WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT!?! Have you ever mixed the band and felt something was wrong with the mix? You tweak and tweak but the sounds just don’t gel. Time to trash your mix and start over.
The Two Benefits of Trashing Your Mix
- You save time. It’s hard to start over on a mix when you consider how much time you spent building it. However, when you can’t identify the one or two elements in your mix that are off balance, you will spend less time if you start over than if you tweaked for an eternity.
- You are forced to focus on the fundamentals. Yes, this is a benefit because it forces you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Just like professional basketball players still practice dribbling and passing, focusing on the basics of your work keeps you sharp.
How to Rebuild the Mix in Nine Steps
Here is a basic outline for what you should do…
1. Reset everything. Reset all your EQ’s, turn off your effects, turn off any compression, and take channels out of sub-groups. You are now back to a simple baseline mix with only your channel gains being set. I mention removing sub-groups as you might have EQ specific for subgroups.
2. Review your channel gains. I’ll say 99% of the time, my gain levels are good. It’s usually a vocal microphone I might boost a little. Boosting gain means you can kill your monitor mixes or blow out the ears of a musician with IEM’s so make sure you notify the band if you need to boost gains. Here are a couple methods for setting gain;
3. Set your general volume balance with all your musicians and singers. There are two ways of doing this; starting with drums or starting with the vocals. You will want to start with drums. move from drums to bass to guitars to vocals. Starting with vocals is helpful when you are dealing with a strict decibel restriction. Setting the vocal level’s first, you are ensuring they will be prominent in the mix.
4. Mix in your drums and your bass. The kick drum can cover up the bass and vice versa if you don’t mix them properly. Decide which instrument owns the low end sound. Using a sweepable mid on an analog board, consider sweeping the bass mid’s far down [250 hz range] and then cutting/boosting. I find I cut in the low-end eq and then using the sweepable mid, I can give the bass a distinct clear sound. Check out these articles for more information;
5. Mix in your keyboards. Keys can be used for everything from a grand piano sound to 80’s synth pads. Keyboards that are used for a large pad sound can get lost in a bit of the bass and the toms. Start with enabling the HPF, high pass filter, and then listening for the frequency space the keyboard is filling. Make your adjustments accordingly so the pads have their own sound and aren’t lost with the other instruments.
6. Mix in the guitars. Start with the electric and the move to the acoustic. All the time, think about how the existing sounds in the mix are blending with what you have on the stage. You might not have a bass player. In that case, give that electric guitar some space in the lower frequencies. A key point to remember is you should make a small band sound big and a big band sound small. That is to say, in the case of a big band, tighten up the frequency range of each instrument so you can easily pick it out in the mix. A popular topic in guitar mixing is whether or not to use the HPF. Mixing is an art and therefore, there is no black and white answer as to when to use the HPF on a guitar. Use your ears. You know what you want to hear, listen for it and use what you have to reach that sound.
7. Mix the vocals. Start by using the high pass filter to cut the very low end frequencies. This will help eliminate any extra low end coming from instruments like the drums. Next, try boosting in the 6kHz range to give some brightness and clarity to the vocals. Finally, consider cutting the problem frequencies that can exist in the 2.5KHz to 4KHz range.
You might have other instruments that I haven’t listed. If so, mix them in where they seem appropriate. For example, mix in the violin after the acoustic guitar.
8. Mix across channels. You know it’s not as easy as mixing instruments individually and then you are done. During the process of mixing all sound together into the right sound you want, keep in might the arrangement of the song. For example, if the song calls for the keyboard to be the focal point, then make it the focal point by giving it room in the mix. You can do that not only by using volume but by making slight frequency cuts in instruments that share the same frequencies as the keyboard. You don’t have to cut them out completely…just think of it as making room for the keyboard to be obvious as the lead instrument.
9. Add your effects. This can be done after you mix across all channels or during that mixing. A simple rule of thumb is do everything you can with your EQ work and then use the effects to fill in what is missing. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself battling against the EQ and the effects because you are trying to get the effects to do something that’s better done with the EQ.
Van Gogh painted over his own artwork because he didn’t like what he’d painted the first time. C.S. Lewis likely had a few drafts of Narnia chapters that got tossed in the fireplace. There will be times when you don’t nail the mix and your next move shouldn’t be reworking that mix. Your next move should be starting over.