21 mixing tips that would have saved me years
In this video, Dylan (a professional producer from Nashville) shares the 21 mixing tips that he wishes someone would have told him when he was a beginner.
Here are the questions answered in the video:
How to Use Stereo Slapback Delay on Vocals:
How to Use Reverb in your Mixes:
How to Use Reference Tracks:
How to Use Serial Compression:
How to do a Proper Volume Balance:
The 5 Drivers of Mixing:
Why Mixing in Mono is Important:
How to do Proper Gain Staging
How to use Logic’s Marquee (Selector) tool
In this video I’m going to share with you the 21 mixing tips that I wish someone had told me when I was a beginner. Every one of these tips was an aha moment for me and everyone has made me a better mixer. And since I can’t go back in time and teach them to myself I wanted to share these nuggets with you. So enjoy this little time capsule video. But before we start make sure to download my free top ten mixing mistakes handout. Paired with this video it’ll make your mixes sound 10% better at least guaranteed. So just click the link at the description or on screen now. Let’s do this. [Music] Hey everyone. This is Dylan with Musician on a Mission here today with another mix tutorial for you.
This one’s going to be a bit of a weird one because I’m going to be kind of rapid-firing a lot of random tips, tricks and techniques that I’ve learned over the years. I sat down with a pen of paper the other day. I was kind of thinking about what were the things that I learned other than the absolute basics of mixing that I got the most out of the things that gave me that aha kind of moment that oh my gosh I can’t believe I’ve been mixing without this. Some of these tips are going to be actual techniques. Some of them are going to be more philosophies ways of thinking about mixing. It’s going to be all over the place. But I think you’re going to absolutely love it.
Now I’m not going to get into full tutorials for all these because we’d be here for hours but I’m going to be linking all the tips that need tutorials to videos or articles down in the description below. So if you hear a tip, you want to learn more about it, go check out the description. There’s probably something in there that’s going to teach you exactly how to do it. So let’s get into it. So tip number one is to use bussing to save time and create cohesion in your mix. So this was a really big one for me. I learned this probably year 1, year 2 of mixing. I had no idea what buses were at first. Once I started experimenting with them my whole mix flow changed. So what a bus basically is? It’s where you change the output of all of the tracks of a single instrument to one specific aux track. One specific auxiliary track. So you can even think of it like a school bus. So a school bus goes and it picks up all these kids from all of these different houses and it takes them to a single place, the school. It works exactly in the same way. So what’s amazing to me about using instrument bus is that it speeds up your mixing by a 100%. It’s incredible how much easier it is to mix with buses because all of the plugins that you put on the bus are applied to every single track that gets routed to it.
So if you look at a drum bus for instance you put a compressor on that drum bus. That compressor is being applied to the kick, the snare, the overheads. You don’t have to go and compress every single one of those individually if you don’t want to. So it speeds up your mixing. It saves on CPU because you’re using about 50% less plugins. So you’re not having computer crashes as often. And it also glues instrument mics or even doubles together and create cohesion in a way that nothing else really can. So let’s look at an example of this. I have all of my drums right here; the kick, the snare the Toms, all of them getting sent to a single bus. This full set. So if I solo this. [Music] All the drums are happening. Now let’s see what happens whenever I take off all of my processing. [Music] You hear how whenever I put that back on and just all of a sudden sounded a little bit more exciting, a little bit more bright, a little bit more glued together.
It’s really amazing what bus processing can do and especially how simple it is to set up one of these. So tip number two; create a stereo slapback delay for your vocals and your melodies. So reverb is awesome. We all know that. It sounds incredible. But too much on the vocal or the melody can push it back in the mix. It can make it sound too wet. It can make it sound too sloppy and it can keep it from sitting up front in the mix right where the listener wants to hear it. So stereo slapback delay is a great way of getting a sent of space without pushing the vocal back in the mix. So let’s listen to this mix. I’m going to go into the verse and turn off all of the sense so you can hear it dry. [Music] So you can tell that it sounds too dry. It’s really far forward in the mix but it’s just sounding unnatural. So I could go in and add a bunch of reverb or I could try this technique. So I’ve already got one set up right here and I want to show you what this sounds like. I will exit it. [Music] So no reverb on that and you can kind of barely hear the delay in the background but overall it sounds a lot more natural.
