June 14, 2017 — We surveyed 55 mixing experts in search of the best tips… and the response we got was incredible. Our panel sent us over 300 awesome mixing tips!
The toughest part was narrowing them down to only 121, and then organizing the tips into the sections you see below. Note: some of the tips we didn’t include were very good, and we plan to publish many of them in future articles. We simply couldn’t fit them all into this single article… so please stay tuned!
Thanks again to all of the experts who contributed… and thank you for reading. Whether you’re a mixing professional or a complete newbie, we’re confident you can find something below to immediately apply to your own music.
Click here to view the entire list of our expert contributors, including links to their social media profiles.
Table of Contents
Click on a link to jump to a particular section of mixing tips. Otherwise, keep scrolling and get ready!
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Mixing Advice for Beginners
We posed the following question to our expert contributors: “What’s your best advice for a beginner who is just starting out mixing, and wants to develop their skills?” Here’s what they said.
- Trust your ears and treat them with care. We only get one set of ears and it’s important to treat them like gold, after all they’re you’re best asset. — Dacota Fresilli, Parhelion Recording Studios
- Mixing is all about finding the right balance and making things sit correctly among one another. EQ and compression are important, but I’ve found that the most powerful tools in this regard are simply the volume fader and your ears. — Philip Dust, Philip Dust Mixing and Mastering
- Learn how to use the tools that you have — effects, plugins, and the program you use to record and mix. Do not fall into the trap by thinking more tools with give you a better mix, because it will not! The most important tool in mixing is yourself and the knowledge you have. — CJ Jacobson, Audio Mastering And Mixing
- No matter what DAW you choose to work in, download the manual, and learn the shortcut keyboard commands and functions your DAW provides. — Anthony Olivares, Sound in the City
- Listen to a ton of music / audio. Dissect your references — what’s making this vocal sound the way it does? What’s making the chorus feel exciting? What is this mix doing to convey the emotion of the song, film, etc. — Devin Kerr, Goodhertz
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Record things and practice mixing, find multitrack sessions, and practice mixing. Try sonic ideas knowing that if they don’t work 99 times, if you come up with one new sound, it’s all worth it. As an added benefit, the journey will yield quite a bit of knowledge. — Matt Salazar, IndieRockInc
- Learn how to really listen! Before you just start applying processing to every track, or applying all the great mixing tips you learned about, just bring up all the tracks and get a good balance without any EQ or other processing at all. Then, really LISTEN to the song and the message/mood that the band/artist is trying to convey, and figure out what the mix needs to enhance that message! — Stephen Sherrard, Stephen Sherrard Mixing
- Use reference tracks! If you have a benchmark to which you can compare your mix, you’ll know better whether or not you’re on the right track. — Bobby Phillipps, HomeStudioMixTips
- Spend as much time as possible learning how to listen critically not only to music you record and mix, but other music that is commercially produced and you think sounds great. Listen and compare, A/B with your own mixes, and try to learn what it is about someone else’s mix that you like and how to apply it to your own. — Stephen Michael Babula, SMB Recordings
- Set up your mixing environment as best as you can. Make sure you are not getting too many unwanted reflections from hard flat surfaces and bass build-up from corners. Next, mix as many tracks as you can and start training your ears. You can read and watch as many videos as you like, but until you start digging in and mixing and applying what you have learned, you won’t get any better. — Jeremiah, Undergunned Productions
After years of mixing, it is common to develop a philosophy on the subject. We asked our panel of experts to share their mixing philosophy.
