Mixing is THE most important step in obtaining a professional sounding record! You might be the best producer or musician in the world, but if you can’t mix the sounds properly, well… you will always remain an amateur to the average listener. Even if you have spent hours creating harmonies for your vocals, adding sweeps to intensify your tracks, huge drum fills, an awesome delay that bounces right to left, programming a killer bassline through an expensive VST …The “average listener” won’t notice all those details and will just skip your song on Spotify! And worse! When your DJ friend wants to play your song in his set, and during the sound check he realizes that the volumes are all off, the bass is exploding the speakers of the club and the lead is making his ears bleed… you just missed a huge opportunity because you didn’t spend time learning how to mix properly.
Mixing is boring, frustrating and time consuming! It’s true… and there are no rules or step by step protocol for creating a great mix. Experience is the only true key. So I am going to share with you four of my fundamental mixing techniques that work on every song! I have spent countless hours studying and researching how to mix over the years, and I am still learning, but these four techniques are what have changed my production quality drastically! No need for expensive plugins or anything; just Ableton’s effects, patience and your ears! And your ears don’t even have to be that good!
1. Mixing In Mono
I have read this in a lot of tutorials on mixing and I was always too stubborn to try it… But DO IT!! Don’t be stubborn like I was! The main reason is that most venue Speakers are in mono, especially small clubs if you are starting out. If you have a bad mix, your record will sound totally different in mono! The lead might disappear because your synth is too wide, or the cool stereo delay on the vocals are way too present! This can ruin a live performance!
But what if you are not a DJ? Or you produce rock music which isn’t going to be played in clubs, who cares about mono right? NO! Again, don’t be stubborn like I was, thinking mixing in mono is just a detail for DJ’s. For example, I was mixing a Punk rock record and realized when I listened to it in mono that my 4 different guitars sounded like one messy overly distorted guitar! And once again, the super stereo delay I spent hours creating for the guitar solo disappeared!
To avoid this problem, here is what to do in Ableton:
Once you think your record is done (after all the EQing, panning, compressing…), drag and Drop Ableton’s Utility effect directly on to your Master Channel. At the very end of your chain.
I am working on a new track for Carl Bailey, an amazing artist from New York, so I will use this as an example.
Drag the Width all the way to 0%. This will totally cut out the stereo part of the audio, making it now in Mono.
If you raise the width all the way to 200% you will only hear the Stereo part of the audio.
Here is a small piece of the track in regular stereo:
And here it is in mono:
You can really hear the difference in the vocals and some leads… I will need to mix those more to make the mono version sound better. (Volumes are off balance, bass messy…).
See how a track can sound good in stereo but totally different in mono? This allows me to pin point the flaws in my mix! I have noticed that my instruments are mixed properly but the vocals need to be worked on…
Keep switching the Utility on and off while mixing all of your tracks, this will really make the small errors stand out!
2. Make Room For Everybody To Sit (Advanced EQ)
Once again this is valid for any style of music; Dance, Rock, Folk… I am not going to go in the details on how to mix a kick or a bass and I am definitely not going to explain the frequency spectrum of a final mix! But I will sum it up.
A final mix is like a cooking dinner! I know all you nerdy producers like microwaved food, but my French side insists on using a cooking analogy!
Your song has several ingredients: Bass, lead, vocal, drums… You can add as many ingredients as you want when you are cooking but you need to make sure everything blends together. If you made a super salty sauce you are not going to add salt to your steak or your pasta right? It doesn’t mix properly in your final dish! Even though a steak alone is delicious with salt! And pasta alone is better with salt! Same goes for EQing your individual tracks… when you solo your kick it sounds awesome if you boost the kick! Same goes for your Bass line, it sounds awesome when you boost the bass! But they don’t “blend” together properly…too much bass, too much salt.