It doesn’t really sound bone-dry. It doesn’t really sound like it’s sticking out of the mix anymore. But it’s still very upfront. So tip number three is to use two room reverbs to build a more cohesive mix. Oftentimes the instruments in your session were recorded in several different rooms. This is especially true if you’re a home producer. If you’re recording in your bedroom and your living room and maybe at a friend’s house, you’re kind of just recording wherever you can. So the trick that I’ve learned to do is to send all of the instruments and the vocals to a single room reverb to help make the band sound like it’s performing in the same space.
You want it to sound like everything is happening in the same room. So a lot of people do this with one room reverb. I realized I just set a single room reverb. I do this with two room reverbs. I basically split my reverb in half. I’ve got one reverb to push instruments back in the mix. This is my ambience which I’ve got right here. I have another reverb to get that tone that I’m looking for, that room reverb sound that I want. So I actually send varying amounts of each instrument to these two reverbs depending on what I want them to sound like. So let me open up all of my tracks so I can show you. For instance you can see so buss 18 and 19 are these two reverbs. I’ve only got a little bit sent for the kick because the kick is such a low instrument. But if I go down to the main electric guitar 18 and 19 you can see I’ve got quite a bit more being sent from there.
And if I go even farther down I go to the pads you can see 18 for instance is much higher. That’s because that’s going to my ambience. That’s the reverb that pushes stuff back in the mix and I want this particular pad to be as far back in the mix as possible. So before I explain the differences between these two reverbs I’m going to show you what this sounds like and how it helps to create a more cohesive mix. So let me go to my mixer. I’m going to go over here to my ambience and my room reverb. I’m going to let you listen to him first so you can see what they sound like and then I’m going to take them out. [Music] So you can see how it puts everything kind of in a similar space. It makes it feel a little bit more three-dimensional a little bit less flat. So let’s look at these two reverbs.
So the first reverb, the ambience, it’s pretty simple the differences between the two although learning why this works is a little bit more complicated. So my ambience reverb that I have set up I have a lot of early reflections going. Now early reflections tell the ear how close or how far away something is. Now on my room reverb my room tone rather I’ve got a lot of late reflections The late reflections tell the ear what the room sounds like not necessarily how far away something is. So I’ve split the two up to where I’ve got one ambience that I could use to push things back in the mix. I’ve got one room reverb that I could use to give more of that reverb sound if I wanted.
Setting these up is a little tricky. So go and check out the article in the description below to go and learn how to do this for yourself. I do this on a 100% of my mixes. I think you’re really going to love it. So my next tip is tip number four. Using reference tracks for better translation of your mixes. So you’ve probably heard these two words kind of thrown around the Internet reference tracks. I don’t really understand what they are. So what a reference track is is it’s a professionally mixed and released song that’s in the same vein of the one that you’re mixing. So for instance if you’re mixing a rock song, it might be a really well mixed rock song from one of the people that you’re most inspired by. Someone who has really similar instrumentation, style and tone as you.
So referencing this track constantly, referencing this mix constantly will keep you from what I like to call mixing blind or making mix decisions that sound great in your room but don’t hold up anywhere else. And that’s because most of these professional tracks have been mixed with the intention of sounding good and as many speakers as possible. You know if I’m listening to a pop track for instance that pop track has to sound good on my radio. It’s got to sound good in my car. It’s got to sound good on my iPhone. It’s got to sound good in my terrible Bluetooth speakers. It’s got to sound good everywhere. So if I make my mix sound like that mix then my mix is going to sound good everywhere. It helps you to get a much more professional sound.
But even more than that it makes your mix more translatable to different speakers. I know for me one of the most frustrating things whenever I was starting was finishing a mix thinking it sounded incredible and then going out to my car, putting it in my car speakers and hanging my head in shame because it just sounded so bad. This will help you fix that. So go check out the video that I have tagged below. That’s going to help you learn how to do this trick. That’s going to help you learn what mix is to use, how to load them into your sessions, and how to get better translatable mixes. So tip number five is to use serial compression to get great control and great tone. So compression is one of the key parts of mixing. That’s one of the first things you should learn. You should learn how to do a volume balance, how to use your EQ and how to use a compressor.
