Every day audio engineers everywhere are discovering new ways to mix their tracks. Much like music and production, mixing has a few fundamental rules, as well as a few that are made to be bent.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 highly useful mixing tips that I’ve picked up from other professional engineers while studying or working. I apply most of these tips to the majority of my mixes, depending on the feel and circumstance.
Again, these are not definitive rules, rather a set of handy techniques that you can modify to your taste. Experimentation is always the key to making great discoveries, and I’m sure that’s how all these tips were first created.
Tip #1: Use Mid/Side Processing For Clean Stereo Image & Mono Compatibility
Mid/Side processing is a very underutilized technique in mixing. It’s especially useful when you want to clean up a stereo image without reducing all of the audio information on hand.
The idea behind Mid/Side processing is quite simple. You can apply separate processing to the center and side signals of a stereo track.
A lot of stock audio effects and plugins come with either a Mid/Side or Left/Right extensions.
Ableton’s eight-band EQ is one of the simplest tools to use while learning this technique. I’ve laid out a handy mid/side technique for layering vocals below:
- Record your primary vocal and place it at the center of your stereo image
- Record doubles of the same vocal line and place them left and right respectively.
- Using your eight-band EQ, activate your Mid/Side option on the left side of the window
- With the side setting on, remove some of the lower-mid frequencies of the doubles so that these vocals have less weight. You can also remove some of the top ends of these vocals with the mid setting on
- Place all your vocals in a group bus – the doubles should feel like a slight air that enhances the main vocal in the center.
Again, you can apply this type of processing on a wide selection of tools – from multiband compressors to reverbs.
Tip #2: Layer Your Bass With Special Layers For Extra Power
Layering your bass might seem like a counterintuitive technique. Most engineers try to remove as much low-end in their mix as possible for a cleaner mix.
However sometimes your bass can lack punch, or color, and you can remedy this with a few simple layering techniques:
- Create an aux send track under your original bass take. Set your original bass take as the input for this channel.
Then add some overdrive or saturation to this channel and use reductive EQ to remove any parts of this channel that muddy up the mix. You can also group these two channels together and use a glue compressor for some added cohesion.
- You can also double the audio of a live bass take with a midi instrument like a bass synth. I like to double my live bass takes with a sine wave for more roundness, or a saw-type synth for extra bite.
- Make sure that your primary bass layer is at the center of your stereo image. You can add some width to the second layer by panning the signal evenly on the left and right sides. Try not to pan too wide as this will muddy up a lot of the mix.
Tip #3: Mix in Mono For Incredible Mono Compatibility
Our ears can often deceive us when listening to a stereo image. This can lead us to make some mistakes while mixing purely from being overwhelmed by too much information in our left and right speakers. You can remedy this by switching your mixes to mono.
Mono mixes generally reveal the most prominent clashes in our mixes by placing our entire stereo image in the center of the speaker mix. These clashes can range from EQ and compression issues to panning and volume problems that require some tweaks.
There are various ways to switch your mixes to mono, depending on your DAW and studio setup. I keep a Utility device on standby in my Master channel in Ableton as it has a mono mode. This way I can quickly switch between stereo and mono to reference while mixing.
Tip #4: Make Use Of Midi Velocity
Even though this is technically a “production tip”, using velocity can be a super powerful tool when mixing.
Velocity can be incredibly useful for creating the kind of organic dynamic that compressors sometimes lack.
You can use midi effects to alternate the velocity of your midi instruments to give them a more human feel. This technique is handy for when you’ve drawn in chords or progressions on a midi piano roll as they seldom feel natural on the first play.
My favorite instrument to use velocity midi effects on is hi-hats. Hi-hats always feel robotic when drawn in on the piano roll, or converted from an audio file.
However, you can use velocity effects with dynamic and compression-type presets to add the human feel to your hi-hat pattern.
Tip #5: Make Sure To Leave Enough Headroom On Your Master Track
Nothing brings a mix to life than having ample space for headroom. The idea of having a loud impactful mix can often lead us to push all our elements up to high. This habit can cause your mixes to be overly abrasive and will often lead to clipping, which is incredibly counterproductive.
Headroom refers to the amount of space between the loudest parts of your mix and 0 dB (the clipping point).
The loudness of a mix can be heavily enhanced through mastering, so you want to try and make sure that your mix is not too loud before this stage.
Mix engineers usually keep about 6dB of headroom in a track before it gets mastered. This amount gives mastering engineers enough space to create sufficient dynamics with a track’s loudness.
If you manage to keep your mixes around this level, you should have a relatively clean and consistent track once the mastering process is completed.
