Music Mixing: The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 3]

| Mixing, Tips

As complex as the mixing process can be, in reality it can easily be broken down into a handful of concrete steps. In Part 1 and Part 2 of The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing we looked at how to setup your mix and what the core of the mixing process looks like. In today’s final steps we will look at how to finish that final 10% of your mix and wind up with something that sounds great, not just good.

Step #7 – Sweetening

If the last three steps were what gave your mix it’s sound, this step is what gives that sound pop. A great mix isn’t purely a sonically clear and punchy mix. It also has to create impact and take the listener on a journey. Every moment of the song must be interesting and engaging to the audience. Otherwise, in a world of endless choice at our fingertips, the listener will get bored and move on to something else.

Enter the sweetening stage. The process is simple: go through your song systematically from beginning to end and do whatever it takes to keep the music moving. If verse 2 sounds just the same as verse, change it. Mute something in verse 1. Or add an effect to verse 2. Or automate the panning to be narrower in the verses than in the chorus. You get the idea. Make every part of the song count.

Step #8 – Referencing

Now that we have a clear and punchy mix that is engaging from the intro to the final note, it’s time to make sure the mix will work out in the real world and not just on our speakers at home. Welcome to the painful process of referencing. As unique and special as our mix is, we need to reference the real world in order to bring our mix in balance.

We reference in two ways. The first way is to simply listen to your mix on a second set of speakers or headphones. Each speaker has it’s own EQ curve (no matter how “flat” the manual says it is) and you can use that to your advantage. Run your mix through speakers that sound totally different to your main monitors and take note of anything that is missing. Go back to your mix and adjust slightly to make sure it sounds good on both sets of speakers.

The second way we reference is by pulling in a professional mix that we thing sounds great. Once inside our DAW you can simply volume match the pro mix to yours and then compare. Try to bring your mix closer in balance tonally (top end, bottom end, etc) to the reference mix. This will go a long way to getting your mix to translate better on all speakers.

Follow The Steps

These eight steps work. They are proven. So if you’re frustrated with your mixes and how they are turning out, try something different. Follow these steps and see if they just don’t help you get to a better place. I know there are many ways to mix, but at the core of every great mix these eight steps are being taken.

If you’d like to see this entire process come together in real time, you should check out my REthink Mixing series. I literally walk you through a real mix from raw tracks to polished master and I follow these steps exactly. Once you see how it’s done, you’ll be ready to do it yourself with more confidence than ever before.

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15 Responses to “Music Mixing: The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 3]”

  1. Jason

    Great series/guide as usual, Graham! Just curious though, in the picture associated with this article, what software is that a screenshot of? Sort of reminds me of the new “Harrison Mix Bus” software (which I’d love to try).

    Reply
  2. Loris

    Hey Graham, I was just wondering is you REthink mixing package a new brand series you’ve made recently ?
    It’s been a while now I’m following all you do/write/produce/teach but it’s the first time I read about it.

    Reply
    • Graham

      REthink Mixing has been around for while now. At one point it was called “Mixing Boot Camp”.

      Reply
  3. Greg Savage

    Great Tips! I’ve been a dedicated reason user since 1.0. I use it for everything – Sound design, film scoring, cut scenes…etc Really powerful application.

    Reply
  4. Robert

    This series was just what I needed. While I already took away a lot of valuable knowledge from your tutorials and improved my mixes a lot (I can honestly say that comparing and referencing was the most helpful technique I ever learned), what i still lack is a structured approach at doing it. I oftentimes make the first mixing decisions while still recording, dabble around with whatever strikes me in the moment, I tweak an EQ here, then slap a compressor onto there, then do the same with another track … I eventually get where I want to be in the end, but I will try to stick to those steps next time and then try to develop a routine for myself.

    Now that I got this off my chest, here’s my questions (maybe I missed it): at what point do you decide on the panning positions?
    And second: How often does it happen to you that you jump back in those steps, like you make another EQ decision when you’re already at setting up compressors?
    Again, thanks a lot for doing this.

    Reply
    • Graham

      I try to setup initial pan positions when working on my rough static mix at the beginning. They can change later, but I’m usually happy with what I pick. Same with EQ.

      Reply
  5. Konstantin

    Hi Gram!
    Excellent articles, really love them! Simple, clear and effective!
    But, it’s all about the simplicity.
    Do you have any advanced tips and tricks and are you going to publish them? It’s may be something like a distortion on a snare, parallel bass DI and AMP mixing, that is also rather simple. Something that really can blow all the subsribers away, mmm?

    With lots of respect from Russia, Konstantin!

    Reply
  6. Toaster

    regarding “Referencing”… If I reference with say Yyz (rush) . . . Obviously it’s been mastered and a finished product… where as a ‘my song’ is still in ‘mixing’ stage . . . Would I (guessing) put a limiter on the ‘Group’ buss (my song) to bring it up to ‘comparable’ levels? Only for the referencing of course – off again b4 printing the finished ‘pre-master’. Thanks for all this info u share G, it means a lot to so many – that’s a great legacy in itself.

    Toaster

    Reply

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  1.  The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 2] » The Recording Revolution
  2.  The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing | Morpeth School Music Technology

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Music Mixing: The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 2]

Earlier this week I shared with you the first three critical steps to beginning a mix well in Part 1...

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