Making music is an art and that is what makes it fun. Recording, mixing and mastering are different stages in music production that leads towards a common goal, which is to create a song that people can enjoy.
A mix engineer's role is vital, it is at the mixing stage that one must be careful not to ruin a good song, but to only make it sound better. In this brief article, we will focus on how a mix engineer should approach mixing, and we will cover how this can help them prepare a great mix for mastering.
Many people sometimes mix 90% through and leave the other 10% for the mastering engineer. They feel or know that something is missing and they hope the mastering engineer can fix whatever that issue might be. The producers and mix engineers are the pioneer of what a song should sound like.
You ought to be able to translate all that you are hearing in your head through the speakers. So here are some few tips to consider during mixing before mastering.
1. Using a Reference Track
Using a reference track is a technique that has been used and is still being used by many mix engineers today. You want to aim to get your mix sounding like a commercially released song. Find a song that is similar to yours sonically and use it as a guide to get your mix sounding the way it ought to sound. And by that I mean 'getting it to sound best'.
Here are some things you can achieve by doing this.
Clarity: is your mix sounding dull, muddy or overly bright? by playing your mix simultaneously with your reference track you can easily identify problems in your mix that can then be fixed. You can use an equalizer to cut out muddy frequencies or add more top sheen to your entire mix if it is lacking. It is important to know that you can achieve clarity by tweaking individual elements of the mix or by tweaking the entire mix (Mix Bus).
Depth: Depth in this sense is comprised of mix terms like punch, width, thickness and so on. Using a reference track can reveal certain areas of your mix that needs more tweaking. For instance your kick drum isn't hitting hard enough or your vocal track isn't upfront in the mix.
Identifying what your mix is lacking and knowing how to fix it, is the first step to getting a pro mix.
2. Balance Your Mix
Sometimes you might struggle with setting the levels of each tracks in your mix, not sure how loud your vocal track should be.
This is where the art of balancing comes in, It is not a good feeling when other musicians for instance are trying to score your song and they can't fully hear the bass or that synth sound clearly. Of course, this doesn't mean that every instrument in your mix must have the same volume all together.
If there is one thing I have adopted since I started mixing, it will be Spectral balancing. This should be the first thing you do before adding any compression or eq. Adjust the fader's of each instruments in the mix until everything is sounding balanced and nothing is poking out unnecessarily.
It is easier to properly balance your song when you are the one who produced it, but let's say you receive a mix that everything is super loud and out of order.
The best thing to do is to turn down all the faders and begin to dial each fader up one after the other. You can start from the fundamental instruments in the the song; instruments like drums, bass, guitars and go on from there until everything is sounding normal to your ear.
Also, while you are adjusting your faders, make sure to start panning things left, center or right. This will not only help with spacing but it will help you balance your mix better.
3. Let Mastering be Mastering
Mastering is simply to polish your entire mix, and not only to raise the volume of your mix. There shouldn't really be any major fixing in this phase (mastering), and I used the word major intentionally.
You should not have a lead vocal track that is completely lost in the mix or a synth sound that is unbearably harsh and expect this instruments to be fixed during mastering. Even if the mastering engineer tries to fix one issue, he/she might be harming the entire mix in many other ways.
Sometimes, there are things you might not have thought to do as a mix engineer and a mastering engineer can see the need and make such decision. Always make sure you mix your song to sound exactly the way you want it to sound and then send it off for mastering or master it yourself if you know how to do it.
It is always good to have another fresh ear, someone who has no prior attachment to the song and is able to make a sound judgement on what can be done to improve the overall sonic quality of the mix.
Using Limiters on your Mix Bus before mastering
Many people say don't use or leave a limiter on your master bus before sending your mix to a mastering engineer, but that might be a little misleading if you want to be a pro mixer. Maybe this caution is given because people can tend to misuse the limiter on the mix bus.
A limiter can be used to simply control peaks on your mix buss. Let's say you have a snare hit that occasionally spikes up which can cause some unwanted issues by pushing your mix into the red. So in order to control that, you can simply use a limiter on your mix buss just to control those occasionally peaks.
And you can also use a limiter for gain reduction, especially if you've had the limiter working from the beginning of your mix (Although a compressor might be the best option for gain reduction). So taking off the limiter can definitely change the way the mix sounds.
Just be sure that you aren't going crazy with the limiter on your mix-bus because if you do you are almost leaving the mastering engineer with nothing to do. Leave some headroom for your mastering engineer to work with. You are okay if your mix is peaking at -6db and also you can set your ceiling to zero or -0.1 at most.
Now that you've learn one thing or two things about how to approach your mixes like a pro, I hope it helps you become a better mix engineer.
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