So in order to control their vocals and their instruments better people tend to use a lot of gain reduction. They’re really-really pressing those compressors hard. They’re trying to squash them as much as possible. But what happens is is that they get the control that they want but the compression makes the vocal or the instrument sound really unnatural. It sounds squashed. It sounds distorted. It sounds digital. I could throw a million other adjectives at it. To get both the control that you want and a good natural tone try using serial compression which is basically using two to three light compressors in a row. So rather than using just one compressor and trying to do 10 dBS of compression, use three compressors that are all doing about 3 dBS of compression you’re going to get the same amount of control but because each compressor isn’t working as hard you are going to get a much-much more natural. And bonus points if you use different attack and release times. You know I love using a fast attack and release time on the first one to control the transience. And using a medium attack and release time on the second and third one to more shape the tone. So if you want to learn how to make this again go check out the description below. I’ve got a link to an article for you to check out. Tip number six is to focus on your volume balance.
So your volume balance is the most important step in the mix. It took me so long to learn this guys. It’s like the most simple tip I could possibly give you but I didn’t really fully understand this and fully internalize it until only a few years ago. And I’ve been doing this for over I have no idea how many years. So if the mix is is impeccably processed but a single element is let’s say 4 decibels too loud. So there’s like a shaker in the background. That’s just 4 dBS too loud that whole mix is ruined. It sounds incredibly unbalanced. So you want to spend a large chunk of your time here. I honestly would make sure that my volume balance was as good as I could get it before I started doing any processing. And that’s actually why I use the concept of height order whenever I mix and I’ve got a video in the description below talking about that. It sound like a broken record. But all these links are in the description below. So height order is basically where I loop the loudest part of the song. I turn everything down and I put the most important element of the mix.
So that might be the kick. That might be the snare. That might be the vocal. And I put that most important element at negative 5 dB and then I bring up the next most important element. So again that might be the kick. That might be the snare. That might be the guitars. And then once those two are balanced together with your volume then I bring everything else up. The fact that you’re balancing everything around whatever your most important element is keeps the attention of your mix focused. You’re making sure that that element is getting the spotlight that it needs. Well not over shining it making it too-too loud. Now you will have to go and tweak your volume balance over the course of your whole mix. Doing EQ, doing compression, doing different distortions and reverbs; that’s going to change the volume of your tracks. So doing a volume mix is not necessarily just a one-step process but at least getting a good foundation right at the beginning, spending a good chunk of time really getting that right and your mix is going to sound instantly so much better. I guarantee it.
So tip number seven is to have an organizational system before you start mixing. So without a roadmap mixing is going to take you ten times longer than it ever would before. This is a really common problem with beginners who are just learning lots of tricks and tips and have no actual way of knowing when to do what. So they’re just kind of throwing every single thing they can think of at the wall with no system of how to actually implement what they’re talking about. So without this roadmap it’s infinitely frustrating because we have no idea when this is going to sound good, when is this going to sound like a mix. It can also be way more tiring and that’s because of the concept of choice fatigue which basically is a psychological concept that talks about how making choices actually uses up physical body energy. So the more choices you make the more tired you become. That means that in order to get your best mix you’ve got to make as few choices as you can. So having an organizational system is going to keep you from having to make a bunch of random unnecessary choices.
So the system that I use for mixing is the 5 drivers of mixing by Rob Williams of Pro Sound Formula. I’ll link it in the description below. Go watch the video. Go download his e-Book. It’s fantastic. But basically it’s five steps. There’s step number one balance where you basically balance all of the volumes of all the different instruments to your mix. Step two fix where you get rid of any errors or any bad sounds in your mix. You’re doing any of your editing, your tuning, your cleaning your tracks. You’re finding resonant frequencies that you can take out with your EQ. Then step three is enhance. This is where you’re making everything sound cool. You’re making everything sound larger-than-life. This when it really starts to sound like a mix. Step four is shape. That’s where you start to create space for everything in the mix to sit. You’re going in you’re taking out low-end and some things to make room for the bass and the kick. Maybe you’re taking out high-end in some things to make space for the vocals or the high hats with the acoustic guitars. Basically you are doing things in the mix to try to make everything fit together and play nicely. And then finally there’s step five which is space.