- Music keeps evolving. New sounds and trends keep coming. Technology has changed the way we listen to music, and with that the way we mix that music. So you have to be OPEN MINDED when it comes to mixing and producing different genres. It will help you tenfold on learning new techniques and approaches to mixing. — J-rum, J-rum Beats
- Zoom in, then back out. It’s not about the kick sound. It’s about the emotion you get from the overall mix/song. Our job is to enhance the feeling the artist wants to communicate to the listener. — Joe Vegna
- At its core, mixing is simple. It’s about getting many individual sounds to blend together in a way that sound pleasing to the ear when coming out of the speakers. — Soops, MixedBySoops
- The musicality of a mix will ALMOST always trump the technicality of it. — AJ Patil, Mixed by A-Mack
- Think of mixdowns as the fun part instead of the boring part, and you can end up making a lifeless track have some much needed personality. — Them Jeans, Tall Tales Podcast
- Never get too close to the mix. I’m a huge fan of working in short bursts in order to keep as much of an objective perspective as I possibly can. — Jeffro Lackscheide, Make Your Mixes Not Suck
- Things you do in the mix are always dictated by the song. Is what you’re doing adding to the song or taking away from it? — Jared Kvitka, Jared K Recording
- “Record like there’s no mixing, mix like there’s no mastering,” to begin with… always have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish. As long as you stick to that vision, everything’s allowed! — Hubi Hofmann, Slash Zero Records
- Balance (both level and frequency) and scale (size and depth) are the keys to mixing. Without these, any tip, trick, special EQ, or compression technique becomes irrelevant. — James Aparicio
- Don’t believe the hype. We are bombarded by ads that tell us the gear we use isn’t good enough. The basic DAW with the basic plugins is miles ahead of what anyone had 25 years ago. Focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have, and make great music. — Matty Trump, Mix And Master My Song
Mixing Theory & Strategy
Each mixing engineer approaches a project with a unique theory and strategy. We asked the experts to explain how they approach the “art of mixing.”
- Make grand gestures when applying EQ, compression, or effects, and then (if needed) back off the amount. But remember, small amounts of compression on many different tracks can help pull everything together, especially in the ‘post tape’ era. — Larry Crane, Tape Op Magazine
- As a mix engineer, each song or piece (I work in instrumentals a lot) is unique. Honoring the music (and assignment – if spec is dictated by client) is key & I prefer to mix quiet — in a professionally treated control room… focusing on feeling the music — making sure my ears are fresh. I avoid ear fatigue by taking breaks and taking care of my ears outside the studio (i.e. wearing ear plugs at shows, etc.). — Catharine Wood, Planetwood Studios LLC
- Keep it simple. I really listen to the tracks before doing anything. I put up the faders and balance the track, then mute everything and start shaping sounds individually as I unmute each track. While doing this I am constantly returning to the tracks that I’ve already worked on and rebalancing them. Once I get a mix to rock without any automation, I will turn it on, and start automating everything. Generally I wait until the end to add any FX such as delays or reverbs. I like to try to keep things dry unless FX are called for. — Tyler Spratt, Thresh Mixing
- Don’t over mix and never be lazy either. If it’s not working, move on to something else quickly, but don’t stop until you actually get it right. There is a middle ground here and you need to develop a sense of when you’re “never gonna make this approach work” and “I’m almost there, but not quite.” — Matt Russell, Gain Structure
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- Use the High Pass Filter!! It’s your best friend and my most used tool of all while mixing! Even if it sounds counterintuitive — you have to filter out as much of the low end to get a tight punchy and big lower end. I really solo each and every track of a mix and turn the high pass filter just to that point where I feel it’s losing too much. It just cleans out the whole mix and leaves room for the wanted and punchy bass. Sometimes I even filter kick drums as high as 40 Hz so don´t be afraid of that little knob! — Clemens Schleiwies, AnalogMix
- For me, mixing starts at the recording process. Before I do any mixing, I try to get the most out of every instrument (as if I was there at the recording process) and commit them to the session. — Ryan Samuel Bentley
- Once all the (boring) editing and corrective tasks are taken care of… mix fast, mix with purpose, and mix from your gut. With all the tools at our disposal, it is easy to get sucked into analysis paralysis, which won’t serve the song. Listen to the song, make a mental plan of what steps need to be taken to make the sound in your head a reality, and do it. — Scott Horton, Virtual Mix Engineer
- These days, I start off each mix session by listening to some reference songs set at the same volume as my mix. Only then do I switch over to the mix I’m working on and whatever is missing in my mix is far more obvious. Changes that would have taken hours of banging my head against the wall now jump out and can be changed in a few minutes. — Jeffro Lackscheide, Make Your Mixes Not Suck
- Do as much as possible without plugins. Plugins are fun but the real magic happens with volume, panning, and editing. Try not using any plugins for the first 20 minutes of your next mix. You would be surprised how far you get. — Matty Trump, Mix and Master Song
- Mix so that every track can be heard within the song. It’s all about balance. If a track doesn’t contribute anything to the overall song, it might not be needed. — Brandon Marshall, Marshall Mixing
Common Mistakes When Mixing
Beginners are prone to making mistakes, no matter which field they’re in. We asked our expert panel to identify the most common mixing mistakes and how they can be avoided.
