When you’ve written, recorded and produced a song it should be easy to mix, right? Well, no. Often, for some reason, it’s harder to mix your own music instead of somebody else's.
Why is that? Well, in this video I have 10 mixing tips that will help you avoid this situation, resulting in you being able to mix faster and release more music. When mixing someone else’s music you have a level of objectivity built-in to your mixing mindset that is absent when mixing your own songs.
By being more productive and intentional in the studio, you’ll find that your confidence grows and so will your ideas and inspirations, so with a bit of forethought and planning, before even walking into the recording studio, you’ll be able to make your mix sound professional whilst, at the same time, having an easier and more fulfilling mixing session
I get this comment so many times from my mixing clients, I just don't know anymore. I've lost all objectivity. What do you think?
Does this happen to you when you are mixing your own music? Do you wish you could mix faster and release more music out into the world in this video? I've got 10 tips to help you keep fresh and focused when mixing your own music. Hi, I'm Sara Carter from simply mixing .com, where each week I bring you simple, practical advice to help you get better at mixing and if you like what you see in this video, make sure to give it a thumbs up.
It really makes a huge difference and all the relevant links are in the description below, including the timestamps, if you just want to jump to the section that interests you the most. OK, let's get started. I get it, it's hard, you've written, played, recorded and arranged the song, and it's taking weeks, if not months of iteration to get to this point, but it's just not quite right somehow.
And you might feel a little bit overwhelmed. You can't stop tweaking it. And you suspect the mix sounded better about four days ago, just after you added that tambourine solo. As creative's, decision making is hard. You can't help it. We seek perfection, but perfection, my friend, is the enemy of progress. It's only by releasing music regularly that you learn, grow and get faster, releasing yourself to move on to the next idea and to the next song.
Here, then, are my 10 tips for success when it comes to mixing your own music:
1. have a plan for the mix.
2. schedule plenty of time to mix, but commit to a deadline.
3. compile a playlist of one to two commercial reference tracks.
4. take plenty of breaks.
5. get the arrangement right.
6. mix on a different day to tracking.
7. listen to your gut.
8. make notes in the early stages of the mix.
9. keep the track count reasonable, less is more,
10. commit to sounds during tracking.
So the first point then, have a plan. Even just a simple plan will keep you on track. Put in place a few, mini goals to keep you focused.
Think about your mix preparation goals.
Are there any tracks surplus to requirements? When are you going to get all the editing done? Can you add in any sound effects to create impact?
Number two, don't rush. By having a thought out plan that builds in downtime for reflection, you take the pressure off, enabling you to keep your creative juices flowing. Have a rough idea of when you'd like to release the record and add the date to your calendar, but resist the urge to work days back to back to maintain objectivity.
It's crucial to allow time for creative thoughts to take place and to get back your gut feeling about the mix. The first listen is the most important. I can't stress this enough. It's where you make your best decisions. Once it's gone, it's gone for the session. You can get it back again, but only after taking a break. The break time is again up to you. But I would say no less than 15 minutes. Give your ears a rest.
Go make coffee or have a snack. Better still, go for a walk. It's my preferred option. You aren't helping yourself by working longer. To avoid this give yourself plenty of time for each task but not without a deadline. By giving yourself a deadline, you actually finish your project. Leaving project timelines open ended is a mistake that can lead to you never actually releasing any music.
Number three, referencing. Compile a playlist of songs in a similar genre that you'd love your mix to come out somewhat close to. You only need one or two songs, maybe you had these in mind when you were initially writing or tracking the song. Another approach is to have examples of certain elements you'd like to aim for in the mix, a particular snare sound or guitar sound, that are demonstrated in a few different songs. Perhaps you like the way a particular transition works or a reverse reverb effect, you'd like to try. Having the references close to hand will speed up your workflow and help you make quicker decisions.
Build up a library of references in playlists. For example, I have playlists for each element of the drum kit. I've got a playlist for female vocals, rock guitars, bass guitar, indie music, alternative music, punk vocals. Perhaps I've got a few too many, but you get the idea. There are plugins that can help here too. Whilst there are other options out there, the best one I've found is Metric AB, this is from Plugin Alliance.
Now, I like it because it gives me the ability to quickly switch between a reference track and my mix, I find the more time lost between switching means I lose
my ability to analyze as effectively.
Number four, take breaks. This is so important for maintaining objectivity and perspective. I mentioned earlier, but the more you listen to something, the more you lose perspective. Things all start to sound the same. Keeping the play head moving whilst mixing can also help because you're being hit with new things as the song progresses through the timeline.
Keeping the song playing through instead of stopping, working on an element in solo for 10 minutes, that's really not good and it's a real time and objectivity, suck.
