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Mixing... What am I missing?


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I've been trying to improve my mixing skills lately. I've read almost every guide on EQ, compression, panning, frequencies and the like. But in FL Studio my mixes still don't sound that professional. Am I missing something? Or is there something I'm doing wrong?

I use Sampletank 3 which has effects on the instrument already. Would mixing with those effects off improve my mixes?

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What audio system do you have? The audio system is quite a major component in your workflow, and it decides how you believe your music sounds. And about mixing with those built-in effects off, if you need to do that to improve them, then sure. If they are already good as they are, then take off what doesn't make it sound suitable to the context rather than taking off everything. Sometimes the built-in reverb sounds better than the external reverb you have.

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The real question you have to ask yourself is what are you missing that you feel the professional tracks have. Is your low end completely out of control and lacking that cemented feeling? Are you lacking that certain intangible notion of depth and space? Are you lacking the stereo width? There are seriously dozens of questions to ask yourself of what you might be lacking, but first have to identify what it is you're missing or at least what you feel you're missing.

 

A lot of times mixing is really performed in the composition without even realizing it. A great mix stems from a great composition. There are things that can be done in mixing to force things around but this is fixing something that should have been identified in the composition. Start mixing from the get go in the composition. Getting the spacing of instruments and macro dynamics there sorted out. Then when it comes to mixing these can be enhanced. 

 

Having said all of that without an example I'd be hard pressed to give you more than general/philosophical advice about mixing. I can say that for sure the biggest two things for me have been to listen lots of different material ranging from Jazz to Heavy Metal to Trance to Pop to really most anything. This has really helped me in coming up with a sort of mental palette of different kinds of sounds a track could possibly have. The other big thing is practice. Lots and lots of practice. Every technique you read about in reality is more of a tool in an ever growing toolbox. It isn't often that you really should have to break out EQ notching and then using that to feed into distortion to make a sound usable. However, when you need that kind of technique for something then it certainly comes in handy to know it and how to use it. Ways to create width, space, depth, control low end, prevent masking, use masking to your advantage, de-essers on cymbals, etc . . .. Just techniques in what should be an ever growing repertoire of skills. But you have to practice them. 

 

I can say this for certain. I mix my own material quite differently than I do someone else's material. It is really important to try understand what you want the track to sound like at the end. Having a clear goal in mind of what you want it to sound like is a very important thing to keep in mind when mixing.

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As someone who struggles with awful mixing, I'd be very tempted to just blame it on my system (AKG k240 + Bose PC Speakers) to make it seem like it's not my fault. However, there are issues I can address regardless of my system by having references. I can distinctly hear the difference between my stuff and better stuff, I just don't put in the time and sweat into hashing out how to do it (usually because I'm mixing on a deadline and don't have time). I don't gain stage effectively, and I overcompensate in EQ (literally all the time, my EQ curves are always between +/- 6-12 dB cuts and boosts).

 

For instance, as a YEAH HEAVY POUNDING fan, it's very tempting to jack the shit out of the 100-200 Hz range, and I often do, unnecessarily. Or I won't mix hot enough, and my frequency graph just looks like a downward curve. I got better about managing sub (usually cutting it out since my system can't actually tell me what's there, so better safe than sorry).

 

If I had to point to a singular reason why my mixing sucks, it's because I don't listen to my own mixes. That's the truth; when I make something, it's usually in a ridiculously small timespan. I just make it, send it to zircon or someone to get feedback, then it's done. I'm much better with doing this in an orchestral setting than in metal or electronic. Even so, the problem is that when you start out, your ears are still in "omg this is so cool" mode when you make stuff, and you block out the mixing flaws because your ears instead perceive what you want it to sound like. You are *actually* not hearing it the way it physically comes out of your speakers, it's not that you're crazy. Perception is a deep, unintuitive science.

 

The way to fix this is to sit on your mix for at least 4-7 days without hearing it at all. When you come back to it and listen to it again, the self-love perception with fade off, and you'll hear the mix again for what it actually is. Then you can address its flaws. Keep doing this as time goes on, and then as you become more experienced, you start to just be able to properly mix from the get go, without the sitting period.

 

And yeah, getting a better system will help properly mixing from the get go as well. I'm going to buy actual monitors starting in June. That'll be fun!

