20 Tips on How to Improve Your Mixes
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20 Tips on How to Improve Your Mixes
Mixing in itself is a wide term used in music production and is a crucial stage that makes or break your music’s potential to shine and win the hearts of millions of fans out there in the world.
On this blog post, I am going to cover ways on how to improve your mixes and sound like professional mixing engineer with zero budget and minimum studio gear at your disposal.
If you are a music producer reading this, there comes a time where you find your music just does not measure up to hit radio records. That does not mean you should despair and give up, all you have to do is learn.. learn… learn. No two mixes sound the same to be clear. Consequently, when your music sounds right it stands out and people will undoubtedly give you positive feedback.
So with that brief understanding here are the ways to improve your music mix today:-
This involves being aware of the type of genre your song or music lies in and with that you have a proper basis to compare and contrast your music against another song that lies in the same genre. Since different types of genres have their own distinct rules that govern them compared to others.
With this concept in place, you can play a finished song that has great mix and then play yours and see the areas you could adjust or uplift basing on the former.
Having created all your sounds in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) the first thing would be to assign all your instruments and drums and percussion to a new Mixer tracks.
With that out of the way, begin to adjusting the volume on each instruments.
A good practice is selecting all mixer tracks by holding control/Command on (Mac) on your keyboard and selecting the first then sweeping your cursor all the way to the last instrument, then lower all of them in unison. From there play your music as you slowly adjust the volume of each sound according to your preference.
With this in mind you are able to have ample control of each signals from the tracks that contribute to the overall signal output.
Mix in Mono
If you’re a beginner in mixing you may probably wonder what that means. This may look counter intuitive and you may probably think Stereo is the best way to go, but I guarantee that you will notice a significant difference in your sound. This one of most overlooked points in mixing for beginners and producers who are not aware of it.
It simply implies locating your master channel and adjusts the Stereo separation knob to 100% merged signal output. This feature is present in most DAWS begin using this in all your tracks.
After the signal is 100% merged, means all outgoing signal is combined. With this listen to your track and identify the loudest sounds and level them down once again to a level that compliments the other sounds. Once you are satisfied with the levels, turn back the Merged levels to 100% Stereo i.e 0% Merged the way it was before (Original Output).
Depending on your mix you will notice a big difference in the way your music will sounds more balanced and cohesive.
This is one of methods used in Stereo separation process. It involves placing sounds either left or right to have an overall balanced sound.
You can also use stereo imaging effects plug-in such as Stereo shaper/enhancer in Fl Studio, for 3rd party use Ozone Imager or Ozone elements e.t.c
This involves removal of unwanted frequencies or boosting some frequencies on the three main sections of the stereo field. In which it encompasses Low range, mid and high range section.
This practice ensures the removal of muddiness in the mix especially the mid range and low end where most sounds are placed.
Phase Inversion & Polarity Reversal
This is used rarely and sparingly however, it can greatly improve your overall mix. It involves altering the direction of the phases or waves that make-up the stereo output. Any sound is made up of from left and right waves that shape its stereo output.
Mostly use this on drums such as the Kicks and basses /808’s. These two factors should be used hand in hand .Use a Phase Inversion plugin on the Kick drum and then reverse polarity on the 808’s or Bass line. The purpose is to avoid clashing of the polar waves. In actual terms when the waves of a kick are placed on the same grid as the 808’s they are bound to clash.
Normalize your sounds
A very simple process but very effective in your mixing process. This is boosting of frequencies and in Fl studio you just need to turn on the Normalize button. Check the Illustration image above showing a 808 sound with it being normalized.
This involves the process of sound reproduction involving spatial locations of signal source. This is done by placing sounds either left ,right or center front or back , up or down in the stereo field. This ensures that the sound is well balanced and has depth. You can use third party plugin such as ozone imager, stereo shaper in fl studio, panagement e.t.c
Compression / Dynamic range
This involves the lowering of loudest peaks in sounds to below zero and boosting up the quieter parts to optimum levels to have a optimum dynamic range. This ensures a balanced sound output to the final mix.
The golden rule in compressing sounds is maintaining a balance between a good dynamic range and optimal audibility. Going above either would lead to signal going above 0db which is distortion which we dont want. while going to low means the sounds are too quiet in the mix.
You can use stock plugins such as Fruity compressor ,multi-band compressor for third party use Ghz gulf compressor, rough rider,Camel crusher ,Com-bear among many others in the market.
This is the process of cutting off the volume of a signal which reaches below a certain threshold. This is comparable to compression, but the difference lies with ability to cut back the attenuation of sound peaks that destroy the dynamic range of a sound .
This comes in handy when you have dynamic sounds that have different effects built in them. Take for example Arps ; their sound design may comprise of effects like usual Arpeggio and still have flanger or phaser that attenuates at different intervals.
