6 Common Mixing Mistakes [Part 3]

| Mixing, Tips

The best mix engineers are the ones who’ve made the most mistakes. There’s nothing shameful about making mistakes really, it’s all part of the process. My goal for you, however, is to help speed up the learning curve a bit by pointing out what I think are six of the most common mistakes in mixing happening all the time. If you can eliminate these mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to making better mixes. Be sure to check out part 1 and part 2 of this post series for the first four mistakes, then come here and read the final two!

TRR106 6 Common Mixing Mistakes [Part 3]

Via Steve Spinks Flickr

Mistake #5 – Not Taking Breaks

The more you mix the more you come to realize that you simply can’t trust your ears at all times. The “golden rule” of audio, that if it sounds good it is good, only applies if your ears aren’t shot. Unfortunately our ears aren’t consistent like speakers or microphones, they hear things differently depending on the time of day, how tired they are, and even the moisture in the air. Our ears are literally made of drums, that change constantly. The only way to gain perspective on your mix is to take frequent breaks.

How many and how often you break is up to you. I know some guys who mix for 20 minutes, then break for 10. This becomes their pattern. Others can go for an hour before needing a break. The time frame doesn’t really matter, what matters is that you DO take breaks. It seems counter productive (to stop mixing), but the truth is, each time you’ll come back to the mix with reality in mind and you’ll actually mix faster. It sounds simple, but most people don’t do this. They mix for hours at a time and then print the mix, only to find that it sounds like garbage the next day. What a waste.

Mistake #6 – Not Referencing Other Pro Mixes

At the end of the day, if you really want your mixes to sound pro, you need to compare them to pro mixes. I know it’s painful to mix for so long, thinking you’re doing your best work ever, only to compare it to some pro mixes and it sounds like poop in comparison. Been there. Got the t-shirt. But if you simply shy away from that kind of “pain” and stop referencing other mixes, then you’ll actually never get better. Sure you won’t be as discouraged, but you’ll be fooling yourself into thinking you’re actually any good!

How you reference other mixes is up to you, but it’s a good idea to do it a few times during the mixing process to see if you are on the right track. Be sure to reference these mixes on YOUR SPEAKER SYSTEM. If you are mixing through your DAW’s converters and monitors, then run the reference through the same setup. You want to compare mixes on the same setup so you can make accurate decisions. As you listen to these other mixes, take note of what sounds better about them and try to go back to your mix and “copy” that sound. This is how you learn people. It’s painful, but it’s worth it in the end!


Looking for some in depth mixing training? Check out my REthink Mixing video series and get over 6 hours of real life mixing mentorship, showing you a blueprint for mixing like a pro! www.REthinkMixing.com

Get Better Mixes By Simply Changing How You Start

The first 60 minutes of your mix will affect everything. Here's my proven method!

17 Responses to “6 Common Mixing Mistakes [Part 3]”

  1. Don

    Your tips have enabled me, I believe, to vastly improve my mixes/recordings.
    I reference by pulling pro/released tracks straight into my DAW session – that way I can either mute my mix or mute the reference track to compare how mine sounds … this helps me a lot to EQ my mix per the reference track. Really, really helpful tip!

    Some months ago I bought many of your videos and these in combination with your blog have been very valuable and my mixing is much more rewarding and less frustrating that it has been in the past!


  2. Brian

    I just want to say, having read your #1 rule of home recording, and your 6 mistakes of recording/6 mistakes of mixing, that you’re definitely changing the way I think about home recording and mixing! Some things I’d already discovered on my own, and some things were areas I’ve been struggling with a lot and was pushing in the -=wrong direction=- to fix. Hmmm… I could probably write a bible study on that very principle… how we overcomplicate things. Thank you for your insightful blogs and podcast. God has blessed you with an amazing talent not only for music, but for communication, and it’s great to see you using your gift to help others!

  3. Matthew Paul

    Thanks Graham for taking the time to share these 6 great tips. Through having read so many other articles to date, I had probably built up an arsenal of a 100 tips, none of which I really put into practice as there were so many to remember and weren’t clear in their reasoning. What you’ve done is to give the least number of fundamental mixing methods in proportion to making the biggest difference and with clearly explained logic behind them, this all makes it far easier to put them into action. Now I can stop worrying if I’ve tried to use tips #83 – #92 only to find they haven’t really helped that much!