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Ultimately I can sum up the sources of some of my past mixing issues to be (pre-2015):

1. Overboosting EQ in general

Sometimes it's slight, sometimes it's super obvious. Listen closely.

2. Not choosing good sounds from the get-go

Pick bad stuff, and you won't have a cohesive palette to work with. Furthermore, if the EQ on the sample is good as-is, you don't have to EQ as much to get it to sound good in context.

3. Volume imbalance between instruments

This depends on your listening levels, but ultimately, it's hard to get volumes just right sometimes, especially when the complexity of the layering is high.

4. Not-so-good audio system

Goal: flat frequency response, ideally. That way, you're not biased towards certain boosts or cuts to compensate (or overcompensate).

5. Compensating for loud mixing with poor-quality compressors

Yeah. Think before you put on compressors. Why would you want to use something if you don't know why you're using it?

 

Hardest thing to fix for me: 1

Easiest thing to fix for me: 5

 

If you get a good audio system, you'll be on track to addressing most of those. That's not to say it won't be hard. The rest is constant practice, patience, and critical listening. Good luck.

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Practice makes perfect. The way you get better is by finishing a song (or calling a song finished), releasing it, starting a  new one and repeating this process.

 

The most important aspects of mixing have pretty much already been covered in the replies so far, but it takes a lot of experience to properly hear these things and to properly address them. You can read and understand all you possibly can, but without practice it's just a bunch of logic kicking around in your head without practical application for reference.

 

Just be sure you stay away from common amateur mistakes:

 

1. confusing perceived loudness for power

2. unmanaged low end

3. using compression as an effect too often

4. overloading your master bus

 

I've gone into ridiculous detail about these things repeatedly, do some forum searching or whatev and you can find a ton of info.

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Sometimes it has to do with the arrangement itself.  Maybe you have too many conflicting parts, or maybe you don't have enough parts and your song sounds empty.  It's not always a production thing.

 

Composition is half the battle, after all; utilizing proper voicing techniques can go very far in helping you balance instruments without even touching a fader.

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A lot of good advice from these guys so definitely read them all thoroughly.

 

I'm not the best at mixing but I seem to get it done and often get complimented on it, so I'll give some simple advice as a 4 year novice.

 

I personally focus on what exaclty you're trying to accomplish, what sound you want, etc. If you're going for a house beat, investigate house beats, think about what processing and balance they use to acheive their sounds.

 

But don't get overly techical, because its ALL about HOW IT SOUNDS. If it sounds bad it doesn't matter what technique you're using, its just bad. So try and do what you think sounds good, and what you want, cause it is both a technical and artistic skill.

 

So try and become familiar with the plethora of techniques people use, maybe by challenging yourself by doing multiple genres like orchestral or different electronic, and use them appropriately for what you want.

 

 

For example, when I do hip hop, I often use compressed breakbeats that are choppy or old sounding. But when I'm doing a breakbeat in a house song I usually keep it tight, and less compressed to give it more of an energetic sound.

 

 

I hope some of this helps!

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It is amazing how experience helps. I listen to songs I wrote a year ago, and think "What was I thinking?". I can see the growth in my ear over the past year, and I still have a long way to go myself.

 

Keep at it!

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The big thing I struggled with for a long time was mud, which is frequencies that detract from the clarity of your mix in the mid-lows. Mud typically exists between 200-500 Hz. To get rid of it, on each track of my mix, I use a parametric EQ with a narrow Q (usually I set the Q around 7 oct/db) and sweep across those frequencies with it boosted until I hear something that doesn't sound too good, and then cut that frequency. I often have to broaden the Q a bit for the cut to make it work. I do that 2-3 times on each track to clear up mud. Just don't get super aggressive with it and it will help a lot.

 

I also do a low cut up to 175-200 Hz on pretty much every track except for the bass and the kick, and that gives a ton of breathing room for the kick and bass. 

 

Drums is another tough one, you want them to sound "phat" (which is a whole other walkthrough itself) and it helps too to understand what frequencies each drum (snare, kick, toms, etc) needs in order to sound the way it's supposed to. This guide helped me a ton: http://www.benvesco.com/blog/mixing/2008/mix-recipes-tom-eq-and-compression/ It's for toms but there's links in the first paragraph for kick and snare too.