This is where you’re going to add depth to your mix. You’re going to take your mix from 2D to 3D by adding panning, adding reverbs, and adding delays. This is where you’ll be pushing things back in the mix, where you’ll be taking things to the left and the right. I absolutely recommend going and checking out his page on this. It’ll change how you mix forever. So playing off the last tip is tip number eight. Mix in mono for better translation and for a tighter sound. You might have heard other mixing teachers talk about this but you have no idea why it’s such a popular concept. So many speakers in the real world are only mono. They only have one speaker. They don’t have two. A lot of phones are mono. A lot of speakers in restaurants and clubs are mono. So when stereo files are summed down to mono, so a file from a mix that has two channels that’s been summed down to a single speaker, there are tons of phasing and masking problems that can happen. So you’re going to have weird frequencies that are just lost for no reason. And if you’re a beginner it could be extremely frustrating because you’ve spent hours on your mix, tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and finally you play it anywhere out in the world and it just sounds like crap.
So you want to take steps to reduce the possibility of this. And the best way is to do 80% of your mix in mono. I actually don’t do any panning until the fifth step of that organizational system from the last tip shape. And this is even extra good for your mix because when you put things in stereo it actually will hide problems. When you have everything in mono you can’t hide anything. Every single instrument is fighting for space. Every single instrument is right on top of each other. If you can get your mix to sound good in mono it is going to sound fantastic in stereo. I’ve linked a great video by Graham from the Recording Revolution down in the description below talking about this in more detail. So let’s move on to tip number nine. Gain stage your tracks for better tones. So back in the days before digital all recording was done on analog gear. You can see it in your mind’s eye a big studio with a giant soundboard and outboard gear lining the walls. The bunch of musicians with guitars. Probably costing millions and millions of dollars. So because of how much noise all of that analog gear created all audio had to be recorded at a very specific level and that is 0 dBVU which we’ll talk about in just a second.
It was a well known fact that any analog gear was made to sound best with audio that’s at around that volume, that area. So let’s fast forward a few decades. When digital tech comes around 90s and 2000’s they based it on a lot of these old pieces of gear. All of these compressors and EQs and reverbs that you use most of it’s based off of this old technology. That means the new digital tech that you’re using has the same analog sweet spot of 0 dBVU. So if you can get your tracks to sit around that volume level they are going to sound so much better when they’re processed by all these EQs and compressors. You’re really sitting in that sweet spot using your processing to its highest potential. So here’s the question then how can we find where 0 dBVU is. Now obviously that’s not what we’re seeing over here. This is actually dB full scale which is just a different digital way of measuring volume. So in order to gain stage a track we’re going to need two tools. One is a VU meter which you can download for free at a lot of different sites. We’ll link to them below. I’ve got one from Waves. And the second is a gain plug-in or a trim plug-in depending on the DAW that you use. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to this guitar. [Music] And you can see that that’s sitting around kind of like 5dBVU, 3dBVU. I want it to be a little bit louder. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to take my gain plugin.
I’m actually going to make sure that it’s up above the VU meter. And I’m going to turn up the volume. [Music] Until it’s sitting around this area. Perfect. It’s really as simple as that. Now I can do all my processing. I could put on a compressor if I want. Anything that I do on here is going to just sound a lot better, a lot clearer, a lot closer to its potential. You’re going to want to do this for all of the tracks in your session. If you want to learn more about this concept go check out our video on it in more detail in the description below. So here’s tip number ten and this is more of a philosophy than anything and that’s this if it sounds good it sounds good or even more simply if it sounds good it is good. One of my old audio professors told me this and it basically just means that just because something doesn’t “follow the rules doesn’t mean that it’s wrong”. Now we mixing teachers talk all the time about the rules of mixing. How fast your attack time should be on a compressor? When to EQ? When not to EQ? How much should you be distorting your tracks in order to get some of that extra grit? Learning these rules is very very important because then you’ll know when to break them. But you need to give yourself permission to break them. If you’re messing with the processing on an electric guitar and you listen and you just think it sounds really good with the mix but then you look and you’re doing 20 dBs of gain reduction on a compressor it does not matter. It sounds good.