- Not balancing out the mix before adding plugins. A lot of dance producers have the kick drum super loud which, in turn, ends up depleting the low end and smashing entire the mix. — Mike Glaser, pureMix
- The most common mistake is not using the faders enough. Sometimes mixers use a bunch of EQ and compression, but forget to use the faders to get a good volume balance between the instruments. Sometimes a volume change could be the perfect choice! — Mattia Magi, Blue House Studio
- Using too many effects is a common mistake. It can be great having lots of effects, but you have to be smart about using them. Remember, you don’t have to use them all on one song! In so many things related to mixing, less is more. — Law Wood, LW Music Services
- Sometimes it can be easy to focus too much on a very small detail and forget the bigger picture. EQ’ing in solo can also make mixing take a long time as you’re not hearing it in context of the mix. Always try and listen to the whole mix as much as possible, and remember where you are trying to go with the sound of it. — Romesh Dodangoda, Long Wave Recording Studio
- Mixing at a too high of a volume is a common mistake I see. To help your mixes to translate well everywhere, mix at low volume at around 55 to 70 decibels and make sure your mix sounds great at that level. — Chris Selim, Mixdown Online
- A lot of time I hear pops and clicks in projects, specifically film. This can be avoided by simply adding fades and crossfades to all clips. — James Alire, 5J Media LLC
- When I was starting, one mistake I made is not taking breaks. My ears would become so fatigued that I’d believe my mix is sounding the way I wanted. But in reality, it wasn’t even close. Our ears are what we rely on and we need to make sure they are rested to put our best mix every time. — Keshia McArthur, Keshia Mc.
- Getting the balance wrong. Before you start reaching for EQ and compression, get a good starting balance. If you struggle with that, look into quick hacks — like mixing against pink noise — to get you started. — Dave S-B, Creative Mixing
- One mistake I see a lot of amateur and even experienced engineers make is not having enough headroom before they ever start mixing. Check all of your tracks/stems to make sure you have enough headroom (I aim for -6 dB) before adding ANY processing to the tracks. This will help to avoid unwanted saturation or distortion when you do start adding processing. Before you begin mixing: 1) Make sure all your audio tracks are at 0.0 dB; 2) play each track to see the peak volume of each track; and 3) if its over -6 dB use a gain plugin to pull the gain back until you have a least -6 dB for each audio track. — Michael Cushion Jr, Mikes Mix & Master
- Mixing with eyes and not ears is a very common mistake. It’s easy to get lost in a web of graphic displays, frequency readouts, and waveforms. When making a critical decision, close your eyes and really listen. Level match, and then bypass the processing and really ask yourself if it’s improving results. If not, don’t be afraid to try something else. — Adrian Breakspear
Workflow Efficiency & Organization
Because mixing is an inherently complex process, being efficient is key. We asked our experts to share their mixing tips for keeping organized and developing an efficient workflow.
- Develop a routine and stick to it. I use the same mix template that I tweak every few months and I import/arrange every mix the same way regardless of genre. — Mike Glaser, pureMix
- I submix nearly everything! All drum tracks to a bus, all guitars to a bus, all keyboards to a bus. Then, all the instruments go to a bus, so that the vocals can be separate from them. Sometimes I will compress/EQ the band separate from the vocals. Having everything sub-mixed makes it easy to shape sections at a time. — David Das, Academy of Scoring Arts
- In the plugin world it’s easy to drown in options. It can feel good to have so many choices but it can also be a huge waste of time. Find what works (2-3 options) for your most common tasks and stick to it. Everything else is just messing around… it’s fun but not productive. If you find a setting you like, save it as a preset and give that preset a name that makes sense so you can use it as a starting point next time. — Mathieu Dulong, Studio Fast Forward
- Arrange the mixer in such a way that you don’t have much to distract you from what is coming out of the monitors. I like to get rid of anything I don’t think I’m going to use so that I’m not looking at piles of tracks. If there are DI’s, or guitar mic’s that I know I’m definitely not using, I remove them. The fewer things that distract me from getting the mix where I want it to be, the better! — Romesh Dodangoda, Long Wave Recording Studio
- Create templates with your favorite plugin chain and aux sends. Then tweak those plugins to work with what you’re mixing. Color code your tracks based off Intro, Hook, Verse, etc as well as make markers at these sections in the song itself. — Chris Blaney, Inner Creative Sound
- Utilize stem tracks. Use auxes to have multiple similar tracks funnel down to one track, which makes it easier to control the sources as a whole and makes it easier to control in the end. — James Alire, 5J Media LLC
- Break up the session into units of work and focus on one thing at a time. Start with an edit session, do your edits and render out new (edited) track stems, then create a mix session and move on from there. Spend some time working out your color coding! — Dave S-B, Creative Mixing
- Being organized is one of the most important things you can do before beginning your mixing session. Organizing folders, track/stem names, grouping instruments and color coordinating are just a few of the things I do before every session. This will make your mixing process easier and save you time. Once you get used to it, it will become natural. — Michael Cushion Jr, Mikes Mix & Master
- The more input you can get from your client the better. Ask for reference tracks and examples of the sound they are going after to increase your odds of getting the mix right the first time. — Cole Mize, Cole Mize Studios
- Wherever you’re mixing, treat yourself like you’re doing it professionally… even if it’s just in your bedroom mixing your own music. Set time limits and a specific schedule for yourself. This will force you to be more efficient and develop an organized workflow. — Scott Hawksworth, AudioSkills
Compression is one of the topics that we are constantly asked about. We asked the experts to share their #1 compression tip. Here’s what they said.