  4. Matthew Paul

    (my earlier connection crashed – didn’t know if you got my last reply)
    Thanks Graham for taking the time to share these 6 great tips. Through having read so many other articles to date, I had probably built up an arsenal of a 100 tips, none of which I really put into practice as there were so many to remember and weren’t clear in their reasoning. What you’ve done is to give the least number of fundamental mixing methods in proportion to making the biggest difference. With clearly explained logic behind each one, this all makes it far easier to put them into action. Now I can stop worrying if I’ve tried to use tip #47, #62, #93….. only to find they haven’t really helped that much anyway!

  5. Timothy

    I have read your views about Daws’ – Pro Tools Le in particular. I have a copy of Pro tools Se – that seems kind of limited. Is there a big difference between the two. I have Sonar6. It seems that everything is needed is in the software. I guess that just about all Daws’ would get the job done.

    • Graham

      Hi Timothy, Pro Tools SE is a more stripped down version of Pro Tools in terms of track count and plugins. Sonar is a full fledged DAW. But it might be enough for your needs. Sonically it’s just as good as Pro Tools.

  6. Beth

    Thank you for these tips, I haven’t been mixing long and teaching myself has been a struggle so thanks for the advice, definately going to apply it to my work.

  7. Zoltan Foldes

    Hi! Your tips are a great help, thanks!
    A question with regard to reference tracks. I get that they should come from the same setup ie DAW where you mix but how do you amend the fact that the ref track is almost always a mastered loud piece of commercial music compared to your light stuff in the making? Some say use your own mastering chain while mixing (we selfmaster), what would you suggestion be to level this out? Thanks for the feedback!

    • Graham

      I run my mix through plugins on a separate aux track BEFORE the master fader, so that I can bring in a mastered reference track and run it straight to the master fader without any plugins. Then simply turn the track down in volume to match your mix 🙂

      • Zoltan Foldes

        Thanks, Graham, for your kind n prompt reply! I also heard about a ref track job specific plugin Sample Magics Magic AB plugin dedicated to this task, yet to try it, will let u know what works best for us.

  8. Sean

    Hello Graham,

    Just want to ask about referencing… here’s what I do (don’t know if I’m doing it wrong or what):

    I “insert track” an mp3 of the sound (one song from the band’s album) to my DAW and their sound was so bass heavy! my monitor is adam a7x and my room is not treated. it’s just a room. the monitors were angled in front of me like 24″ away. I don’t have the luxury of space. there’s no way I can fix anything from this room/setup, so let’s forget about that. bought an a7x kuz I’m not buying another monitor once I have my own place. for now this is what I got…

    I tried playing the CD in hifi system, emulate the sound, but when I render my tracks, it doesn’t sound like them. nothing’s wrong with my mix, but I want THAT sound. so, here I found your post about this ‘referencing’ and my question: should I copy the overly loud bass of the reference? at this point, I am 90% close emulating the guitars and I’m keeping that.

    Why is it that on the monitors (costs me a grand, mind you), the snares are seemingly quiet but on the commercial speaker, they sound a bit louder than what it is?

    I could write you a book with endless question, but I know you get the idea… 🙂

  9. Nate

    Thank you so much for all of this great free wisdom…I have been working on and off with song writing and once I decided that I wanted that pro sound I very quickly become as passionate about production than I was about song writing. Seriously, the confidence you’ve given me to know what direction to take in production is freakin amazing and such a relief 🙂 You have earned me buying some of your more in depth courses for sure. I just need to know if I should go with Total Home Recording or Rethink Mixing. I can definitely get and surpass the volume I’ve fought for the last 15 years to achieve. But now I need to learn how to polish off creating cleaner separation and find the key to creating the same “pressure” in my headphones and speakers like the pros are doing. What would you advise me to get? And again, thank you so much!

  10. Shezada C

    Excellent tips. My main issue had been switching between mono and stereo and losing some of the space in the mix.
    Getting that blend correct literally took hours of repetitve training for the ears.
    But crucially, as you mentioned, getting the gain staging correct so that you have plenty of headroom for mastering. If you cant leave a little for mastering then the mix will invariably unbalanced.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read previous post:
6 Common Mixing Mistakes [Part 2]

The more mistakes you stop making, the better your mixes will be. Plain and simple. And we all make mistakes,...