10 Mistakes I Made While Learning How To Mix Songs

10 Mistakes I Made While Learning How To Mix Songs

Learning how to mix songs can be a challenging and rewarding process for musicians and music producers. In this article, I will highlight 10 common mistakes that I made when I was when learning how to mix songs. By addressing these errors head-on, you can avoid wasting time and energy on practices that may get in the way of your progress. If you are a beginner or intermediate music producer this article should provide some valuable insights into the dos and don'ts of mixing songs effectively.

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1. Not using proper gain staging 

  • Bringing down the track levels before they hit the faders is key in creating a balanced mix. If you start with levels that are too hot, your faders will have to live near the bottom of the mixer to avoid overloading the master fader. Use a utility, trim, or clip gain to bring down track playback levels.
  • By freeing up some headroom before the master fader, you give yourself more room to work with during the mixing process. This allows for better control over dynamics and overall sound quality.
  • Neglecting proper gain staging can result in a squashed or sausage mix, making it difficult for each element of the song to stand out. Taking the time to implement this technique will ultimately lead to a cleaner and more professional-sounding final product.


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2. Not balancing levels properly 

  1. The 4 Elements: Lock in the relative mix levels of the 4 main elements of the mix: Kick, Snare, Bass, and Vocal. These are your foundation tracks.
  2. Bring up each track methodically: From the lowest to highest pitched instruments, bring up each remaining track so you can hear it but it's not louder than the 4 main elements.
  3. Balance the tracks while listening in mono. See step 4.


3. Not understanding EQ and frequency balance 

One of the biggest mistakes I made was not fully grasping the concept of EQ and frequency balance. EQ is used to sculpt the levels of different frequencies within a mix, making sure each element sits well together.

Tips for using subtractive EQ:

  • Identify boomy or harsh resonant frequencies in your mix
  • Use a subtractive EQ technique to reduce these problematic frequencies
  • This will help clean up your mix and make it sound more balanced and professional.

Tips for using additive EQ:

  • Supplement bass, mid, treble, and air frequencies when necessary
  • Be careful not to overdo it - subtlety is key in achieving a natural sound
  • Experiment with boosting certain frequencies to enhance specific elements in your mix.

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4. Not listening in mono

If you listen to your mix in mono both left and right channels are combined into one signal and it's much easier to reveal any polarity and phase cancellation issues that may not be noticeable when listening in stereo. By switching between stereo and mono, you can make sure that your mix will translate well across different playback systems like phones, laptops, or car stereos. Listen to how elements sit together in the mix without being swayed by stereo width effects – this will result in a more balanced sound.

 Pro Tip: Listen to your mix in mono at very low volumes to see if you can still  hear the main elements and do a lot of listening at around 85dB where the frequency response is the flattest according to the Fletcher-Munson curve (equal-loudness contour). *Use a phone app SPL Meter to find 85dB.


5. Not using flat monitors and headphones

  1. Frequency response deception: Your speakers and headphones may not be telling you the whole truth about your mix. Search for "Frequency response + [your speakers/headphones]" on Google images to see how they might be lying to you.
  2. The importance of reference monitors: Investing in reference monitor speakers can make a significant difference in your mixing process. These monitors are designed to provide accurate and true representation of sound, allowing you to make informed decisions while mixing.
  3. Listening on regular devices: Listen to your mix on as many reference systems as possible: car, laptop, phone and headphones. This will give you an idea of how is sounds in the real world.
  4. Headphone Reference: If you can afford something like Sonarworks or Slate VSX = do it! Slate VSX is amazing!


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6. Ignoring acoustics 

  • Setting up a flat monitoring environment in your home studio is key. 
  • Your room can still lie to you, distorting the reflected sound theat bounces back into your ears. Slate VSX can help counteract this issue too. 
  • Diffusion helps reduce echoes and reflections in the room.
  • Incorporating speaker decouplers or foam pads will improve your overall mixing experience.


7. Not using reference tracks

  1. Missed opportunity: Not referencing the EQ, balance, reverb, and overall loudness of your mix to reference tracks is like trying to climb Mt. Everest without any guidance or prior knowledge.
  2. Learn from the pros: Just as climbers study footage and tips from experienced mountaineers, mixing engineers should listen to and analyze great reference mixes.
  3. Avoid reinventing the wheel: Reference tracks serve as a roadmap, showing you what good sound quality looks like and guiding your own mix towards that standard.


8. Spending too much time on mixing

Don't get caught up in perfecting every little detail of your mix. Remember the Pareto principle - 80% of your mix can be achieved in just 20% of the time. After spending 6 hours on a mix, chances are it might not sound significantly different from where you started.

Focus on the big picture and key elements that make a mix sound good instead of obsessing over minor details. Trust your instincts and move quickly through the mixing process to keep things fresh and avoid getting stuck in one place.


 Read: The Best Equalizer Settings: The 5 Step Magic EQ Settings that work on everything!


9. Seeing mixing as a separate process

Mixing should not be viewed in isolation but as an integral part of the music production process. Everything from the initial recording choices to the final instrumentation affects how the mix will sound. The microphone selection, song arrangement, and overall structure all play a significant role in shaping the final mix.

By understanding that mixing is an extension of writing and recording, you can approach it with a more holistic mindset. Consider how each decision made throughout the entire production chain impacts the final outcome. Viewing mixing as intertwined with these processes allows for a more cohesive and coherent end result that aligns with your artistic vision.


10. Not leaving enough headroom for mastering 

  • Mix with a compressor and limiter on the master fader, but turn them off when exporting for mastering.
  • Send the mastering engineer both versions: one with compression and limiting, and one without.
  • Leaving sufficient headroom allows the mastering engineer to work their magic without any restrictions.

By providing both versions, you give the mastering engineer flexibility to enhance your mix without being hindered by excessive compression or limiting. This ensures that your final master sounds polished and professional. Don't make the mistake of not leaving enough headroom for mastering - it can make a significant difference in the quality of your final product.


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Also read: 

Mastering Compression: A Guide to Using a DAW Compressor

How To A/B Reference Mixes When Mixing Songs In A DAW: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ableton Live 12: Mixing With The Magic Headroom Trick

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