When I first started out, I never would have thought that there is so much depth into creating a track. I was like “yo I will become the next Axwell”. 10 years later and I know that I will never become the next Axwell, but I can always become a better version of myself.
When I started producing back in 2006 it was almost impossible to find a tutorial on mixing or music production in general. I have had a lot of trial and errors. Recently, while cleaning my room I stumbled upon my school notes from when I was studying music production. I found my notes with Common Mixing problems and thought it would be beneficial for you guys. So I summarised the important parts for you, that explains some of the problems that either a beginner or intermediate producer/mixing engineer would do.
Frequency Masking is one of the most common problems in mixing. This is where frequencies of two instruments are the same and compete for space. When this occurs you should decide and identify the most important of the two instruments and give priority to either one by panning or aggressively EQing the second sound to fit in the mix.
If this does not give you the desired result, you should then ask yourself if the conflicting instrument actually is contributing to the mix or not and think about removing it from the mix.
Bringing the volume down of the conflicting sound will not necessarily fix the problem, cause it will still add unwanted frequencies to the mix that can make it muddy.
Clarity & Energy
A good mix means the ability to hear each instrument clearly and locate its position in the stereo spectrum. Its easy to introduce multiple sounds to the mix to hide weak qualities within the spectrum but this also rarely produces a great mix. A cluttered mix lacks energy. If the track you are mixing appears cluttered. Try and remove some of the non-essential instruments until some of the energy returns. If its not possible to remove certain sounds, than remove the unwanted frequencies by notching out frequencies from the offending sounds, either above or below where the main instruments contribute the most of their weight and body.
This could make certain instruments sound really odd in solo, but if the instrument must play for example: in a breakdown alone then the EQ can be automated or you can have two channels of the same instrument one for the breakdown and one for the drop.
Since I produce a lot of groovy stuff like Kryder and the whole Groove Cartel crew. I noticed that it is better to have fewer percussive elements. Working with groove, I have learned that the silence between each element gives an effect that makes it appear louder but also gives a more energetic vibe. Good dance mixes do not give attention to every instrument of the mix. Only make the important sounds big and up front and place the rest in the background of the mix.
Prioritize the mix
During the mixing stage you always want to prioritize the main elements of the track and mix them first. Typically in dance music this would mean
Its worthless to spend countless of hours EQing a clap without having a good balance of the most important elements. Cause once you have nailed the Main sounds the secondary sounds wont give you much trouble since they tend to blend in easier.
Volume and Ear Fatigue
Mixing with loud volume can tire your ears much quicker. When your ears are fatigued you interpret sound differently and would make bad decisions while mixing.
Have you ever mixed a track and the next day it sounded completely different or awful?
This was due to your ears being tired. It is advisable to avoid mixing at a loud volume. The ideal volume is around conversation level (85dB). How ever after every EQ, volume, Compression, etc adjustments you should reference the mix at various loudness for more analytical listening.
Also it is important to take breaks while having a long mixing session. After every hour or so take a 15 minute to 30 minute break, to give your ears some rest. If your track sounds energetic and very good at lower volume than your track will sound like a beast in clubs.
Monitoring your mix in mono can reveal the overall balance of the instruments much clearly.
Get in to the habit of EQing while the rest of the mix is running. Its not important how the instrument sounds in isolation. Remember to bypass every few minutes to make note of the tonal adjustments your making. However be cautious with EQ since there is only so much you can do before the sound looses its characteristics.
Cut EQ rather than boost
The human ears are used to hearing reduction of frequencies rather than boosts. This is due to frequencies always begin reduced in the real world by walls, objects and materials. Although some boosts are required for creative reasons you should look into mostly cutting to hinder the mix from sounding too artificial. Do not forget that you can boost certain frequencies of a sound by cutting others, since the volume relationship between them will change. This can also lead to a mix that has clarity and more detail.
Avoid using EQ as volume control
If you need to boost frequencies for volume or design its better to only boost by no more than 5dB. If you have to go higher than this, then it is more likely that the sound was recorded badly or the wrong choice for the mix.
The Magic Q
Q factor controls the bandwidth or number of frequencies that will be cut or boosted by the equaliser. The lower the Q factor, the wider the bandwidth and the more frequencies will be affected. Most software based EQ programs have a Q factor range of somewhere around 0.10 to 100. A Q setting of 1.0 has a bandwidth that is most suitable for most instruments and often produces the best results. But for vocals or instruments that is really melodic it is better to have a wider Q setting. A good starting point would be 0.7. Percussion or drums benefit from a Q setting of around 2.8. Cuts should be carried out with a much gentler Q factor, of somewhere between 0.6 and 1.0, as this tends to result in a much more natural sound.
Never attempt to fix it in the mix
Fix it in the mix is the opinion of a lazy or bad producer/engineer and it is something that should never, ever, ever cross your mind. If it does not sound right or good or its sounds wrong, no matter how long it took you to program or make, admit that it is bad and change the sample or the sound to a more suitable one.
I hope you enjoyed part 1 and I hope you learned something new and that you will tackle your mixes in a different way. In part 2 we will be looking at frequencies with their musical effect and general uses.