That’s all. Move on. This is going to save you so much time and it’s going to make you so much more confident in your decision making because you don’t have to be constantly thinking am I doing the right thing. You just have to be constantly thinking does this sound good. Tip number 11 you don’t have to draw in volume automation. So volume automation very important. It’s how you get most of the movement in your mix. It tends to separate the novice mixers from the mixers who really have it down to both a science and an art form. So I used to draw in all of my automation by hand. You know I’d go in, I’d open up my automation lane. I click one. I’d click another. I click another and I click another and then I would take this. I’d move it up. I’d listen. I’d move it back down. I’d listen and then finally I would say okay that’s good. That took so long. And I know in this moment right now as I’m talking to you it only took about 20 seconds but when you’re doing that a hundred times it ends up taking forever. And so what happened is that I would stop doing any volume automation on my mixes because I just it wasn’t worth the time. And then one day I discovered the marquee tool. So the marquee tool is in most DAWs but every DAW has a different name for it. I would just Google your DAW selector tool and just see what comes up but basically what it is is it allows you to select certain parts of the automation and turn it up or turn it down. So for me logic has this tool defaulted to the Command button. So whenever I hold down Command you can see that my cursor changes into a little cross.
Now if I hold down Command and I click and drag all of a sudden this little bit is highlighted. If I click this highlighted bit boom, I have an instant cut that I can turn up and turn down. Now I’m going to go back a little bit. Let’s just say okay this is too loud. I want to turn it down. I can just instantly grab, drag, click, turn down, listen, done, move on. I don’t have to go in and draw every single piece just to be able to get it as tight as I possibly can. The nice thing about the marquee tool as well is if you’re not using automation you can actually use it as a cutting tool as well. You can see that I now have full control over this region. I can move it around. I can do whatever I want with it. It’s a very very helpful tool at getting faster at your DAW. Speaking of which here’s tip number 12, getting fast is important. So learn your keyboard shortcuts. So the best engineers know that mixing is a race against time. Your ears are slowly dulling like an overused muscle. Your brain is slowly dulling due to choice fatigue. Your musicianship is slowly dulling because you’ve been hearing the same part of the song over and over and over and over again. That means that you want to finish a mix as quickly as you can to get the best quality. Now this isn’t me saying do a mix in 20 minutes and call it done. This is me saying the more you sit and you tweak on a single track or the longer it takes you to use your DAW, the lower quality your mix is going to be because you’re not going to be able to hear it accurately anymore, or you’re going to start making bad songwriting decisions because you’ve heard it over and over again. It’s not worth taking a lot of time to do these things.
So you want to figure out how to use your DAW as efficiently as possible and keyboard shortcuts is the way to do it. Now learning keyboard shortcuts is something that you’re going to do for the rest of your time mixing. I still learn new keyboard shortcuts to this day and I’ve been using this tech for over a decade. But simple things like save, copy, delete, split, open automation, record, add a new track, move the playhead, and so on stuff that you’re going to be using constantly that’s the stuff that you need to research and figure out and commit to muscle memory. Even if you want to just mix a song and every single time you go to a menu write that down and then research what the keystroke is to do all of that. It’s going to make you five times faster than you were before. This is a really big one for beginners. Make sure to take it to heart. So up next is one of my favorite tips. Tip number 13. Save a copy of your song before you start mixing to see how far you’ve come. So mixing is a game of confidence. You’re hearing the same song over and over and over again. Sometimes it’s really easy to get discouraged. I still get discouraged and I’ve been doing this for a really long time. But if you listen to the unmixed version whenever you’re just feeling like man this is just not sounding very good, you’ll be able to see the incredible progress that you have made.
It’s going to give you the confidence to keep pushing yourself to be better. It’s even better if you can finish your mix, listen to how rough these raw tracks are and then listen to what you did in your however many hours you spent mixing. You’re going to feel like a genius even if right before you were feeling like a failure. This is a great trick to giving yourself more perseverance and mixing and not giving up too quickly. So let’s talk about tip number 14. Panning automation is just as important as volume automation. A lot of new mixers miss out on this because obviously volume automation is extremely important to a great sounding mix. But one of the best ways to build energy in a song is to change the panning. Here’s a really important rule. If a song is 100% stereo all the time then it’s 0% stereo. There’s no impact. There’s no reason for it to feel larger-than-life. There’s no change to the listeners ear. It’s like that quote from the Pixar movie The Incredibles where the villain is talking about selling off his inventions so everyone can be a superhero and he says, And with everyone super no one will be. It’s just like that. If the song is always stereo as much as possible then it doesn’t even matter.
