Basic Mixing Tips

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monquixotemonquixote Frets: 18048
edited July 10 in Making Music tFB Trader
I've given a bit of advice to a few people about how to make your tracks seem a bit bigger and more coherent so I thought I'd put down a few tips that have been useful to me and perhaps they might be helpful to others as well. 

I should add I am absolutely no authority on this and don't consider myself an expert or even especially advanced in the subject, but I think sometimes beginners are best placed to offer simple tips that have helped them.

So here we go:


The plugins built into your DAW will get you a really long way and you don't have to buy loads of stuff however one decent package of plugins can be very useful like Soundtoys or Fabfilter.

Don't clutter up your DAW with loads of gimmicky free or discounted VSTs. They just get in the way. Better to learn how to use what you have.


Don't be scared of EQing things. 
Often your DAW will have presets which you can look at to get an idea of the things that people do to specific instruments. Try them out and trust your ears.

Low shelf all the things. - A really simple way to improve the clarity of your mixes is to chop unwanted bass out of stuff that doesn't need it like guitars and other things. If you have a modern EQ plugin with the spectrum viewer you might spot a load of random crappy noise down low under the fundamental of whatever the instrument is doing. Just chop all of that out with a low shelf or high pass. 
Guitars need a lot less bass than you think in the context of a mix.

There is nothing magic about the vintage EQ plugins that look like old hardware, but they can be quite simple for tweaking things as the modern super powerful EQs can be a bit intimidating.

Multi Tracking Stuff

With guitars etc multitracking can make them sound a bit bigger. A really simple thing is to just record the same thing twice, pan one a little left and the other a little bit right and use a different sound. For example the same thing twice once with neck and once with bridge, or once with a heavy distortion and another a bit lighter. 

Multi tracking vocals also works really well for choruses and stuff like that although you have to make sure that you keep the takes quite close. Again pan them slightly differently 

Bus Things

If you have stuff that's basically the same like guitars or backing vocals then stick it all on a bus. You can then apply the same reverb and compression to everything and once you've got the relative levels sorted you can move everything with the same fader which is handy.

Saturation is awesome - Things like preamp sims like Decapitator, Saturn and tape sims like Satin just give everything a vibe a bit of additional compression and some harmonics and putting them on a bus makes the elements kind of glue together and sound like one thing.


Reverb can be an effect, but it also stops things sounding like they have been DIed into a DAW. 
Putting a room reverb on a send and then sending various mix elements to it makes it sound like it's all happening in the same room which makes people's ears feel a lot more confident that this is music not a collection of sounds.

Making things loud

Make sure you get your levels right because a lot of plugins expect things to come in at a certain level so a compressor might not actually be doing anything if your signal is really quiet for example. Choose some sensible level to be peaking to like -12 with a bit of headroom otherwise you will get in a muddle with everything being louder than everything else or stupid quiet 

Get a limiter. A mastering limiter is really useful so you can push things to the level where you need to without worrying about clipping. This is one of the things that is worth spending on I love Pro L2, but a lot of people also use IZotope and others (Logic has this built in now) Don't try and get loads of reduction through the limiter though. More than a few DBs 3-4 and it will start to sound very crunched unless you are going for that sort of sound.

If you want to compress things to get stuff loud then do it in multiple stages. Put some compression on your busses and use a combination of compression and saturation, tape sims etc. If you get one thing to take out loads level it will sound very effected. 

Anyone else got any handy tips?
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  • blobbblobb Frets: 3156
    Start with a basic level mix using a pink noise reference

    eq cuts, it very rarely lifts.

    Multi tracking to 'thicken up' a guitar track - just create a duplicate and delay it by a few microseconds.

    Understand gain staging

    You don't need plug ins. Get mixbus and use the channel strip tools (eq, comp, etc...)

    Spend 90% of your time getting the recording right, you can't mix what isn't there, you can't tune it if it's not in tune to start with, etc...

    Decide if you want to record a clean signal and make it sound the way you want after, or record the sound you want.

    Record EVERYTHING against a metrognome.

    Be aware of the pitfalls of volume. Everything sounds better when it's louder (an old hi-fi salesman trick). Don't fall for it.

    Your mix should sound good in MONO and at low volume.

    If the only person who is going to listen to it is you on your headphones - that's good enough. You don't neede big monitors. If other people are going to listen to it, they will listen on their phones, youtube, kitchen radio. Play it back on as many different sources as you can.

    Less. Is more.