Gating at this point would come in handy in controlling the volume of signals that fall below a certain threshold.
Frequency Modulation and effects
This is a method of impressing data onto an alternative current wave by varying the instantaneous frequency of the wave.
Practice the use of busses in your mix. A bus is an individual channel that has a group of instruments signal routed to it. Mixer busses ensure further individual effect manipulation without affecting the final signal going to the master bus. For instance you want to add reverb to all your instruments except your kick and 808s. So you would go about creating a All reverb buss .And routing all except the kick and your 808 which do not require any reverb. You can also route a group of instruments to a bus.
Mix bus also ensures the tracks are well glued to each other because the signals are cohesively controlled from a common place rather than the master channel.
Automation and controllers
These two factors are so important and make the use of effects much easier. During the mapping in the playlist. Most common ways is automation is by manipulating the volume at certain point of the song structure like gradual descent at the end or at bridge sections.
You can also automate pitch, delay, reverb, flange, phase and so many other effects provided you are using stock plug-in. Moreover you can still automate 3rdparty plug-ins by adjusting the parameter you want then head to tools, last tweaked and then create automation clip on the playlist just as normal.
Then you can now adjust your parameter as you want. Controllers as the name suggests involves use of automation control data based on user defined formula. The formula controller appears as formula control function. The most common controller known is formula controller in Fl studio..I’m sure it is present in other DAWS as well.
Reverb and Spatial effects
The use of reverb in your mix is important. This ensures all your instruments have room to decay at the certain parameters. This recreates audio perception expectation, of what our ears are expecting to hear, and also helps in spacing out the sounds in the spectrum to create better and clear mixes.
Consider adding spatial effects such as delays, flanger to enhance clarity and character to a sound.
This is the process of adjusting the level of each point of amplification to ensure an optimum signal to noise ratio without unusable distortion. This ensures the mix measures at its loudest without damaging (distortion) the output peaks below 0db . For these you can use ozone elements which have a range of effects.
This ensures cutting all sounds going beyond 0Db on the master or effect tracks. This removes distortion or any clashing frequencies in the mix. To achieve a good mix always ensure you leave enough head room for your vocals and for you mastering engineer to maneuver further.
Leave at least -6 db room in your final mix. Select all your sounds and bring the down to achieve this, but it is not a requirement.
Experiment on your own sound
Knowing all the rules in mixing is important for a start; and later on with more experience with mixes, you can begin developing your own sound by having unique ways of using effects, sounds and breaking away from the mixing tradition in the industry.
That’s how new styles/waves arise, and you can develop a distinct sound that only you knows how it operates and many people will follow suit. With this you do not have to start from scratch, begin with what you know. For instance consider how drill music came about around 2013 which is a sub genre/style of Trap music.
18. Place your kicks and 808’s in mono or should be centered in the stereo field. This usually helps add clarity and punch since they will cut through the mix .
This is achieved by heading to a particular mixer channel and turning the stereo separation to 100% merged. By doing this you will be operating signal in mono. To further understand, this is imagine the sound placed right in the centre.
19. Practice mixing your music in low volumes. Effective way to do this to lower the master fader on your DAW as you listen. I learnt this over time and the benefits are; your ears are able to hear the loudest instruments and effectively bring their levels down. Once you are satisfied with the mix levels definitely bring back the master level back up to 100%.
20. Learn to save different mixes for the same track or song to have several examples to refer to. The artist may like one type that you did not expect to stand out.
For further evaluation check these great videos for further information below.
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“……Knowing all the rules in mixing is important for a start therefore later on with more experience with mixes, you can begin developing your own sound by having unique ways of using effects, sounds and breaking away from the mixing tradition in the industry…”
Sources and Links
- Wikipedia; topic, Comparison Noise gate and Compression https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noise_gate#:~:text=A%20noise%20gate%20or%20gate,that%20register%20below%20the%20threshold.
- Pro Audio ; gain staging https://theproaudiofiles.com/digital-gain-staging/
- tutsplus; Use of Reverb https://music.tutsplus.com/articles/why-reverb-is-the-most-essential-effect-in-your-toolkit–audio-14924#:~:text=The%20amount%20of%20total%20reverb,all%20sorts%20of%20creating%20possibilities.
- Frequency modulation ; Importance of FMhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_modulation#:~:text=Frequency%20modulation%20(FM)%20is%20the,computing%2C%20signal%20processing%20and%20telecommunications.&text=Frequency%20modulation%20is%20widely%20used%20for%20FM%20radio%20broadcasting.
- Ghm Beats ; Easy guide to mixing techniques https://ghmbeats.com/easy-guide-to-mixing/
- Image line ; Formular controller https://www.image-line.com/support/flstudio_online_manual/html/plugins/Fruity%20Formula%20Controller.htm