It’s a 0% stereo. Stereo makes a song more exciting and what’s the most exciting part of a song it’s the chorus. So you want to use panning automation to make the chorus more stereo, have more wit than the verses. It’s really very simple. So let’s look at an example of this. One of the most common techniques in stereo mixing is to have the overheads of the drums be more mono during the verse and more stereo during the chorus. So right here I’ve got my two overhead microphones my left and my right. So I am going to open up my automation. I’m going to go to my panning and I’m going to make the verse a little bit less. So about halfway. So still stereo not mono but just not quite as dramatic. And let’s see what that does to the energy of the chorus. [Music] Now it’s very subtle but you could just feel that it widened out a little bit. It just felt a little bit more exciting. Now you can also use this exact technique to move things farther to the left or farther to the right. Just in general you want your stereo spread to be a little bit narrower during the verses a little bit wider during the choruses. You can also use this technique to move certain instruments from one speaker to the other speaker.
So a very common problem is to have one particular guitar part be in the same place in one speaker the entire song and the ear gets very used to that. So what you want to do is maybe in the first verse this guitar part is in the left speaker and the second verse you automate it into the right speaker and it’s not an audible move. It’s not like you’re doing an effect. It’s just like during the transition you move it from one speaker to the next speaker and it just sounds different, or you might even do that where that particular guitar part is in one speaker in the first and during the chorus it’s in the other speaker. Really it’s a practice thing. You’ll figure it out over time. But doing your panning automation is going to take your mixes to the next level. So let’s talk about tip number 15, get a second ear to listen to your mixes. So once you finish the first draft of a mix you’ve heard that same song over and over and over again for hours. It’s exactly what we were talking about earlier with choice fatigue and ear fatigue and musical fatigue. You’re tired. You’ve heard it so many times that your ear is no longer accurate. Your ear stops being able to hear the finer details because you’re just so used to it.
One of the best mixing tips I can give you is to send your first draft to a few musician friends and get their thoughts. Ask them for the strengths. Ask them for the weaknesses and ask them what they think you could do to improve the mix. Bonus points if you do this for other mixers as well because they’ll know the specifics of how to fix your problems. If you get that feedback back whenever sit down to do your draft too you will immediately understand what direction you need to go in whereas you might not hear oh the high end is too harsh. Every single person has called you and said hey this is great but the high ends too harsh. So you can immediately start with that and move on quickly. This kind of instant feedback is not only going to make your mixes better in the long run but it’s also going to make you learn how to mix better faster because your friends are going to be able to point out problems that you just can’t hear because of your own personal biases. And then all of a sudden you know where the problem areas are. You can go and learn how to fix those problem areas. You can go and practice those problem areas. You can try to make it to where in your next mix. That thing is not going to be a problem. So next let’s talk about tip number 16. Using nudging to get your instruments in the pocket.
Now sometimes a performer is just a little ahead or a little behind the beat. It’s not even necessarily that they’re just moving back and forth constantly but maybe their natural tendency is to just play a little fast or play a little too slow. And it makes the whole band just feel a little bit less hinged together. So rather than going in and doing a full time-consuming edit which sometimes you’ll have to do, you can try just nudging it a hair back or a hair forward and see if that does the trick. So what nudging is? It’s basically the ability to move a few different regions forward or backward by just a few milliseconds. So I’m going to go grab my nudging tool right here and I’m going to start with the verse. I already know that the drums are just a little bit too ahead of the beat for me. They’re not quite sitting as well as I want. Let’s listen. [Music] Great. So I am going to select everything and I’m just going to move it back once, 10 milliseponds. And we will see what it sounds like. [Music] Still a little ahead but it’s getting there. Let’s try it again. [Music] That’s a little bit too much for me. So I would actually go in, change the nudge value to 1. I might take it forward 5 milliseconds. So 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
So split the difference. Let’s see what that sounds like. [Music] So it’s already sounding better and I might need to go in and do the same thing for the vocals. Do the same thing for a few different instruments just to make sure everything’s really locking into that pocket. But the drums already are starting to feel like they’re not ahead of the beat quite as much. So let me show you another example actually with the vocals first two. I’m going to go down here and let’s listen. [Music] So just a little ahead of the beat again. Let’s back it up one. [Music] Already sounds better. Just one nudge of 10 milliseconds and it already feels like it’s locking in a little bit more. With this nudging concept you can get as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. You can literally hit it a single time and move on or you can really-really try to nudge it to exactly the right point. Whenever you do nudge it though make sure that you’re going back and you’re adding a crossfade and fixing your regions. You don’t want there to be a pop. So I might come in here, move this back and I actually, as you can see, already have a crossfade in place. Tip 17 is to use quantize strength to keep some humanity in your MIDI. I got so excited when I found out about quantization whenever I was younger and I was writing [Music]. For those who don’t know it’s a system that puts all of your recorded MIDI notes directly onto the song grid.
