Blindly adding effects
Kick drum? Compress it! Guitar amp? Distort it! Vocals? Reverb it! Ok, the majority of the time, I will compress the kick drum, distort a guitar, or put reverb on a vocal, but I need to be sure I have a good reason for doing so. In the past, I’ve found myself jumping to an EQ or a compressor without first deciding the problem I was trying to solve. If you’re going for a compressor, you should know why! Do you want to control the dynamic range? Add some saturation? Purely for tone? What exactly is that piece of equipment going to be doing for you? If you think about your signal chains more analytically, you’ll become more aware of what you’re doing and ultimately make better decisions.
Not having a mix template
Not only will a mix template save you time, but it will also help streamline your process and allow you to focus on the more critical details. I actually wouldn’t recommend someone who is new to mixing to start with a template. A new engineer doesn’t have enough experience to know what will work most of the time, which means a template would not help much. When you’re a newer engineer, experimentation has a lot of benefits that will help you grow. Eventually, you will gain enough experience to trust your ears, which will allow you to know precisely when something works and when it doesn’t.
If you have some experience under your belt, then having a template with your commonly used effects and routing set-up will save you an enormous amount of time. It’s helpful to look at professional templates and to try and figure out why they have things set up a certain way. You can then start to implement some of the things you see in those templates into your own. If any Audio Hertz readers are interested in seeing my template or would like to see some other professional templates, you can reach out to me via Facebook or Instagram.
Not studying enough
Getting your hands dirty is a vital part of learning the art of recording and mixing music, but you can’t rely solely on experience. If I spent 10 hours every day mixing and mastering, I’d probably be pretty good, but there would still be things that I’d miss that I wasn’t able to figure out on my own. This is why it is crucial to incorporate some formal studying into your practice regimen. Treat recording and mixing like a sport: practice daily, study the greats, watch videos, recreate productions, and cover old songs.
There is nothing that can replace experience and doing something and finishing it (bolded for importance). You have to put in your hours along with studying the things that have worked for others in the past.
Right now, there are a ton of paid and free resources available. YouTube has a lot of material readily available. Still, the problem with YouTube and other similar sites is that you can’t always be sure about the people that are teaching you and if they are a legitimate source of information.
I pay for sites like PureMix.net and Mix With the Masters. These sites are comparatively pricey to free YouTube videos, but the information is well worth the monthly fee. I’ve watched some of these videos multiple times and find myself frequently picking up new things that I didn’t catch the first time around. Both sites are readily updating and adding new content and are very adamant about their goal to further advance engineers with the skills from absolute masters of the craft.
Without the ability to go and sit next to these masters in the studio while they are working, this is the next best thing. It’s arguably a better method for learning because they are talking through their process for you. I highly recommend checking both sites out.
Missing the little things
The small things really start to add up. Recording, audio engineering, playing an instrument, etc., all require a high attention to detail to do them well. In the past, I’ve fallen into bad habits of ignoring things that seem like they may not make an immediately noticeable impact. The truth is, a great mix isn’t made by making massive changes, it’s fine-tuned, small tweaks that are continually being altered until you have sculpted your tracks into a fully produced mix. When you begin a new mix, you have a lot of leeway to start making big broad changes, but pretty quickly, it gets into a time where you’re not making differences that a layman would notice. It’s like a painting– you don’t start with the fine details, but if you ignore them, then the painting does not seem complete. When you first start recording audio, hearing minor changes is difficult, and it may sound like something that small doesn’t even matter. It all matters, it all adds up, and it all makes a difference.
Not using reference mixes
There’s one thing that keeps me from checking reference mixes while I’m mixing… fear. I’m afraid I’m going to put the highly regarded reference mix on after listening to my current mix, only to realize I’ve spent the last 4 hours wasting my time trying to tweak the bass when it sounds terrible.
Have a playlist of your favorite songs that you think sound the best. Listen to them every half hour to an hour while mixing so you can keep the reference fresh as you mix. This helps your ears calibrate as you mix and they get fatigued. It’s easy to get caught up in minor details and forget about the big picture (having said that, don’t forget about the previous tip). The reference reality playlist keeps your ears in perspective. If your mix can stand up against one of the mixes in your playlist, then it’s pretty clear you’re doing something right. This tip was given to Greg Wells by JJP and passed along to me at the live Pensado’s Place at AES in New York City this year.