- When working on a kick, duplicate the kick track. On the duplicate track, place an EQ on it and boost (4-6 dB) at the root frequency of the kick. Then compress [Dbx 160] the duplicate track (4-10 dB), lower volume, and blend to taste. Sometimes I’ll follow the Dbx with Decapitator plugin. — Kevin Lee, Mixed By Kevin Lee
- On a vocal track, use one compressor with a fast attack to control the peaks of the vocal and a second vintage type compressor at a slower attack (10-15 ms) to add tone and warmth. — Chris Selim, Mixdown Online
- Don’t use compression because you think you have to. Not everything needs compression. Sometimes you just need to automate the volume or a frequency band. So if you use compression, make sure you have a reason to do so opposed to just following generic rules. — Cole Mize, Cole Mize Studios
- Put two compressors on a lead vocal. First one at a low ratio to control it and bring out the noise, and the second one at a higher ratio to help with just a little gain reduction to catch the really loud moments. — Danny Ozment, Emerald City Productions
- Compression in series works wonders. Better to compress 12 dB GR using -4 GR of 3 compressors (split the GR) than compressing using 1. You can compress more without making the compressor “choke” this way. — Paschalis I., Music Production Tips
- Not everything needs to be compressed! Back in the days of hardware and real consoles, we often had a very limited number of compressors to work with, and had to choose carefully what to use them on. Most of the music from that era sounds much better than a lot of modern stuff, because there are still plenty of dynamics on the tracks since not everything was compressed to death! — Stephen Sherrard, Stephen Sherrard Mixing
- For vocals, you will get a bigger and more easily placed sound with two compressors in parallel, each giving 2 dB to 4 dB of compression, than one compressor giving 6 dB to 8 dB of compression. — Matt Salazar, IndieRockInc
We received so many great compression tips that we couldn’t fit them all in this article. Click here for even more compression tips.
Like compression, learning the proper EQ techniques can make a huge difference in mixing. We asked our panel to share their #1 EQ tip.
- Use a high pass filter to roll off the low range frequencies on all tracks except the kick and bass. At least around 50-80 Hz. Cleans up muddiness and allows the kick and bass to shine through. — Anthony Clint Jr., Clint Productions
- EQ before you compress to remove unwanted frequencies so the compressor can focus on a more natural sound that you’re going for. — Chris Blaney, Inner Creative Sound
- Use shelving EQ’s for lowering the volume of portions of the low frequencies from sounds, sometimes in addition to less aggressive high-pass filtering. One sound may have some added grit or texture that a high-pass filter may remove altogether. Listen to see if the overall sound is more interesting with those frequencies simply lowered in volume using a dip from a shelving EQ. — McKay Garner, McKay Mixing
- Do EQ boost sweeps (say 18 dB of boost, narrow Q) around 120–130 Hz on your master. More often than not, you’ll find resonances there that you’ll want to cut out. Good for drums and vox, too. — Fanu, Fanu Music
- Mix in mono while EQing! It will really force you to work to achieve separation and clarity… which is a good thing! — Rick Elliott, Reiver Records
- If you’re struggling with giving a vocal that pristine pop sheen, try a high shelf boost around 14 to 16kHz. It can add a nice airy presence and help your vocal sit more forward and in your face. — Bobby Phillipps, HomeStudioMixTips
- Use a high pass filter at 4 kHz on the input to a reverb. Adds a splash or sparkle to vocals or acoustic instruments and drums. Sparkleverb technique. — Joe Arsenault
We received so many great EQ tips that we couldn’t fit them all in this article. Click here for even more EQ tips.
