So, here is the scenario…You have spent days, months, maybe even a year tracking your songs. After all of that hard work, you begin to mix. Then you spend all day everyday trying to get your mixes to stand up to the test of all your favorite tunes. I have been there, we all have at some point. Here are some pointers so you can learn mixing with pristine clarity.
When I first started recording and mixing audio, I had this same problem. I spent tons of money in CDR’s, bouncing mixes, and going out to the car to check my mixes against my other favorite albums. This is still my method of choosing my final mixes, but luckily flash drives have saved me so much time and money. The only difference now is that I am only making subtle changes that probably only I can hear. Getting to this point took me a while. One day when I was living in LA, my friend Justin told me something SO simple, but it changed everything for me. He talked about how a mixing engineer that he knows referred to mixing as being like painting a picture. I simplified what he said and applied it to my mixes…WOW…Night and Day from what I was doing before.
I took my friends comments about painting and mixing, and applied it. He basically said that if you paint something red, why would you use red again if you wanted that area to stand out, you would use a different color. Simple right? I took the analogy of the color red and related it directly to the EQ of each tack and then the overall mix. If you keep stacking things up in a particular EQ range, you will end up with a garbled up mix. I went through and “fixed” my mixes, it was a good bit of work.
One way to quickly bring clarity to your mix is to use a High Pass Filter(HPF). We all want that BIG sound…or at least I do. The HPF dramatically changed my mixes. At first I applied it very liberally to all tracks except for the Bass, Kick, and Snare. Total clarity was there almost immediately. Use the HPF and roll off most tracks at 200hz, and you will hear the difference. Its even more dramatic once you compress on the master buss. Your mix will retain the clarity. I personally try to get a decent mix, then I mix with the master bus compressor on. At this point you can pull down any track that is getting in the way of another track. My method is usually to pull down a track in mixing rather than boosting another track. Sonically, it serves the same purpose, sort of, but it keeps your headroom and does not affect other tracks as much and will not ruin you mix. Boosting track volume can lead you into a black hole of mixing all night and day.
After practicing all these techniques, I figured out that all I had to do is to have the “vision” of what we were trying to create while we were tracking. If you capture the sound the way it needs to be in the final product, you will spend more time being a musician or engineer, and less time mixing. I almost always use a HPF on guitars and vocals while tracking. I don’t go so far as to remove sub 200hz…maybe just at 100hz. The same theory goes for your overall sound. Yes, you can EQ the heck out of your tracks, but why not get it right before the sound hits the microphone. That’s why mic placement and your source sounds are so critical.
I hope this helps!