Solution: Set a strict time restrains with your artists. Anything over 10 hours in a day is going to be too much for your brain, and your ears will also become fatigued. What ends up happening in these cases is that mistakes will be made that will need to be fixed later. Not taking breaks and overworking yourself is just a waste of everyone’s time and money.

4. Time Correction

Problem: Time correction is one of the more common problems that arise from amatuer mixes. Usually you can tell if a song was recorded on the cheap by a new or inexperienced mixer because parts of the songs don’t line up together. For instance, it’s common in these cases to hear the guitar and bass parts out of sync ever-so-slightly with the kick drum. It’s a small difference, but it really degrades the quality of your song.

There’s two reasons why we hear so many songs with out of sync parts. One particular school of thought is that time correcting and syncing removes the feel and the emotion of the music. But it shouldn’t have to. A good correction won’t turn your track into a robotic, computer generated song, rather one that simply works together.

The second reason we hear it so much is simply because it requires hard work. Correcting tracks is both time consuming, and requires a keen attention to detail. In-home engineers and mixers often pass by this process simply because they are in a time crunch.

Solution: Make time for it. There’s no easy way around it, you need to factor this process into your mix time. But there are a couple ways to make it easier.

It goes without saying that your artists should be using a click-track is possible. Unless your drummer is a timing machine, you should urge your artists to play along to a track to try and stay as close to the click whenever possible. When it comes down to actually getting into the mix, the best advice we can offer you is to follow your drums because it’s visually easier. 

Quantizing isn’t about syncing your instruments to the grid. As humans our timing isn’t naturally perfect, so we listen for something to keep us on beat like a kick drum. Now that’s not to say don’t use fully automated quantising tools, just don’t rely on them.Once you apply it, make sure you go back over your track and fine tune discrepancies between the grid and your kick.