 

 

 

EDIT: I know we've all posted a ton of info, but honestly, it would probably best help us figure out how to help you if you could post an example of something of yours that you're not satisfied with.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The real question you have to ask yourself is what are you missing that you feel the professional tracks have. Is your low end completely out of control and lacking that cemented feeling? Are you lacking that certain intangible notion of depth and space? Are you lacking the stereo width? There are seriously dozens of questions to ask yourself of what you might be lacking, but first have to identify what it is you're missing or at least what you feel you're missing.

 

A lot of times mixing is really performed in the composition without even realizing it. A great mix stems from a great composition. There are things that can be done in mixing to force things around but this is fixing something that should have been identified in the composition. Start mixing from the get go in the composition. Getting the spacing of instruments and macro dynamics there sorted out. Then when it comes to mixing these can be enhanced. 

 

Having said all of that without an example I'd be hard pressed to give you more than general/philosophical advice about mixing. I can say that for sure the biggest two things for me have been to listen lots of different material ranging from Jazz to Heavy Metal to Trance to Pop to really most anything. This has really helped me in coming up with a sort of mental palette of different kinds of sounds a track could possibly have. The other big thing is practice. Lots and lots of practice. Every technique you read about in reality is more of a tool in an ever growing toolbox. It isn't often that you really should have to break out EQ notching and then using that to feed into distortion to make a sound usable. However, when you need that kind of technique for something then it certainly comes in handy to know it and how to use it. Ways to create width, space, depth, control low end, prevent masking, use masking to your advantage, de-essers on cymbals, etc . . .. Just techniques in what should be an ever growing repertoire of skills. But you have to practice them. 

 

I can say this for certain. I mix my own material quite differently than I do someone else's material. It is really important to try understand what you want the track to sound like at the end. Having a clear goal in mind of what you want it to sound like is a very important thing to keep in mind when mixing.

On the subject of listening to professional tracks; the problem is that I just don't know how to achieve the same sound. If I listen to a professional track; I don't know how to achieve the clarity of the drums, the low, but not muddy bass, ect. As for my composition skills; I think they're pretty good. The main problem I face is mixing. And it seems no matter how much I practice; I just can't figure out how to get that perfect mix.

 

As someone who struggles with awful mixing, I'd be very tempted to just blame it on my system (AKG k240 + Bose PC Speakers) to make it seem like it's not my fault. However, there are issues I can address regardless of my system by having references. I can distinctly hear the difference between my stuff and better stuff, I just don't put in the time and sweat into hashing out how to do it (usually because I'm mixing on a deadline and don't have time). I don't gain stage effectively, and I overcompensate in EQ (literally all the time, my EQ curves are always between +/- 6-12 dB cuts and boosts).

 

For instance, as a YEAH HEAVY POUNDING fan, it's very tempting to jack the shit out of the 100-200 Hz range, and I often do, unnecessarily. Or I won't mix hot enough, and my frequency graph just looks like a downward curve. I got better about managing sub (usually cutting it out since my system can't actually tell me what's there, so better safe than sorry).

 

If I had to point to a singular reason why my mixing sucks, it's because I don't listen to my own mixes. That's the truth; when I make something, it's usually in a ridiculously small timespan. I just make it, send it to zircon or someone to get feedback, then it's done. I'm much better with doing this in an orchestral setting than in metal or electronic. Even so, the problem is that when you start out, your ears are still in "omg this is so cool" mode when you make stuff, and you block out the mixing flaws because your ears instead perceive what you want it to sound like. You are *actually* not hearing it the way it physically comes out of your speakers, it's not that you're crazy. Perception is a deep, unintuitive science.

 

The way to fix this is to sit on your mix for at least 4-7 days without hearing it at all. When you come back to it and listen to it again, the self-love perception with fade off, and you'll hear the mix again for what it actually is. Then you can address its flaws. Keep doing this as time goes on, and then as you become more experienced, you start to just be able to properly mix from the get go, without the sitting period.

 

And yeah, getting a better system will help properly mixing from the get go as well. I'm going to buy actual monitors starting in June. That'll be fun!

Hmm, I might try that; mixing and then coming back to it later. But I think my main flaw is when I have a bad mix; I just don't know how to fix it.

 

Ultimately I can sum up the sources of some of my past mixing issues to be (pre-2015):

1. Overboosting EQ in general

Sometimes it's slight, sometimes it's super obvious. Listen closely.