So if you wanted to improve the accuracy of your playing you could with a touch of a button. Literally all I would have to do is double-click this I’d have to select everything hit this little Q and everything just goes directly on to the grid. You can see every single piece. But it always sounded so robotic. It was more perfect than any human ever could be. So you can actually fix this using quantize strength and we’ll talk about what that is in a second. This is just a little random idea that I was working with last night and I like it. It’s a little lot of time so I’m going to need to quantize it to get it in time with these drums. Let’s listen. [Music] You get the idea. So I go in, double-click. I select all my notes which it looks like they’re already selected for me. I go over. I hit the little Q button for quantize and boom they’re all on the grid. Now let’s listen and you’ll hear it just sounds fake. It’s too perfect. Every single note is so incredibly tight that no human could possibly replicate it. I want to split the difference. I’m going to go over here to strength this is quantize strength. All DAWs have them. Just do some Googling to figure out what your DAW calls it. What this is going to do is this is going to basically say hey how close do I want my notes to be to the grid. Do I want it to be a 100% directly on the grid?
Do I want it to be 0% on the grid? So you can actually see as I move this strength line up you can physically see the notes moving as well. So if I want to preserve some humanity in my MIDI notes all I have to do is say hey I want to tighten my performance up. I wanted to go around 50%, 60% but I want to leave it at that. I still want some of them to be off like I want sort of that some of that natural differences in articulation and attacking. And let’s listen to what that sounds like. [Music] It’s subtle but whenever you listen to that if you were to hear it for the first time you wouldn’t think oh man that is incredibly fake. You would think oh man like that’s a tight player and that’s what you’re going for for your [Music]. You always want to make sure you’re using some level of quantize strength so that it still sounds like a human played it. So let’s move on to tip number 18. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the home recording world but that doesn’t mean that it’s not extremely important. And the phrase is this you could polish it until it shines but it’s still shit. And yeah it’s a little crass but that doesn’t make it any less true. And what this really means is that if you record bad tracks your mixes will be bad. There’s no way around it. You can polish these raw recordings as much as you want but it’s still going to be a bad track. It’s still going to sound bad. So the way I like to think of it is that each track has a certain mixing potential that’s determined in the recording phase.
So the higher quality the recording the higher the mixing potential. The better you could get your mix to sound. But conversely the lower quality the recording the lower the potential. So if you find yourself frequently saying I’ll just fix it in the mix then you’ve just discovered one of the big reasons why your mix keeps sounding like shit. If it’s recorded bad the mix is only going to sound decent at best. But if you take the time to record really good tracks you record them in good rooms, you do your research, you take time to get good mic positions, your mixes are going to sound so much better from the start. Let’s move on to tip number 19 and that’s to take breaks to save your ears. Your ears are a muscle. They’re not literally a muscle. Please don’t go try to work out your ears. But they do get tired like one. So in the same way that the longer you lift weights the less weight you can lift. The longer you listen to something the less accurate your ears become. So if you play loud [Music], you’re just hitting your ears constantly for hours your ears are going to get tired and your ears are going to start interpreting that [Music] incorrectly.
That means that when you’re at 2:00 A.M. in a mixing session and you’ve been going for 10 hours you think all of these mixing moves sound great but in reality you’re actually hearing your mix incorrectly. So you’re going to wake up the next morning listen to your mix and you’re just going to be like why does this sound like crap. And it’s because what you heard, what you fixed last night wasn’t actually there. So an important key to good mixes is to take care of your tired ears. You want to take steps to keep your ears fresh. That means taking frequent breaks like one break every 30 minutes. That means listening at conversation volume which means that you’re playing your speakers at a level where if someone walked in you could still have a conversation with them over your mix. That means listening to your reference tracks. You want to make sure that you’re always listening to professional mixes to remember what a good mix sounds like because your ears are getting more inaccurate over time. That means not mixing for extremely long periods of time. I know it’s real sexy to do that. It’s real cool to tell everyone just like oh yeah I was up until 3:00 A.M. finishing this mix and now it’s perfect. Trust me you’re gonna play that in the car the next day and it is not going to be perfect.
