Today, anyone with a laptop and a few recording microphones has all the tools they need to record, produce, and mix music and create their own recording studio. The home recording studio revolution is here. But with the ever increasing (and often overwhelming) choices of EQs, compressors and load of other plugins, how do we put them together to make a great sounding mix? With increasing demands on sound quality, audio engineering is essential to get your track to stand out from the masses. Here are some tips to help you improve in your mixing process.
1) Are your ingredients fresh?
Making a fresh dish is impossible without fresh ingredients. Likewise, in audio engineering, if you start out with badly recorded tracks containing hiss, phasing problems, room reflections, you are going to have a harder time trying to make anything sound good. So rule of thumb, rather than pulling your hair out when it’s too late, record your audio well. Use a good recording microphone. Record in a soundproof room and do the relevant acoustic treatment if you can. Otherwise, record somewhere else if you need to. Turn off that noisy air-con. DO NOT fix things in the mix.
2) Use your ears, not your eyes recording studio
You are an audio engineer right? So stop using your eyes! Use your ears. Humans suffer from placebo effect from time to time. That is, our brains can make us think something sounds good just because we are getting cool visual feedback. Next time, try using that EQ plugin without the curve and listen. Very carefully. What REALLY needs to be boosted or cut? Did adding that compressor improve anything? Let our ears make the final call, not the user interface. The best mix engineers in the world rely mainly on a set of objective ears.
3) Do not be a sonic narcissist
Narcissus fell in love with his own image after staring at it for too long. Likewise, a mix engineer can fall in love with his own work and fail to realize serious mistakes after listening to it too much. Audio engineering is an art – art requires a clear mind to make critical aesthetic judgments. So take a break from time to time, and always keep a fresh ear when mixing. Successful audio engineering requires constant improvement.
4) Prioritize the elements
Some things are more important than others in a mix. For example, that shaker might sound really interesting, but are we mixing a shaker solo piece? If not, give priority to the most important elements. In most pop music, make sure that the kick drum, bass, snare and vocal are sitting well, muting all other elements. If you can get all of them to sound good together, you have basically mixed half the song. Bring in the other elements after that. If there are no drums, the vocals can afford to fill out more frequency space and sound bigger. Above all, the primary goal of an audio engineer is BALANCE.