That’s what audio engineers mean when “you need to make room” in the frequency spectrum for each instrument to “Sit in the mix”. Here is an example:
I am producing a Punk Rock track, I have taken care of every track individually but now I need to make room for everything in my general mix. Which means on the guitar tracks I need to eliminate the low frequencies to leave room for the bass. It might sound bad if you listen to the guitars alone, but that isn’t the point! The average listener is going to hear everything together.
Here is the song with no mixing:
The difference is subtle… But when you gain more experience mixing you will notice the huge difference! The first track with no mixing, the bass and guitars are too messy and muddy… Everything seems to overlap and we only hear a big block of sound… The other track, with the mix, is more tight and clean. You can hear the bass and guitars rocking together.
The only difference between the two is that I “made room” in the frequencies for the bass and guitars to work well together. I added an EQ on the general guitar channel and another on the bass channel. Nothing more.
Drag and drop an Ableton’s EQ Eight onto your guitar channel.
I grouped all of my guitar tracks so I can EQ them all at once.
What is great about Ableton Live 9’s EQ Eight is that it comes with a built in Spectrum so you can see what you are actually doing to the frequencies.
So, before we start tweaking the Guitar EQ, we need to see what frequencies our bass is using to make room for it.
Drag and drop an EQ Eight on to your bass track and play the track to see what the bass is doing.
We can see that the bass is using up a lot of the Low frequencies, from around 0 to 100Hz and a medium amount from 100 to 500Hz.
So let’s cut out those frequencies in our Guitars EQ.
I used a Hi-Pass filter to cut out those frequencies.
Advice: Gently roll off the low frequencies while listening to your track. You will hear that moment where you have cut too much! Once you hear it, gently roll it back.
Good, we have made room for the bass! Now let’s take out some mid and high frequencies on the bass to make room for the guitars!
Here are the steps:
- I used a “Shelf” filter to boost the bass a little. Trust your ears and speakers to know how much you should boost.
- I also used a “Shelf” filter to lower the mid frequencies to make room for the guitars.
- I used a “Low Pass” filter to cut off all the high frequencies. In this case, my bass sound didn’t have much high frequencies, so might as well just cut those out completely.
You can use the same technique for all of your tracks! Like mixing your entire drum set for example. The hi-hats have almost no low frequencies… So just cut those out to make even more room for the low frequencies of the kick for example.
Remember that your song has several tracks layered on top of each other… so even if you can’t hear the low frequencies or high frequencies of an instrument (hats, sweeps, snare, bass…) you should always cut out what is useless! Because once all of your tracks are layered on top of each other, those frequencies add up and sound messy. So ALWAYS cut out what you don’t need (or hear) to make room for the instruments that need those frequencies. This will allow a tighter and cleaner mix in the end.
3. Listen At Low Volume
Once you think you are done with the general mixing of all your tracks, listen to your song at a very low volume! Just this will help you hear if your mix is “balanced” properly. You will notice if your bass is too present, vocals are too loud or lead too absent… This will allow you to balance out the volumes of every track better!
Advice: All these tips are before the Mastering stage! If you are going to master your track yourself or send it to a mastering engineer, you should always leave your master channel volume between -6 and -3dB. This will allow the mastering guy to have a tone of space to work and your final product will sound so much better!
4. Switch Speakers
Once you are happy with your mix, export it and listen to it on different speakers! Your Iphone, your car, your regular earphones… This will allow you to hear some problems you might not have noticed on your professional monitors! This will also allow you to know the flaws in your mixing speakers! I remember mixing on BEATS Headphones and all my tracks sounded too sharp and high on regular speakers… I figured out that my BEATS headphones were too strong on the bass! So I would always lower the bass and boost the highs on all my mixes! Big mistake!
By switching speakers you will be able to set your mixing speakers properly and know what flaws they have!
This is very important if you work with a lot of sub basses… Most low quality speakers can’t produce sub low frequency bass! So your bass will totally disappear! Always keep that in mind… Switch speakers.
Hope you guys enjoyed these very simple tricks! If you want to test your skills, I still organize a Producer Challenge every week, you can sign up here: