How to Fix a Mix That Sucks

This article is part of our FAQ series, published on our blog. Click here to view the blog archives.

Question: How do I fix a mix that sucks?

When it comes to art, sometimes you create something you’re unhappy with.

We’ve all been there.

So let’s say you finish your mix and it, for lack of a better term, “sucks”…

It’s natural to wonder if it can be fixed.

The good news is, YES, it can be… here’s how I suggest you go about it.

Step 1: Diagnose the Problem(s) With the Mix

It’s tempting to just throw up your hands and say, “It’s all bad” but that’s a copout in a majority of cases…

If you want to fix the mix, you must figure out what its problems are.

The key is simply listening to it critically.

Take some time away and come back to your “bad mix” and then give it a listen. Ask yourself some questions like these:

  • Is this mix harsh or unpleasant at points?
  • Are the instruments simply not blended well together? Are some standing out too much while others are buried?
  • Did I get the low end right, or is it a muddy mess?
  • Do I like how the vocals sound, or are they grating or lifeless?
  • Are the effects working, or are they completely drowning the mix?
  • Does this mix keep my attention as a listener, or is it boring?
  • Does this mix lack energy?
  • Is there too much compression? Is the mix dynamic enough?

There are many more questions you could ask here… but the point is, try to diagnose the specific issue.

If you get an idea of what the problem is, you can then start to address it. Which leads us to step 2.

Step 2: Decide On and Implement a Course of Action

Let’s say you’ve diagnosed the issue… now you have to decide on how to try to address it.

In general you have three broad options:

  1. Adjust your existing settings and processing (By adjusting plugin parameters or faders/knobs).
  2. Add new processing to the mix (add a new plugin or multiple plugins).
  3. Completely remove some problematic processing and start over.

I’d recommend you start with option 1. For example, let’s say you’ve got an instrument that’s standing out in a bad way, or is buried.

Going to that instruments EQ curve (if it has one) and adjusting settings is the simplest move.

If that’s no good… then you can try option 2.

For example, let’s say your low end is muddy… perhaps adding an EQ to some more tracks and rolling off some unwanted low frequencies could help.

If that’s not working… then you might opt for option 3.

Let’s say your mix is completely drowning in reverb… it might make sense to just yank all of the reverb off and start over.

Fixing problems this way is both TRICKY and CHALLENGING though.

  • You’ll likely have to make other adjustments as you try to address the issue. Remember, mixes are cohesive.
  • If you have a mixing system or workflow you follow… cycling back through your process after making adjustments or changes is a must!
  • Remember you mixed this whole thing… one change can have a significant effect on how the whole mixdown sounds.
  • Always, ALWAYS save backup versions so if you make things significantly worse you can go back.

Step 3: Check Your Work… and Accept When a Mix Cannot Be Fixed

Assuming you’ve made some changes… it’s time to check your work.

Does it sound better to you now? Great! You’re done.

Does the mix still suck? Bummer! Time to make some more adjustments… unless…

You decide the mix is so bad it cannot be fixed.

It’s a sad reality but an important one to accept (especially if you’re newer to all this mixing stuff).

Sometimes a mix just won’t work no matter what you do… and you SHOULDN’T get into a pattern perpetually trying to fix it.

If you decide to throw in the towel, you have two options:

  • Option 1: Accept that you’re not totally happy with the mix, and try to learn and do better on the next song.
  • Option 2: Save your session, make a copy of it… then blow everything up and start mixing from scratch.

There’s no shame in admitting defeat and deciding to move on or re-start with a clean slate.

Either way you should KEEP IN MIND what you learned.

For example, if the mix “sucked” because the low end was a muddy mess.. remember that for your next project.

Focus on the low-end more, or try to do something different.

You learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes.

So if you’ve made a mix that sucks… I’ve got nothing but great news for you.

It can potentially be fixed, and no matter what you’ll learn and be a better mixer from the experience! 🙂

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