    Feelin' Reelin' & Squeelin'
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  • StuckfastStuckfast Frets: 2441
    blobb said:

    Multi tracking to 'thicken up' a guitar track - just create a duplicate and delay it by a few microseconds.


    Your mix should sound good in MONO and at low volume.

    IME these two things can't usually both be true.
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 10692

    One thing that grates my ears is the sound of too much digital processing. We have so much power these days that the temptation is to pile on more and more plugins. For me this is never a good idea. As we get older we might lose bandwidth in our hearing but oddly enough we can also become more sensitive to harsh frequencies and overtones that wouldn't bother younger people. The less processing you do the better your recording will sound. 

    Real room sound is free. Send stuff out into the room and record it coming back in. Mix a tiny bit of that in with any DI'ed instrument and it will make a difference for the better. 

    Don't mix with your eyes. Turn the screen off when you listen, make a decision and then turn the screen back on to adjust. 

    Don't mix into a compressor and / or limiter on the masterbus  to begin with. Get things under control on a per track basis. Then for a cheap master put the compressor and limiter on the masterbus

    Don't keep solo'ing things, especially drums. Sounds / overtones  are created from the multiple mics on the kit. You have to treat it as a whole and the spill between mics can often be your friend. 

    Use more reverb length than you think is sane in isolation but keep the mix of the reverb way down. 

    Ride the effects sends and  / or returns on the vocal. Don't just set a level and leave it. Do the same for guitar solo's, brass parts etc

    Ride the pans to create movement and interest in parts of the song. 

    Listen at very low levels and conversation level but also occasionally crank it a bit. Walk into the doorway and turn away from it. Does it still balance out ? 

    Turn it down to just a whisper on the chorus , what's the last thing left you can hear, it should be the vocal, snare and a vague hum of backing. 

    This part is depressing but your mix has to work on a phone these days ... to be fair some phones have a pretty good sound for their tiny size but you need work very hard to get the kick and bass to come through well. 
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 8517
    Don't be afraid of unbalanced mixes. In panning, in frequency, in levels. Some of the coolest, most interesting tracks that have stuck with me through my life have been objectively crazy and I think the quest for balance in all things is boring. Hard pan the guitar, leave nothing but empty space on the other side. Drown the vocals in reverb. Try different things, follow the vibe of the song, make something unique. So much of the received wisdom online is about making things safe.
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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 1834
    There are about a billion different ways of achieving the same end product. You don't have to try them all

    There's a reason why mastering engineers exist. If you don't have access to one (like most of us) then send a mix to a trusted friend who can listen with fresh ears

    Music is art, not science.. Things don't have to be perfectly balanced or following a standard formula. It's all about the end result and there's a reason why a lot of modern produced music sounds sterile whereas live music sounds and feels better. Don't be afraid of doing something off book if it's giving the end result you want
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  • stickyfiddlestickyfiddle Frets: 28043
    Some great stuff here.

    On the double tracking thing what is really neat with working on guitars in digital is you can duplicate a DIed track, amp-sim it with different amps and pan those right & left. That can also sound huge and tighter than full double tracking because obviously the underlying part is the same. 

    Also, if in doubt, there is a wealth of good info on youtube. Joe Gilder is my go-to so far. I don't think I've ever watched one of his videos and not come away understanding things better than when I started, as his focus is very much on how to listen first, then how to think about what changes you can make. As opposed to lots of so called tutors who will often just say "got this problem? Do XYZ!" without proper reasoning behind it beyond that it usually works
    The Assumptions - UAE party band for all your rock & soul desires
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  • colourofsoundcolourofsound Frets: 414
    edited July 10
    Here's a few habits I've made which helped simplify my process; maybe not so much tips but 'try this, your mileage may vary'

