Here at MixCoach and MixCoach Member we see lots of beginning mixers. We listen to and give feedback on their mixes. Throughout the years we’ve noticed some trends in beginners. Here are two of the most common.
They pile on plug-ins.
As with everything in life, the best lessons are the ones learned by experience. So the first thing most beginning mixers do when they start mixing is try to experience all of their plug-ins. Most DAWs come with massive collections of plug-ins. Add to this the seemingly unlimited number you can purchase and you’ve got one massive toolbox to try out. This is great! How will you know what a plug-in does or how you could use it if you’ve never tried it? You can’t. So try them all if you can. Just don’t use them all in one mix.
The problem is that when mixers begin actually mixing their first songs, they are so excited to use their newly acquired plug-ins and tricks, that they forget that you can’t do everything all at once. The mix becomes unfocussed, over processed, and more about the tricks and the mixer than the music.
When I first began mixing I was given a really solid piece of advice. Get the very basics of your workflow down, and then try one new thing every time you mix. If that trick works, save it as a preset to use it again on another mix. This keeps things interesting for you, and keeps the emphasis on the song. You will also build up a large number of cool presets to use when you need/want. Finally, it keeps a mix from getting cluttered with so many tricks that the listener misses most of them, and focuses their attention on the one really cool trick that you did use.
They don’t listen to reference mixes while they mix.
Listening to a great mix in the same style that you are trying to achieve is very important to the learning process. Ever think, “man the snare in this mix sounds so much better than mine,”? Why not listen to that mix while you’re working and try to match it? It seems like a no brainer to “A B test” in this instance, but there are other reasons to use a reference mix while you work.
Our ears are slightly different every day. The pressure on the inside of our heads and in the air affects the way we hear things. Listening to a mix that we have decided is great on multiple days over time helps to center us back on the right track.
Our ears also adjust to certain sounds over time. Ever put on a pair of red tinted sunglasses for a day and then take them off? Everything seems to be colored blue. The same thing is true with our ears. As we listen to frequency patterns we adjust to them. Using a reference mix helps us keep what truly is a good mix in focus so that we can shoot for it.