The Most Common Mixing Mistakes

You already know the feeling: you stay up into the wee hours of the morning working on what feels like the best thing you’ve ever made then get up the next day to find that your carefully crafted mix actually sounds like a complete shambles. Or you’ve put those finishing touches on the final mix and stuck it on the car on the way home, only to be greeted by a sonic horrorshow that sounds dead and lifeless. Here, Guestblogger Melvin Rijlaarsdam lists the most common mistakes you can make during the mixing process so you can avoid them all and get the best results.

No Headroom

The more tracks you add to a project, the louder the total mix is going to sound. If the master volume is peaking above the 0dB mark, then rather than sticking a limiter on the master channel, simply shift all of the faders down a little bit. This will result in a far more transparent-sounding mix.

Too Much Compression

My driving instructor would always tell me: “Anything with ‘too’ in front of it is no good.” And when it comes to compression, he was not wrong. Compression is great for reining in the peaks of a vocal track or for giving the drums a little more punch, but too much compression can remove all of the dynamics from the music, leaving a flat and dead track. What to know more about compression? See our blog What is Compression and How Do You Use it?

The Bass isn’t Mono

Make sure the bass is in mono. On vinyl, in the club and in Mp3, the bass is always made mono, so it’s best to make it mono yourself. Human hearing isn’t able to localise sound that sits anywhere below the 150Hz mark, so it just takes up unnecessary space.

Too Many Plugins

If you’ve taken a really deep dive into the mix, then it can get harder to see the complete picture. Always resist stacking plugins on top of plugins in the desperate hope of making more space in the mix. The golden rule is always ‘less is more.’

Mixing in Solo

Like every other part of the music production process, mixing is all about context. When you hit the solo buttons and isolate a vocal track, it might sound incredibly dead on its own, but as soon as you bring in the rest of the mix, it slots in perfectly and suddenly sounds alive.

Not Using High-Pass Filters

When recording, the microphone often captures much more than just that stunning vocal line, so the final take might include a dull thud as the singer’s elbow collides with the microphone; the low hum of an air conditioner; or even the distant sound of your neighbour doing a little afternoon drilling. Here, it’s a good idea to filter out the lower frequencies where these sounds lie, and get rid of them wherever they’re not needed. To help, it’s worth having a look at a spectrum analyzer, then you’ll be able to see that there’s more happening in the low-end than you might think.

Not Using Low-Pass Filters

While it’s definitely a good idea to get rid of any unnecessary lower frequencies, you shouldn’t forget about the unwanted higher frequencies. I mean, does it really make sense to let frequencies reach 20kHz on the bass guitar track when all you can hear in that gap is background noise? By removing that higher range, you create more space in the track. Electric guitars can also quickly sound like they’re getting in the way of the vocals or other instruments. By using a low-pass filter you can quickly create more space.

Too Little Depth

A common error with a lot of electronic music is allowing all of the different elements to sound extremely close. If every element sounds like it’s sitting right up-front, then the track will be lacking any contrast and therefore have no depth, leaving you with a flat and lifeless mix. It can help to pick out two elements that represent both ends of the spectrum – so a sound that sits really close, like the lead vocal, and something that sounds like it’s sitting three streets away. The rest of your elements can then find a spot anywhere between those two points. This will really give your track more depth and make your mix sound much more alive.

A Boring Stereo Image

For one reason or another, mixing engineers feel the need to complete a beautifully balanced stereo image. Is there a guitar on the left? Then we’ll need another one on the right. Is there a backing vocal on the left? Then we’ll definitely need one on the right as well. This is all well and good, but by definition, stereo sound is only interesting because there’s a contrast between the left and right sides. So, if you want to keep your stereo image interesting, then try placing a guitar on the left and a synth or keyboard on the right, or maybe shift that tambourine so that it sits just far enough off centre so that it doesn’t stand out too much.

Not Paying Attention to Phase

If you have a few tracks that lie at the lower end of the frequency spectrum, then it’s important to check that everything ‘adds up’. For example, if you have a bass recorded via DI combined with a miked-up bass amplifier, then the timing of the miked-up bass amp will always sit very slightly behind that of the DI track. By combining the two tracks, this minute delay will make both tracks sound less tight and less full. By zooming in and comparing the waveforms of both stems, you’ll be able to see the peaks where the bass notes hit, so you can shift the bass amp stem back a touch so that the waveform peaks match with those of the DI track. For more help with phase and what phase can do, see our blog How to Prevent or Fix Phase Issues in the Studio.

No Leader

What a lot of people forget is that a listener will usually be looking for a single element. An element that they can focus on and that leads them through the track. Usually, this ‘leader’ will be the main vocals, but in electronic, instrumental music, it’s just as important to have one instrument that takes the lead. If the leader is missing, then even if your track sounds beautifully balanced, you might risk losing the interest of your listener.

Have you found yourself making any of these mistakes? What tips do you have for making better mixes?

See also…

» DAW Software
» Effect Plugins
» Studio Controllers
» Studio Headphones
» All Studio & Recording Gear

» Mixing the Low-End: How to Get that Thick & Punchy Layer
» Studio Subwoofers – The What & Why
» Should You Mix with Headphones?
» 5 Ways to Make Your Mix Sound Louder
» How to Prevent or Fix Phase Issues in the Studio
» Mixing Flawless Vocals in 5 Steps
» Get the Best Out of Your Studio Monitors with Absorbers & Diffusers
» Mixing with Inserts & AUX Sends
» Compression: What is it and How Do You Use it?
» What is an Equaliser and What Is It Used For?
» The Finer Points of Studio Monitor Placement

2 responses
  1. Jon nash says:

    Hi folks
    Just browsing this as I’m a live engineer looking to set up a studio at home.
    Just a heads up – you have High Pass Filter and Low Pass Filter the wrong way round.
    Small point but thought you might want to rectify it.
    Really good mixing advice, much of it applies to live too!

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