Proper use of audio effects like reverb and delay can help take mixes to the next level. We asked our contributors for their advice on how to use audio effects well.
- I use effects as characters. Reverbs and delays add space and dimension. Distortion adds grit. Pitch effects (like an octaver) add harmonics and depth. EQ alters the shape of the sound. Use effects to add (or subtract) character from the instruments, as if you’re mixing colors in a painting. — David Das, Academy of Scoring Arts
- Always create aux tracks, and use reverbs and delay in send. Also a great technique to make reverbs/delay clean (and make them work better in the mix) is to put an EQ before the reverb/delay and filter out the lows / low mids and the high / high mids and create a small deep cut around 1k. — Mattia Magi, Blue House Studio
- Don’t be afraid to EQ your effects return just like any other track. It took me the longest time to realize the benefit of this. You can also use an M/S processor to monitor the sides only of your mix to see if the reverb (or other stereo FX) is too boomy or too bright. Fixing that with EQ will give you more headroom and clarity. — Mathieu Dulong, Studio Fast Forward
- I use short delays over reverbs with vocals sometimes, as it can give you the sense of space you need without cluttering the mix too much. Adjusting the pre-delay on reverb is also something that can really help the FX sit in the mix next to the source track. — Romesh Dodangoda, Long Wave Recording Studio
- One technique I like to use for delay on a lead vocal is to duplicate the lead vocal and add delay directly onto the duplicate track, turning the dry/wet setting all the way “wet.” Then I’ll trim and keep the parts of the vocal that I want to have the delayed effect on that duplicate track. That allows me to control when and where the delay or echo effect on the lead vocal will come in. — Anthony Clint Jr., Clint Productions
- Send your mono signal to a stereo short delay via a aux channel, then pan the mono signal left and the delay channel 80% right. This will add space to your mono signal… Works well on an acoustic guitar. — Chris Selim, Mixdown Online
- Let the delay fill in the empty spaces of a song. Use delay for transitions into the next section. Use stereo delays/ping pong to give the audio more of a stereo image. — Chris Blaney, Inner Creative Sound
- Always treat your return effects as equal to your audio tracks. That means adding EQ / compression / saturation / whatever after the effect so that they sit right with all the other tracks. A bit of saturation on a reverb works wonders. — Dave S-B, Creative Mixing
- Try to get a real solid, balanced mix before you ever add any effects (so completely dry). Then add in effects for creativity, sweetening, and glue. If your mix completely depends on reverb (for example) to not sound horrible… maybe you need to re-think the mix itself. — Scott Hawksworth, AudioSkills
- I often blend reverbs… my vocal often gets a mixture of plate and spring for example, drums get room and perhaps plate, guitars spring and room. Also automate reverb levels to create interest in the song. — Adrian Breakspear
While each vocalist requires unique treatment, there are some techniques that can be applied universally. We asked our experts to identify their favorite technique that they frequently use when mixing vocals.