So let’s check out tip number 20. Don’t solo use a gain plugin instead. So it’s more important what an instrument sounds like in the context of the mix than by itself. Now I know that’s contradictory to a lot of new mixers. You know they think well a good mix means that you’re just making every instrument sound the best it can. Why would I not want to mix and solo then? Well you have to remember that no listener is ever going to hear the instrument solos. They’re only going to hear all of the instruments together. And if every instrument is optimized and enhanced in solo it’s going to sound like slop when it’s all together. You might be able to solo something out and just be like God these drums sound amazing or God this piano is incredible. But when you put it all together everything’s competing, everything’s trying to live in the same frequency range. Stuff is too loud. Some things are too quiet. Some things don’t have enough reverb. But if you solo every instrument they sound great. So you need to be okay with making an instrument sound worse in solo in order to make the mix sound better. That’s the contradictory point of this tip. So the best way to use this tip is to use a gain plugin at the end of your plugin chain to turn the volume up whenever you’re mixing an instrument. It’s really simple. So let’s say I’m about to mix this electric guitar track. This is what it sounds like in solo.
[Music] Really pretty. So I might want to make that just sound so lush and incredible in solo. But if I was using this technique I obviously would want it to sound great in the context. But here’s the problem. If I unsolo it really listen for it. [Music] You can’t really hear it. It’s in there if I took it out you would hear the fact that it’s gone like it’s taking up good space but you cannot hear it well enough to actually mix it. So I’m going to go in here. I’ve already got my gain plugin on at the very end that’s important. It’s got to be at the end. I’ll turn it on and let’s listen to it now. [Music] So you can hear it now. It’s at the forefront of the mix but you’re still hearing the rest of the instruments. So as I go in and I start mixing. I start queuing and compressing I’m going to be making those moves in the context of every other instrument. So I’m not going to be doing anything that’s going to constrict any of the other instruments. That’s going to take up space of the other instruments because I can hear everything at the same time. So what’s great is that once I’m done using this magnifying glass I can just turn it off and it goes back to normal. It’s slipped right back into the mix and it’ll sound even better than it did before. So now we’ve reached the end of our list tip number 21. It’s the most important tip. It’s also the most obvious and the most overlooked and that is that you need to practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice and you need to listen. It’s so annoying whenever you hear that because everyone’s just like yeah what Dylan of course you’ve got a practice.
That is the thing I’ve learned since I was 5 in kindergarten but everyone also forgets it. You’re not going to sound good immediately. Rome was not built in a day. No amount of tips are going to make you a good mixer if you don’t practice them. You just watched a video full of 21 incredible tips things that will change the way you mix. Things that are going to make your song sound better forever. But if you don’t practice anything I’ve told you today then it’s a moot point. Your mixes aren’t going to get any better. Your songs aren’t going to get any better. And you’re just going to become even more frustrated that nothing is improving. And on top of that no amount of practice will make you a good mixer if you don’t actively listen. You have to have both; both practice and listening. You want to make every mix move with intention. You want to listen to your mix and think what am I trying to do here, what am I trying to enhance. Then make your moves to solve that problem. Don’t make mix moves randomly or you know because some video on YouTube told me I should. Every song is different. So what works for one singer might not work for another one. And the more songs you mix the better you’ll get at mixing. So congrats on making it through this crazy video.
These 21 tips are going to change the way you mix. Hopefully now you’ve had 21 revelations, 21 aha moments that you can go forward and use to get better. These are all things that took me years to figure out and I wish that I had this video that could be sent to me whenever I was just starting so that I didn’t have to go through learning all of it and I could learn it as quickly as you now can. But I do actually have some extra stuff for you. Before you go don’t forget to grab the free cheat sheet that I’ve made for this video. It’s got all the mixing tips we’ve covered today plus my top ten mixing mistakes. These are things that every mixer does at some point and the faster you can crack that habit the better your mixers are going to sound. If you practice everything that talks about it’s going to make your mixes sound 10% better guaranteed. Just click the link of the description and on-screen now and of course if you’re new here don’t forget to subscribe and hit that notification bell. That’s all from me. I’m Dylan from Musician on a Mission and remember, Create Regardless. [Music]