    • Generally there are two types of EQ - technical EQs with graphs and multiple points and almost infinite Q values; and vintage style EQs modelled on hardware units. I use technical EQ (Fabfilter ProQ2) for cutting, and vintage style EQs (Maag EQ4) for boosting. That way, I'm using my eyes for 'admin' EQing and my ears for the flavour EQ
    • Boost or cut in 3dB increments. Don't use really extreme Q values - 6 or 12db is usually fine. Anything more extreme can introduce digital artifacts; or if you have a plugin like ProQ that has logic in to mitigate that, it takes up a lot of processing power.
    • On vintage style EQs, don't be afraid to use the full range of the knobs. On parametric EQs though, if you're boosting or cutting by more than 12db, reasses why before you move on.
    • Take a break and then come back - chances are that 24db cut at 600hz doesn't sound quite as natural now as it did when you'd be mixing for 6 hours.
    • Need some starting points? Try high passing guitars at 200hz; you don't need all that low end. Take the mud out of drums by reducing anywhere in the region of 400-600hz by about 3db. Low pass bass, especially on guitar heavy tracks - but not too much; you'll need the attack for definition.
    • 'Admin' EQ is all about making space. TL;DR - you don't need all that bass in every single instrument
    • You don't need 17 different compressors. They all do the same thing. Pick two - one for your instruments and one for busses. Again, you can separate this by modern and vintage styles if that helps. I use Goodhertz Vulf comp almost exclusively, on everything.
    • Parallel all the things - over compress and then bring the mix knob down until it sounds more natural. The combination of lower untreated volume + compressed signal is a classic technique for a reason. This is especially tasty on drums.
    • Can't hear what a compressor is doing? Me neither. Its pretty difficult to understand aurally what a compressor does, especially on instruments that aren't massively transient like bass, pad synths, rhythm guitars. Don't apply a comp for the sake of it, figure out if its actually needed first. Remember that guitars especially are already compressed when being recorded - amplifiers, overdrive pedals etc are already compressing that signal. Theres nothing wrong with not having a compressor (or any plugin) on a channel strip.
    • Having said that - if you really can't abide by not having a compressor on every track, start with a 3:1 ratio, and turn up the threshold until you get 3db of gain reduction. Watch the needle and listen - when is the compressor kicking in? A/B it on and off; is it better?
    • If an instrument sounds too harsh or loud, reduce the attack knob to smaller values. If it sounds too soft or there's no impact, increase the attack value.
    • If an instument sounds too clipped and fades too quickly, increase the release value. If it has unnaturally long sustain or your mix sounds muddy, try decreasing release values.
    • Unsure of signal chain? I generally find subtractive EQ is better before a compressor, and additive EQ is better afterward. If a lot of bass goes into a compressor it will start behaving in ways you don't want; so get all your signal information straight before adding a comp; then EQ for flavour after the comp.
    • You don't need 58 reverbs - pick one you like and stick with it. Reverb is very distinctive and very subjective - spend time trialling different plugins and types and stick with one. It can help define your 'sound'
    • Only use reverbs on busses and send instruments to it. Its more efficient on your processing power and will sound more natural.
    • Don't stick to the 'rules' or conventions - use a spring reverb on drums, use a plate on vocals; go crazy
    • Experiement with a compressor before and after reverb and see how it sounds. It can help garner an understanding of both effects.
    • Use a 'master' reverb at a low mix to tie everything together. Imagine its the room all the instruments are playing in together. It should be the last thing in the chain before any mix bus compression. I generally have it on its own send that I send all my other instrument busses to.
    • Stop buying plugins. You don't need them
    • Create a template in your DAW so that you can start recording or mixing quickly. After a few mixes you'll figure out what you like on certain things; you should be able to save channel strips as presets and get off the ground quicker.
    • Use the DAW that works for you and you can afford. Don't read or listen to any bollocks online about one sounding better than the other.
    • Theres no rules; stop reading forums online where people tell you one thing has to be this way or that way  
    • Having said that - use advice as a starting point if you get lost. The 'rules' have been established through years of experience; but they're not gospel.
    • Fix it in the mix is a red herring. If you're buying Isotopes technical tools to reduce hum and fix issues, you'd be better off re-recording everything. Only get out these big tools if you absolutely have to - for instance, you've been hired to mix but had no part in the recording.
    Well, this got out of hand
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  • BezzerBezzer Frets: 594
    I hate these sorts of topics either in forum form or as YouTube videos. I used to read and watch them all and I have one conclusion

     everyone has their own ideas and nobody agrees so it’s all worthless. There are no general tips other than “make it sound how you want it to”

     the only thing I’ve seen consistently is “If you want it to sound like someone specific keep a reference handy to listen to on the same speakers”
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  • IMC1980IMC1980 Frets: 148
    Only thing I would say is try to arrange your instruments to have their own space on the audio spectrum, EQ should be a tool to fit in competing frequencies, not a default. I have also followed the agreed standards that everyone has mentioned and abandoned them quite a while back - for better or worse - I never use templates for mixing and any plugins applied will be the result of general experience and what works for the track. Up to everyone to establish a workflow, this is what works for me. 

    Once you have mixed it though, one thing that really helps with deciding if it balanced for me is cranking the volume, leaving the room and closing the door almost all the way. If I can hear everything clearly this way then I am normally all set.
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