By Bobby Owsinski
Sponsored by Alfred Music
As someone who publishes a music production blog every day, and with several mixing book credits like The Audio Mixing Bootcamp and The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, people often ask me to listen to a mix and give them my opinion. There are a number of mistakes that keep cropping up with the mixes that I am able to listen to. Here are the top five mixing mistakes that I come across, in no particular order.
Mistake #1: The vocal or lead instrument gets lost. Words get lost or the vocal or lead instrument seems buried during certain sections of the song.
Solution: If the track is buried most of the time it’s an EQ issue, but if this happens only in certain places during the song, it’s more than likely a track level issue. This is what automation is for. Go back and ride that sucker so every syllable can be heard. It takes extra time, but this is exactly what the hit makers do.
Mistake #2: There's a big frequency build up from adding EQ at the same frequencies to a lot of tracks. Everything sounds better with EQ added, especially when it's soloed. The problem is that if you EQ most of your tracks at the same frequencies, you'll end up with a lot of tracks that sound great by themselves, but fight each other when added to the mix. Many times you end up adding EQ at exactly the same frequency location in order to overcome deficiencies in your speakers or listening environment.
Solution: Better to do your EQing without soloing while listening to all the tracks at the same time, or solo up several channels at the same time, in order to avoid the problem. What you’re trying to do is find the tracks that conflict with each other and move the EQ frequency up or down or change the boost or cut until you can hear each clearly. And remember that you don't always have to boost the EQ. Attenuating a frequency can many times be more effective.
Mistake #3: The stereo spectrum is mushy. This comes from taking panning for granted and automatically panning stereo elements hard left and hard right. When that happens it no longer sounds like stereo anymore and becomes "Big Mono" as my buddy, noted Nashville mixer Ed Seay, calls it.
Solution: Just because a keyboard is in stereo doesn't necessarily mean that it should be panned hard left and hard right or even to the right and left. You can pan something at nine and 11 o’clock and still feel the stereo spaciousness. Many mixers intentionally stay away from anything to the extreme left or right and try to give every track its own place somewhere else in the stereo spectrum.
Mistake #4: There's too much compression. As the great engineer Joe Chiccarelli stated in The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, "Compression is like this drug that you can’t get enough of. You squish things and it feels great and it sounds exciting, but the next day you come back and you say, ‘Oh God, it’s too much.’”
Solution: Sometimes you have to really squash something so it works in the mix, but usually a little goes a long way, especially on the stereo buss. You’d be surprised how effective just a dB or two of compression can be, so that’s where to start, especially until the mix starts to come together.
Mistake #5: There's too much low EQ added. It's very easy to get fooled into thinking that you don't have enough low end either because you're mixing on small nearfield monitors, or you're mixing too quietly. When that happens, you'll find that the mix sounds great in your room but way to boomy everywhere else.
Solution: Take a listen to a recording that you really love first to see where the low end is, or take a look at a spectrum analyzer before you boost any of the low frequencies. Also, make sure that you listen at a loud enough level to really hear the balance between the kick and bass. Listening quietly won’t give you an accurate enough perspective, regardless of the quality of your monitors or listening environment.
Of course these aren’t the only mistakes that can happen in a mix, but it’s a good place to start. You can also check out the Audio Mixing Bootcamp and The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, currently available at 50% off, for more mixing tips and tricks.
For more production tips and information, visit Owsinski's blog.
For an overall preview of Audio Mixing Bootcamp, visit our Book Store.