Have you ever tried to mix a song in 10 minutes? If not, you’re missing out. It’s funny how if you only have 10 minutes to mix a song, you become super big picture oriented and you think like a listener, not a mixer. This exercise will help you with your mixes immensely. Check it out!
One question that comes up a lot for home studio owners is whether or not mixing on headphones is acceptable. I’ll be the first to say that if all you have is headphones, then by all means don’t let that stop you from mixing. Remember, it’s not what you use, but what you do with it that matters.
But all things being equal, if you can afford to spend a couple hundred bucks on a pair of monitors, do it. Here’s why.
Everything Sounds Awesome On Headphones
One thing I’ve found over the years is that just about everything can sound awesome on headphones. Maybe it’s the fact that with headphones you notice every detail. Perhaps it’s the exaggerated stereo field. Or it might simply be the fact that sound is being blasted straight into your ears.
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Listen up all you budding mixers, if you’re mixing in a home studio, you’re already at a disadvantage: your room is fighting against you. Most of our home studios are just that, studios inside a spare bedroom or basement in our house. The room was never built out to give us a controlled listening environment so we can make critical sonic decisions.
Have no fear, there’s a lot you can do to compensate, and one of the easiest and most impactful is to create a mixing sweet spot.
Time To Move Your Speakers
One of the biggest things holding back your mixes is simply where you put your desk in your room. There are a lot of “wrong” places to put your desk and likely only one or two ideal spots. So if you really want to churn out better mixes, you need to be OK with doing a bit of rearranging in your room.
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Did you know that mixing can be summed up in just one word? It’s true. Mixing isn’t about plugins, converters, or studio monitors. It isn’t about acoustically treated rooms or golden ears. All of those things play a part (potentially) in getting a good mix, but to focus on them when mixing is to miss the entire point. Let’s kick off Mixing Month with this critical video…
As I near the end of the recording phase of a project I like to finish with this little exercise. I call it simply the Notepad Technique, and it has saved my butt and helped me take my recordings from OK to awesome many times.
No matter your skill level, your DAW of choice, or your budget, everyone can implement the Notepad Technique and reap the rewards. All you need is a blank pad of note paper and a pen. What you do with it next can take your tracks to the next level.
Think Like Your Audience
The entire recording process you’ve been wearing many hats and playing many roles. You’ve juggled the roles of songwriter, performer, producer, and engineer and you’ve hopefully captured some killer recordings. But before you sign off on these tracks and move on to mixing, you need to wear one more hat: your audience’s.
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Why wait for the mixing phase to enhance your drum sound? This classic technique is so easy, so fast, and can be done for less than $16, even for free in some cases. Some people overlook it, but not you. You’re going to be different. I have a good feeling about you. Check it out and enjoy!
If you’re recording and mixing your own material (or for a client) let me give you a piece of advice: pretend like the mixing phase doesn’t exist. Seriously folks, you need to change your entire mindset when in the studio. Push yourself to record your tracks in such a way that they need no mixing at all. That should be your goal every single time you hit the “record” button in your DAW.
Mixing Shouldn’t Be A Crutch
Too many home studio owners fall into the trap of using mixing as a crutch for their bad recordings. I know because I interact with thousands of you each year and also because I have done it myself. We fire open our DAW, arm some tracks, begin recording. If the result is something mediocre we simply shrug our shoulders and leave it for the mix.
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I know it’s tempting to want to put all of your money towards one really nice microphone. The logic goes like this: if you are recording everything one instrument at a time, you can use that same nice microphone on every track. It’s almost like you had a bunch of really nice microphones that you used to capture the entire band. What I’m about to tell you turns this whole idea upside down.
How To Avoid “Sameness”
Last month I was in Los Angeles for the winter NAMM show. At one point in the show there was a Q&A session with Joe Barresi (Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age) who is one of my favorite rock mixers out there. Someone asked him a question about recording, and he answered with this little nugget:
I’d rather have two or three different sounding microphones on a recording project, even if they were really cheap, than only one microphone for everything. - Joe Barresi
Want a fuller recording that makes mixing a much easier process? One thing to keep in mind then is how much balance your tracks have. Specifically today I’m referring to the balance of both rhythmic and sustaining parts in a recording. This can be achieved in a million different ways, but here are just two examples that might spark your creativity.
For years I thought the key to a big wide and full guitar sound was to layer multiple takes of my guitar part. Maybe two on the left, two on the right, and one up the middle. Why double when you can triple or quadruple right?!
Ironically more isn’t what makes your guitars sound bigger. Different is.
Different Tones Are Huge
The simplest way to get a wide guitar sound is to record your guitar two times and pan one take hard left and the other hard right. But let’s take that a step further. To get those guitars to sound even wider (a very desirable thing to do considering how many other tracks tend to get jammed into our mixes) we need to have two different tones on the left and the right. This is because our ears perceive the differences and perk up, giving us a perception of more width than there actually is.
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