2. Not choosing good sounds from the get-go

Pick bad stuff, and you won't have a cohesive palette to work with. Furthermore, if the EQ on the sample is good as-is, you don't have to EQ as much to get it to sound good in context.

3. Volume imbalance between instruments

This depends on your listening levels, but ultimately, it's hard to get volumes just right sometimes, especially when the complexity of the layering is high.

4. Not-so-good audio system

Goal: flat frequency response, ideally. That way, you're not biased towards certain boosts or cuts to compensate (or overcompensate).

5. Compensating for loud mixing with poor-quality compressors

Yeah. Think before you put on compressors. Why would you want to use something if you don't know why you're using it?

 

Hardest thing to fix for me: 1

Easiest thing to fix for me: 5

 

If you get a good audio system, you'll be on track to addressing most of those. That's not to say it won't be hard. The rest is constant practice, patience, and critical listening. Good luck.

Thanks I might try to look at my mixes and see if I'm making any of those mistakes.

 

The big thing I struggled with for a long time was mud, which is frequencies that detract from the clarity of your mix in the mid-lows. Mud typically exists between 200-500 Hz. To get rid of it, on each track of my mix, I use a parametric EQ with a narrow Q (usually I set the Q around 7 oct/db) and sweep across those frequencies with it boosted until I hear something that doesn't sound too good, and then cut that frequency. I often have to broaden the Q a bit for the cut to make it work. I do that 2-3 times on each track to clear up mud. Just don't get super aggressive with it and it will help a lot.

 

I also do a low cut up to 175-200 Hz on pretty much every track except for the bass and the kick, and that gives a ton of breathing room for the kick and bass. 

 

Drums is another tough one, you want them to sound "phat" (which is a whole other walkthrough itself) and it helps too to understand what frequencies each drum (snare, kick, toms, etc) needs in order to sound the way it's supposed to. This guide helped me a ton: http://www.benvesco.com/blog/mixing/2008/mix-recipes-tom-eq-and-compression/ It's for toms but there's links in the first paragraph for kick and snare too.

 

 

 

EDIT: I know we've all posted a ton of info, but honestly, it would probably best help us figure out how to help you if you could post an example of something of yours that you're not satisfied with.

Well I've tried filtering out at 250hz but my mixes still seem to be a little muddy.

 

But listen to this mix guys:

https://soundcloud.com/youngprodigymusic/title-music

 

In this mix; I picked decent samples, I tried to balance the volume levels and I tried to EQ it. But to me; it just doesn't sound good. The drums are buried and not in your face. The bass is also a bit muddy. Overall it's too boomy. It's just missing something that I can't put my finger on.

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But listen to this mix guys:

https://soundcloud.com/youngprodigymusic/title-music

 

In this mix; I picked decent samples, I tried to balance the volume levels and I tried to EQ it. But to me; it just doesn't sound good. The drums are buried and not in your face. The bass is also a bit muddy. Overall it's too boomy. It's just missing something that I can't put my finger on.

Like I said a few times in your other tracks, what you can improve on is not just your mixing, but your compositional skills too. In this case, the drums feel either a little lacking in uppermost treble (lossy) or a little overboosted in the upper midrange (especially with the snare), loud (especially the first reverse cymbal), and dry (all of them except the kick). Well, actually, the first lead doesn't have enough reverb either. The bass sounds narrow and a little resonant, and the first lead is lacking expression (it's just sustaining). Where's the vibrato? Portamento? Filter usage?

 

Compositionally, it has potential to be good, and I think this is a pretty decent start; in this case I think the mixing is holding it back, and I would suggest you read up on using reverb.

http://www.earlevel.com/main/1997/01/19/a-bit-about-reverb/ (a bit technical)

or

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/may00/articles/reverb.htm (a bit simpler)

 

And I think it would help as well to read up on EQ:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/1995_articles/mar95/eq.html

Note at the beginning though that it suggests you save mixing for last; you don't have to. I actually mix while I write, so I can hear things in full context and see the end result every step I go.

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Essentially all of what Timaeus said. The lead is unbalanced to the rest of the track, The bass needs . . ., bass. Just hollow sounding. Snare needs more low energy and less high energy. Kick is lacking in attack, but it doesn't sound all that bad really. Try giving it a bit more 3-5K though, a lot of times this helps bring out the click or attack of the kick. The rev cymbal just needs to be quieter. Other than that I don't know what else to say really. But yeah pretty much everything Timaeus said.

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