- I like to use Auto-Tune not just to tune vocals, but for its harmonic color. If you just add it to a vocal it adds a little presence that you could liken to a harmonic exciter. Plus if you just massage the vocal with Auto-Tune a bit it can make the vocal really pop. — Tyler Spratt, Thresh Mixing
- Though some hardware and many plugins have mix or blend knobs on them these days for combining a processed and dry version of a signal, I often use a duplicate of the lead vocal track or an aux bus for parallel processing instead. This way I can treat each version of the vocal sound differently. One of these approaches is having a parallel version of the lead vocal that is highly compressed blended in underneath the main lead vocal track. I can EQ the squashed version of the lead vocal differently, add saturation, send it to a different effect, or other things to add to its connection with the listener. — McKay Garner, McKay Mixing
- Listen to the de-esser’s monitor side-chain (the frequencies being de-essed) to hear the harshest frequencies more easily. — Soops, MixedBySoops
- Use a multiband compressor to control the mid frequencies between 100-500 Hz and really make the vocal shine. — AJ Patil, Mixed by A-Mack
- I love using Ableton’s group feature to have multiple vocal tracks at low volume, some panned out, some pitched up and down, until you build one mega vocal, and process it all together with a nice reverb on top — Them Jeans, Tall Tales Podcast
- Vocals require the most attention and automation. Manually reduce breaths and sibilants if you can. Compression may over-exaggerate unpleasant sounds. Automate reverb levels, delay throws, double tracks, choruses, and parallel compression/distortion throughout the song to enhance section-to-section contrast and keep things from getting static. — Scott Horton, Virtual Mix Engineer
- My favorite vocal technique that gets used in about 95% of the rock/metal songs I mix is using parallel compression/distortion. Simply copy the vocal you’re working with, compress the hell out of the copy, add some nice dirty distortion to it, maybe some spreading delay. Sneak this back underneath the original vocal. It adds a ton of body and “grit” to the original vocal without being too obvious. — Jeffro Lackscheide, Make Your Mixes Not Suck
- Set your processing with the full mix. How you treat the vocal is always easier this way versus listening to it on its own. When you make adjustments in solo you tend to lose perspective. — Jared Kvitka, Jared K Recording
- Melodyne and Auto-Tune don’t work on all vocals (sometimes stripping “feeling” from performances) and can’t be relied on to “fix” an uninspired vocal performance. I prefer to use tuning tools “surgically” to correct notes as needed (as opposed to applying the plugin to the entire performance). — Catharine Wood, Planetwood Studios LLC
- Filter off the top end of a vocal reverb and or delay down to the same frequency your de-essing the vocal. Doing this will help prevent the any hard and bright constant sounds hitting the effects and help sit the vocal in the mix. — James Aparicio
Pro Tools Features
Avid Technology’s Pro Tools is considered the “industry standard” digital audio workstation (DAW) for mixing and used by many professional studios. We asked our contributors to share Pro Tools features, tricks, and shortcuts.
- The Pro Tools 12 track freeze function is my favorite feature. It is not only great for saving DSP, but it is fantastic for creating individual stems. Just freeze all the tracks and send off the rendered audio files. Of course the master bus processing won’t be written, but you really only need that if the stems are for a live application. In that case you don’t need the master processing to be perfect so it can be rendered down at a later time. — Tyler Spratt, Thresh Mixing
- When needed, Pro Tools playlists make comping a performance a dream compared to some DAW’s. — McKay Garner, McKay Mixing
- Using “Import Session Data” in Pro Tools to bring in my mixing templates is by far the most important feature / trick / shortcut (it’s all three) I use it on every single mix which helps my get a mix up and running and sounding good in 2 hours as opposed to a whole day. — Matt Russell, Gain Structure
- Pro Tools: My trick is using a trackball with edit tools such as the trimmer tool allocated to available buttons on the trackball. The less I have to move my hand to do everyday function on tools, the better/quicker! — Ryan Samuel Bentley
- Copying the fader levels to the send levels for parallel processing. This way you can have the same blend feeding the compressor that feed the stereo mix. You can also do this going to a reverb to create a room sound. — Jared Kvitka, Jared K Recording
- This one is very simple but in Pro Tools, Control-Option-Command and clicking on the Plugin Automation enable button allows all parameters to be enabled. This allows me to execute my ideas as quickly as possible without worrying about individually enabling plugin parameters. — Kevin Lee, Mixed By Kevin Lee
- Clip gain in Pro Tools is a simple but amazing feature, can be used as the best de-esser you’ll ever find, and also can be used to level out peaks before they hit a compressor, essentially working as an automated input gain and threshold for a compressor. So you can use the compressor in a more even way essentially for its tone rather than extreme gain reduction. — James Aparicio
Features in Other DAWs
Pro Tools ain’t the only game in town! There are many more excellent DAWs out there helping mixers get fantastic results from their projects. Here are a few more features, tricks, and shortcuts that can be applied in other DAWs.