The most effective break is by calling it a day and coming back in the morning or even the day after that. This is more effective the further into the mixing process you get, particularly if your mix is extending into days when you only intended to spend 10 to 12 hours. When you get back from your break, you can listen on a different set of monitors or headphones. This is a golden opportunity to either hear something jump out or to call it finished.
Number five, get the arrangement right. Don't fall into the trap of having hundreds of tracks just because you can or playing the same instrument through every section of the song without changing something or adding extra interest somehow. Add interest by bringing in different instruments and sounds as the song progresses, so it builds and keeps the listener engaged. Think about this carefully. Listen to your favorite tracks and analyze how they flow and listen for when new parts come in or drop out.
Are there any commonalities? What can you do differently? I find myself appreciating the little things that lift a section like a subtle tambourine or a change in high hat pattern, it doesn't have to be dramatic to be noticed. A word of caution, though, it's all too easy to fill your Daw time line with stuff that will get lost in the mix. Think about the other instruments playing at the same time, what will help the snare cut through those busy choruses?
Yes, a tambourine! Got to love a bit tambourine, or is that just me?
A well-structured arrangement will make mixing or so much easier and listening a pleasure, I promise you.
Number six, separate mixing from tracking. Schedule a clear day just for mixing. This is really important from a creativity standpoint as well as for maintaining objectivity. Start the mixing phase on a new day once the arrangement, editing, tuning and session prep is complete. Keeping your left brain and right brain activity separated will help you to mix quickly and make better creative decisions.
Try to make all those production choices before mixing day so you can react to that elusive gut feeling in the moment, because once you've lost it, it's gone until the next mixing session.
Number seven, listen to your gut. I know I must have mentioned your gut a million times so far, but I cannot stress how important it is for objectivity. For you,
it might not be your gut, it might be a fleeting thought or goosebumps.
The point is to be aware of your instincts however they happen to make themselves known to you. Use the technique I mentioned earlier. Keeping a song playing over and over, set up a loop and try not to press stop until something really jumps out at you. Stop, fix it and then move on. You don't have to get it right the first time. Keep moving until the next thing hits you. Fix that by spending five minutes maximum on it, then move on to the next.
Keep cycling through the song on loop, and if one of the things you tried to fix earlier still bugs you, stop and have another go for five or 10 minutes and then move on again. This keeps your objectivity engaged for longer and stops you from spending too long on one element. The element that probably didn't need it.
Number eight, have a notebook handy, have a simple notebook or pad handy to jot down ideas in the early stages of each fresh listen.
If you prefer a phone or an iPad app, use that instead. You want to avoid stopping the playback if you can, so you can feel the transitions from section to section and get an overview across the mix as a whole.
Scribble down what's bugging you; what's not working in the bridge? Do the guitar's feel like they need to be wider in the choruses? Are those backing vocals too loud? Does the tambourine need some love in the last chorus? Taking notes like this is perfect, for quickly capturing those fleeting thoughts without interrupting your flow.
Become a notetaking ninja by only using single words,
Number 9, keep the track count manageable. Like I said earlier, it's oh so easy to keep recording another track and another track, but remember, this has all got to fit together somehow. You see, many instruments occupy similar frequency ranges and can clash, creating an unfocused and messy sound. Work on the mix to carve out space for each of them to fit together and complement one another. Carve out space using, panning and EQ, create depth using reverb and delay. Don't record everything in stereo during tracking.
If everything is stereo, then the mix ends up sounding like a big mono, boring and flat.
Make decisions and cut tracks aren't serving the song as you'd hoped. Hide them from your timeline and forget them. Sum groups of instruments down to something more manageable. Do you really need 18 tracks of guitars? Can they be sub mixed down to a stereo track? Be bold!
Save versions so you can go back and unpick a bounce if you need to.
Keeping the track count short means you can find things quicker and it will give you a wider sounding mix where there's more separation and interesting Left-Right action that adds to the groove and excitement.
This moves me onto one final point. Number 10, commit to sounds whilst tracking. Do it! Make a decision! Mixing will flow so much quicker if you do. This has kind of been covered earlier, but it can't be overstated.
DAW's today are so flexible and allow us as audio engineers to use hundreds of tracks in a session, meaning we can give ourselves the opportunity to put off making decisions until later, usually in the mix. But that can lead to paralysis and overwhelm. Bang goes your objectivity and flow. If you must record a gazillion guitar tracks on tracking day, then do so, but make a decision on which ones to keep before mixing day. Don't be tempted to go back hunting through the old tracks and second guess yourself.
Stick with it unless you have a very good reason to go back and fix something. Be brave and trust your first instinct. Eight. Have a mix books. Comes easy to hand to you. All those backing vocals are way too loud. I might do that again. So that's a complete look at the step to take to remain objective when mixing your own music. Now, if you want to take your mixing up a notch, then check out the video linked on screen to help you identify some common Mixing mistakes to avoid.
And I'll see you in the next video.
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