The 6 Biggest Mixing Mistakes that are Poisoning Your Mix

Jan.01 / 2011
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The 6 Biggest Mixing Mistakes that are Poisoning Your Mix

The art of mixing isn’t just about knowing what you should do, but about knowing what you shouldn't. When it comes to mixing, there’s a fine line between useful techniques and mistakes that will be detrimental to your overall project.

For a better mix, get a better understanding of these common mixing mistakes so not to poison the good work you’ve started.

#1 Mixing To Your Room

One of the biggest follies of working from a studio is mixing to the sound of the room. Even if you’re not in a multi-million dollar studio, the professional monitors hooked up to your DAW are still miles ahead of how the average music listener is hearing your song. Most people will end up listening either through a car stereo or cheap headphones.

Even if you get all your levels perfectly balanced, the average listener is going to hear something completely different. When you think you have a good balance in your mix, bounce it as an mp3 and play it off 3-5 sets of different speakers. You’ll notice the levels you thought were more prominent are buried because of speakers with narrow frequency ranges.

#2 Forgetting The Bigger Picture

Are you recording an album or an EP for an artist? Don’t forget the greater context of your project. If you mix a song differently than the rest of the songs on the album, it will stand out and sound off. This also applies if your artist has a particular style or sound that they like to stick to. 

Make sure your songs flow well enough that you could switch between the middle of one song to the next and they would still sound like they were recorded in the same room.

#3 EQ Boosting

EQ adjusting doesn’t only exist so that you can boost sounds, but to let you cut frequencies as well. You can always make a track louder by raising gain and volume -- but before you do, the first thing you should try is using EQ to cut frequencies. If you song has a lot of competing frequencies simply cut the overlapping part out on the equalizer. 

Mixing Mistakes that are Poisoning Your Mix

#4 Blasting Your Monitors

If your monitoring levels are set to high, you’re going to lose perspective on the song. 

If your volume is set to too loud, a couple things happen: first your ears will become tired and go mildly tone deaf. Secondly, if the volume is set loud, your brain goes into passive listening mode, rather than critically listening. You’ll be more tempted to sit and enjoy the music rather than edit it.

Listening back on lower levels is a lot easier on the ears, plus you’ll be able to hear the song as a whole a lot clearer. Believe it or not, the lower the volume, the easier it is to check for levels.

#5 Going In Without A Plan

The same way you would expect an artist to come in prepared for recording is the same way you should approach mixing: have a plan. Mixing without direction is by far one of the biggest mistakes new mixers make. 

There are several ways you can prepare yourself for your mix. First (and most importantly) use a reference mix. If the artist has a song in mind they think fits the style they are going for, use that as a guide. While listening to your reference, get out a pad and pen and start writing down some questions. Ask yourself why a particular instrument track is louder than the other, or why a certain effect was used when it was. 

Setting boundaries and goals for yourself will help make critical decisions and keep you focused along the way.

#6 Go For A Specific Style

A great mix has balance, and more importantly has a style to it. Specifically, this means creating a mix that sets the song in a sort of virtual environment. You’ll need to figure out if the song should sound live, like it was recorded in a large club, or in a smaller more intimate setting, and if it would sound better in a specific physical environment. That answer may simply be where you would be likely to see that band play. If it’s a gritty rock or punk band for example, add some subtle effects like distortion or a bit of static underlay to nudge the listener into thinking it was recorded at a venue.

How you make the “room” sound in this case mostly has to do with how wet or dry you make it. This will come down to how you apply reverb, delay and what frequencies you cut. 

Keep in mind, you should know what style you are going for ahead of time. If you are also engineering this record, having a better understanding of the desired outcome will affect your decision-making early on like what mics you use and where they are placed.