- In FL Studio I like to freestyle on my keys to come up with new ideas, I use the midi controller with my favorite VST’s. When freestyling on keys, sometimes you’ll forget what you just played. Simply navigate to Tools > Dump Score To Log and it will make the .midi data available inside the Piano Roll and you can edit and change notes. So you can always have your ideas back and never forget that amazing melody or chord progression! — J-rum, J-rum Beats
- I love track template in Reaper. No need for a complete DAW template anymore since any parallel processing is a button away. — Joe Vegna
- I recommend mapping “m” to a mono-making plugin on the master (Utility with its width set to 0% on Ableton Live). This allows you to switch between stereo and mono easily, which is really helpful when mixing! — Fanu, Fanu Music
- The Loop bar in Ableton Live at top of edit window is tremendously helpful! Use it well! — Rick Elliott, Reiver Records
- System Pref > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shorctuts to add DAW shortcuts to your keyboard. Has to input exactly as it is in the DAW menu. — Soops, MixedBySoops
- Use Cmd+S (save) and Cmd+Z (undo)… Honestly, if you got shortcuts for zoom-in, zoom-out, the scissors tool, save, and undo/redo, you’ll be in good shape most of the time. — Hubi Hofmann, Slash Zero Records
- Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your DAW! You can move around much easier and get things done faster when you aren’t using your mouse for everything. These extra seconds add up quickly in the overall context of your mix, especially when time is on the line. — Brandon Marshall, Marshall Mixing
Finding the right mixing plugins can save time and improve the quality of your music. Here are some of our experts’ favorite mixing plugins.
- I recommend the SoundToys Decapitator. I’m a HUGE fan of distortion and saturation, whether directly on the source, or in parallel, and Decapitator is super versatile. I’d hate to have to mix without it. — Bobby Phillipps, HomeStudioMixTips
- The HOFA IQ-EQ dynamic equalizer plugin is excellent. I prep everything through these. That or the Valley People dyna-mite compressor on an FX send in the mix. I would miss that pipe hitting front end and internal clipping combo. Limp snares be GONE! — Stephen A Watkins, Mixed By SAW
- My favorite plugin as of right now is the Fab Filter Pro Q2. I can get majority of the mix done with just the Pro Q2 and a compressor. — Dacota Fresilli, Parhelion Recording Studios
- I work mainly work in TV & film, so I would have to go with iZotope’s RX Post Production Suite. It allows you to clean up dirty on set audio, remove miscellaneous car honks, airplanes flying overhead, clicks, and thumps. — Anthony Olivares, Sound in the City
- The Waves PAZ Analyzer (or any other frequency analyzer) is awesome. You can use it to compare levels of your mix against similar songs. — John Myers, GetMixed
- The Waves CL-1176 compressor plugin gets me awesome results every time. — Joe Arsenault
At AudioSkills, we constantly preach that technique is more important than gear. That said, you do need some gear to get started! We asked our experts what is the one piece of gear they couldn’t do without.
- Make sure you have a good room or a good set of headphones. All the gear in the world won’t matter if you can’t really hear what is going on in the mix. — Danny Ozment, Emerald City Productions
- That’s an easy one: My Maselec MEA-2 precision stereo equalizer. Although very expensive, it has proven to me that it’s worth every penny. No matter how you turn the knobs, it always ends up sounding very musical, smooth and flattering. — Philip Dust, Philip Dust Mixing and Mastering
- My most important tool is having an acoustically tuned room to mix in. If you cannot hear the true sounds of each instrument in your mix, then you cannot mix a song that will translate its best on all sound mediums. — CJ Jacobson, Audio Mastering And Mixing
- An open mind is a powerful tool! There are good and bad songs and mixes in every style of music. Keep an open mind and listen to as much music as possible, from as many styles as possible. You just may learn some new sounds and techniques that may come in handy later. — Stephen Sherrard, Stephen Sherrard Mixing
- My Softube Console One is so important, couldn’t live without it! — Stephen Freeman, Stephen Freeman Audio
- I can’t live without Sonarworks Reference 3 monitor and headphone calibration software. SO worth the investment to be able to hear what’s actually going on in your mix and getting it right on the first or maybe second mix, rather than mix 10 that finally starts to sound good in your car. Many of us in small home studios don’t have ideal rooms or acoustically neutral spaces. Using this software and the calibration microphone to create the correction profile for my room and monitors changed everything for me. Don’t think twice… just do it. It’s way more important than any EQ or compression plugin you can purchase. — Stephen Michael Babula, SMB Recordings
- My speakers (Auratone 5C). I know how they are meant to sound and I can quickly identify problems in a mix when I reference through them. — Aaron Ahmad
Bonus Mixing Tips
Mixing is such a broad topic that we asked our experts for some parting words that didn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories. So here are a few final words of wisdom from the experts.
