Feeling a bit frustrated working on your latest mix? Don’t worry about it – we’ve all been there. Mixing music isn’t an exact science. It’s a combination of creative decisions, experiences, and personal preferences.
So no matter how annoyed you might be with your mix right now, you’re not alone. A lot of musicians start down the path of mixing music thinking it’s going to be easy and they’re quickly met with the realization that it isn’t. Luckily, with so many of us coming from the same place you’re in right now, there’s a good chance someone somewhere has already solved the dilemma you’re faced with.
In an effort to save you a bit of searching, we’ve pulled seven of the most common mistakes new mixers make together for quick and easy reference so you can get right back into your session charged up and ready to go!
1. Failing To Plan
You don’t need to be a newbie for this mistake to apply – tons of mixers every day go into sessions without a plan in place. But without a clear idea of what you’re looking to accomplish in your mix, how can you ever expect to get it sounding right?
If you’re just experimenting or trying out something new, that’s fine. But when you’re serious about getting a good mix? Better yet, when you’re getting paid to mix a song?
You’ll want to listen through everything a couple times over and have a solid checklist of mix notes to work off of right from the start.
2. Using Too Many Plugins
One of the biggest signs that you’ve failed to plan for your session accordingly is a massive wall of plugins on each track. This is usually caused by a lack of intent once again and the mixers who fall victim to excessive plugins are left trying everything they can think of instead of one or two plugins that get the job done.
Let me be clear here though – stacking a couple of EQs or compressors to get the sound you want isn’t using too many plugins. You’re stacking with intent and can confidently say what each of those plugins is accomplishing if someone asks.
But when you’ve got a dozen levels of EQs and compressors to sort through to get that sound? Well then you might just be suffering from our next mistake…
3. Fixing Recordings In The Mix
There’s only so much your plugins can do and that’s never more apparent than when you’re working with a terrible recording. Terrible recordings can often be “massaged” into a mix, but don’t you dare try to put them in the spotlight with a ton of processing to mask their flaws.
If you find yourself making massive adjustments with an EQ or stacking plugin after plugin to move the needle, it might be time to call it quits on that issue and go back to the drawing board.
At a certain point, you’re going to be better off rerecording. Over time, you’ll know where to draw that line. More importantly, you’ll begin to appreciate well-tracked instruments even more for the attention to detail that went into recording them.
4. Overusing Your Solo Buttons
Your solo button is an amazing way to check tracks in isolation or even in small groups against each other, but they can also be a hindrance to your mixes if you’re not cautious.
One of the biggest traps that new engineers and mixers fall into is using the Solo button as a crutch. They think that by soloing a track, they get a clearer picture of how something sounds without the distractions of the rest of the mix. The problem with this logic is that NOBODY listening to the song is going to have that same option. They’re hearing the full mix – warts and all.
Because of that point alone, your efforts should largely be focused on mixing things in context. It doesn’t matter if it sounds good in isolation if it doesn’t fix the problem in the mix.
5. Ignoring Phase Correlation
Another major mistake I see new mixers make actually comes from a mistake upstream of them in the process. More times that I can count, I’ve received sessions I didn’t record just to find out that something was out of phase. Usually it’s a piece of the drum kit or something that’s been recorded in stereo.
Before you mix a thing, you should always check your tracks for phase correlation. It’s as simple as flipping the phase button on one of the tracks to see if it changes the sound. You’ll know phase cancellation when you hear it – your tracks will sound thin and anemic instead of full and punchy.
Getting phase right in your mixes will do more than any amount of EQ, compression, or limiting could.
6. Adding Too Much Reverb & Delay
If there’s one type of processing in the studio where the phrase “a little goes a long way” applies, it’s with time-based effects.
Things like reverbs and delays sound really cool – especially when they’re well timed, but too much of a good thing can kill a mix. There’s not a mixer out there who hasn’t given up on a track at one point or another and just hid it with some reverb, but it should be your last resort.
Instead, use your reverbs and delays to accentuate elements of your mix. They can be great to tie instruments together sonically and they can add size and dimension to just about anything. Mix them in gently underneath your main track until they’re just barely noticeable. That’s the sweet spot for most time-based effects.
7. Trying To Master As You Mix
To round out our list, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer about trying to live up to the standard that reference tracks can set.
Reference tracks can be a great way to add some context as you work, but they also give you an unattainable standard for how your mixes should sound. Chances are, the references you’re using are massively popular songs that were mixed by a pro and mastered before release. This is an uphill battle that you’re not going to win.
Instead of using references as the gold standard for your mix, use them as a guide for specific instruments or general balance, but don’t try to make your mix just as loud. Doing so just kills your headroom. If you need to lessen the temptation, drop that reference track by 5 to 10 dB when you first bring it into your session so it maxes out well below unity.
Get Your Signal Chain In Order
Sorting out your signal chain can be the easiest way to improve your sessions as a new mixer. If you’re looking to understand what goes where and why – Virtual Signal Chain Secrets is an amazing resource for those just starting out and a great refresher for anyone who’s been mixing in isolation for a while!