Tip #6: Sidechain Your Reverb/Delay Send
Adding a sidechain to our reverb or delay can create some stunning aesthetics for your mix. I like to use this technique on my return tracks to help keep a cleaner stereo image. I’m going to use the lead vocal for my example below as this is where I tend to use this technique most commonly:
- Create a group track or bus for your main vocal. You can include any doubles that you have of the vocal in this bus as well.
- Create a send channel for your vocal bus and label it ‘’Vox Bus Verb’’ or something similar for easy reference.
- Place a reverb on this send channel, and then place a compressor after the reverb in the same channel. Your compressor will need to have a sidechain option.
- Activate the sidechain and then select the input channel that will trigger the sidechain. I like to use my master channel or even the same lead vocal that I’m treating as a sidechain trigger.
- Tweak the compression parameters to preference. The idea is to have the reverb duck every time the input signal is introduced, to give your reverb an added sense of motion.
Tip #7: Using a Limiter On The Master
A large majority of producers and engineers instinctively reach for the limiter when treating their master channel.
Using a limiter on your master can save you from any clipping issues and also give you some added dynamic range in your overall loudness. Below is a basic guide for using a limiter on your master:
- Make sure to only use a limiter on your master once you have treated all your other mix elements independently. Introducing this tool too early in the mixing process can cause some serious disruption in your workflow.
- Place the limiter at the end of any device chain you have on the master channel.
- Set the output level somewhere between 0.1 – 0.5 dB
- Raise the input level until you get around 8-10 dB of gain return.
- Tweak your attack and release parameters until you feel the track become more punchy and leveled out. You can push either parameter up until the mix begins to distort and then work your way back until you reach your preferred level.
- Once you’ve reached your optimum loudness, lower the input volume to get some added gain reduction.
Tip #8: Reference Tracks
Artists should compile a set of reference tracks to use during the mixing process. Reference tracks consist of songs with mixing elements that you would like to apply to the track you’re working on.
Reference tracks work in a similar way that mood boards work in advertising or movies. They help you build an idea of the sonic images that you’re trying to create with your composition.
The easiest way to find reference tracks for your arrangements is to look through the music you’re listening to. You can choose to stick to songs inside your genre or experiment with styles further away from what you’re doing.
I like to use my streaming services to compile playlists of things such as my favorite drum mixes, guitar tones, or vocal chains. Whenever I get stuck for ideas during mixes, I refer back to these playlists for inspiration or direction whenever I get stuck while mixing.
Tip #9: Mix Around Focal Elements
You can achieve a clean mix and still land up with a song that sounds dull or lifeless. This circumstance is usually due to an overly clinical approach and a lack of feeling the song out.
You can avoid this by prioritizing the focal elements in your songs with your mix.
Try to find ways to center the dynamics of your arrangements around the most memorable and catchiest compositional elements. These elements would generally be your main vocal or the most easily singable melodies of an instrumental arrangement.
As a rule of thumb, I like to do any cleaning or reductive treatment for these parts before adding any effects that enhance them.
There are subtle techniques that you can implement to make your focal elements stand out. Saturation can increase the harmonic information of a synth or guitar line, and also works well on vocals.
Doubling your melodies with different instruments can also increase their impact. You’ll still want all your other mix elements to have weight and clarity, but a good mix should have a tasteful blend of soft and loud parts.
Tip #10: Automating Filters On Effects
Sometimes a reverb or delay can sound as though it’s in a different space compared to other elements in your mix. Using automation for your reverb and delay tails can give them a much more roomy, organic feel as opposed to just letting them decay naturally.
Try placing a filter on your reverb or delay sends and automate the filter to activate right at the end of your reverb tails.
I generally prefer to sweep my reverbs and delays out with a low pass filter – you can use the stock filters in your DAW or find some more enhanced plugins like FabFilter Volcano or FilterFreak by Soundtoys.
I try to keep the slope of my filter as smooth and consistent as possible and also deactivate once the filter hits around 100 Hz as this could create some unnecessary sub-noise. Similarly, I deactivate my high-pass filter at around 7 kHz so that my filter does not intrude on thinner elements like cymbals shakers.
The perfect mix is a myth. Any great engineer will tell you that mixing is a flexible craft with no definitive rights or wrongs. However, there are some dos and don’ts like the ones listed above that can help increase the productivity and workflow of your mixdown sessions.
More than anything, it’s crucial to try and consistently practice mixing so that you develop confidence in your knowledge and abilities.
There are so many more tips like the ones listed above that will improve your mixing game, but nothing will train you better than practical application. Thanks for reading through our 10 Pro Mixing Tips.
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