- A trick I like to use is to put an MS processor on the monitor fader and listen to the mid only. I work like that until I get a really solid balance. If you do it right you might even get the impression that your mix gets a little wider even if you’re listening in mono at this point. When you reach that point you can get back to listening in stereo. It makes a huge difference for me and I find this more efficient than the traditional mono listening. — Mathieu Dulong, Studio Fast Forward
- Add warmth and character to your drums by adding Parallel Saturation on your drum bus. Send your drum bus signal to a stereo aux channel where you insert a Saturation plugin, and mix to taste. That can work on vocals, bass and more. — Chris Selim, Mixdown Online
- When mixing, save often. You never know when something could crash. — James Alire, 5J Media LLC
- Always give your ears rest after your mixing session. Never spend too much time on the same mix; your ears will get used to hearing the same thing over and over, and over time you begin to not know whats missing. You’d be surprised how much will come to your attention when revisiting a mix a few hours or even a day after your first mix. — Michael Cushion Jr, Mikes Mix & Master
- I’m a huge fan of mixing in mono and at conservative volumes. If you can get something sounding good under the worst circumstances your mix will shine on pretty much any system it’s played on. — Cole Mize, Cole Mize Studios
- Prelimiting and compression are essential. I prelimit vocals using L1 before anything. This keeps the quick spikes of the vocals from triggering the multiple compressors I have set following the limiter. I use 2-3 compressors after the limiter. Each of them serve separate functions and add their own harmonic stamp. I’m not hitting these hard, but using them to compact the vocal in stages. — Tyler Spratt, Thresh Mixing
- What often makes for a “fat” sound is quality saturation. Have a thin snare? Good saturation is your friend. Just don’t overdo it to kill the punch. Also try parallel saturation. — Fanu, Fanu Music
- Two quick techniques for better results. First, double a track and process separately (e.g. split the bass below 200-300Hz and above)! Second, try multiband compressing in its default setting on a mixbus and just gently compress the low-end a little more that other bands! — Hubi Hofmann, Slash Zero Records
- Don’t be afraid to try stuff. As Chris Lord-Alge once said, “Nobody’s gonna die.” You may find a snare drum needs distortion, de-essing, reverb, more distortion, 3 EQs, and a compressor. If it sounds good, awesome! The only rule here is, “If it sounds good, it is good.” The end listener doesn’t care how it got there; they care that it sounds good and they can rock out to their new favorite songs. — Bobby Phillipps, HomeStudioMixTips
- Gain staging is pretty important. Watch your meters carefully and don’t feel like you have to push all your levels up as hot as you can go. In fact, it’s better to leave yourself as much headroom as possible because every plugin or piece of gear you add to, something is most likely going to add gain along the way.— Stephen Michael Babula, SMB Recordings
Bonus: Recommended Reading
We asked our experts to recommend their favorite mixing book, article, website, or podcast. Never stop learning!
- The Recording Revolution. For mixing specifically, of all the online mixing authorities, I’ve learned more from Graham than anyone else. — Bobby Phillipps, HomeStudioMixTips
- Gearslutz ‘high end’ forum. Start reading it from the highest / oldest page number backwards. Many famous mixers chimed in back in the good old days. Enjoy! — Stephen A Watkins, Mixed By SAW
- The book that we used in college at Middle Tennessee State University is titled Understanding Audio by Thompson. I would recommend that for text. — Dacota Fresilli, Parhelion Recording Studios
- Zen and the Art of Mixing. Best book about mixing hands down. — Danny Ozment, Emerald City Productions
- I would recommend this book, George Martin’s All You Need Is Ears. It goes beyond the technical mumbo jumbo. There are a lot of mixing tips on this page. — CJ Jacobson, Audio Mastering And Mixing
- The ever popular Pensado’s Place, which is the #1 resource for access to other industry engineers online, in an interview format. — Anthony Olivares, Sound in the City
- Tape Op Magazine (it’s free!) — Devin Kerr, Goodhertz
- Zen and the Art of Mixing. — Stephen Freeman, Stephen Freeman Audio
- Recordingrevolution.com, Pensado’s Place, Tape Op Magazine, and Mix with the Masters — Stephen Michael Babula, SMB Recordings
- Sound on Sound magazine, print or iPad. — John Myers
- Mixing With Your Mind by Stav. It’s a great book and explains really complex techniques in easy-to-understand terminology so you don’t get bogged down with the technical stuff. — Aaron Ahmad
- For those who like to listen to instruction, 3 great podcasts would be Pensado’s Place, Unstoppable Recording Machine and the AudioSkills Podcast. — Jeremiah, Undergunned Productions
- All the best mix engineers have content on YouTube. Dave Pensado, Chris Lord-Alge to name a couple. — Joe Arsenault
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