7 Mixing mistakes you need to avoid
There are so many things we can do to improve our mixing and so many mixing mistakes that we don’t know we are doing. Sometimes we try too hard, we get hear fatigue without noticing and we lose the perspective. Here we explain the top 7 mixing mistakes we encounter, and the best of all, we will tell you how to avoid them with little effort.
1. Incorrect use of EQ
EQ isn’t only a boost tool, you need to cut frequencies too. People tend to only raise the frequencies they want to be boosted when the most important thing is to remove those that are not important on the track. For instance, in a vocal track, you should create a high-pass filter and cut anything below 80-100hz, you can do that with a multi-band parametric EQ, and then think about which frequencies you’d like to enhance if any.
The main purpose of EQ is NOT to improve one instrument or sound, WHAT? Yes, we need EQ to improve how different sounds blend together in the mix, it is way more important how one instrument sounds within the mix than how it sounds on its own, are you really going to hear it alone in the song anyway? You need clarity in your mix and for that, you need to clean up space in the frequency spectrum.
EQ is designed, of course, to lift frequencies of sounds but if you’re doing that for one sound, you may well need to cut the same frequencies in another to avoid the two combining to overload a particular area of the frequency spectrum. And you’ll also need panning…which brings us to the next of our mixing mistakes list.
2. Lack of panning
Many people overlook this incredible feature, yes! music is stereo! and you need to use it. It’s very important to pan your instruments and use all the stereo field, you’ll achieve better clarity even with bad panning (compared to no panning). But…how do I pan my channels? While certain elements should typically be centered, such as main vocal, kick, snare, bass, etc. Some other can and should be panned, don’t fear panning your backing vocals, secondary guitars, synths, effects. When possible, record your instruments in stereo (especially main guitars) to avoid overlapping with the vocal tracks. Keeping the middle less cluttered allows your ear to hear more distinctly all the individual instruments.
So for example, if you feel there’s not enough compression to hear well the vocal and the music together all through the song, then you probably haven’t created space in the mix, try to use pan in some channels and EQ to create space. If you have 2 instruments with the same frequency spectrum, pan and volume, there’s little chance you will hear both with good clarity.
3. Adding reverb to everything
Not everything needs reverb, and not every instrument requires the same type of reverb (short, long, pre-delay, dense, light…). For instance, bass instruments, kick drum, and in general any sound that is mainly low frequency will not sound well with reverb, it will just become messy.
You should add some amount of reverb to vocals, snare, tom, solo guitars, synths, solo strings, etc.. but always measure well the amount and type of reverb you add, usually little reverb is needed for mixing.
And…sometimes people add reverb and underestimate the benefits of delay effect.
4. Too many effects or too many layers
Yes, they’re so many mixing mistakes you can make that may seem stupid. You don’t need 5 effects on every track to make your mix sound well, if you have too many effects it usually means you lack the correct processing, maybe you are using the wrong effects for that instrument or maybe you are using them wrong, if the mix doesn’t sound to your likings the solution isn’t adding another plugin.
Learn how to use the main effects wisely, such as compression, EQ, panning (although it isn’t actually an effect), reverb and delay, you usually won’t need a lot more than that!
5. Mixing too loud
The louder the better it sounds but…no! Not for mixing, not even for mastering. It will seem like it sounds better but you are actually tricking your self, cause our hearing is less sensitive to lower and higher frequencies you will feel it sounds more powerful and bright when you hear it loud, it can be quite addictive and you will keep turning the volume up until your ears explode, however, the mix has to sound well at all levels, and usually the audience won’t listen to your music that high, it will probably listen to it quite low in fact.
In the end, you will damage your ears and your perception of the song, even more, if you push it too hard and add a limiter on the master channel…which brings us to the next mixing mistake…
6. Using limiters
I’ve seen a lot of People using limiters all over the mix, in individual channels, in the master channel…everywhere. You shouldn’t use a single limiter in the song, not if you don’t have a clear purpose for it. A limiter is mostly a compressor set with an infinite ratio and then pushed, this will cause a lot of distortion accumulating in your mix.
Use compressors instead, they can be adjusted much more carefully and will serve the purpose a lot better, with much nicer quality and a lot less dynamic loss.
Limiters in the master channel are as well what I would call a “disease”. Guys! Don’t worry about loudness at the mixing stage, mastering will take care of that, worry about creating a balanced and clear mix, and then…Master it. Check more on how to prepare your track for mastering to learn about how limiters damage your mix and master.
7. Not taking breaks
Last but not least, one of the worst mixing mistakes is not taking breaks, you need to take breaks, especially if you mix loud and use limiters! Think of a mix session as a marathon, not a sprint. As times goes by your ears will wear out, leading to a number of mix mistakes. Your critical judgment will be affected by listening to the same track again and again, which will lead to poor choices of levels, EQ, compression, etc.
Usually, that actually causes the problem 5 and 6, you’ll end up turning up the volume; in a desperate attempt to add excitement and punch to your mix.
When I song doesn’t go as I would want I just take the day off and do something else, let it rest and you will be refreshed next day with new ideas.