4 Mistakes to Avoid When Mixing

There are so many posts online on what to do when mixing, covering tips and tricks to try. There are fewer posts on what to avoid during the process of a mix. This guide will cover a few of the things I have done in the past which have turned out to be detrimental to either the mix or the workflow. By avoiding these, you will find it easier to get results in a much shorter space of time.

Mistake #1 - Soloing Each Track

One feature in every DAW is the ability to solo a track. This is great for when you are analysing a single instrument by itself. For that, the solo button is essential. The issue is when it is used excessively during the mixing process.

A mix is a number of tracks, working well (or not so much) together. When you are adding effects to a track, you are adding them to improve it's role in the mix, to make it fit better. By soloing a track, you are removing the objective comparison to which you want to control your effects against.

It would be like adding a filter to a photo which shows only the red parts. While you can get the reds looking really nice, the context of every other colour is essential when making the photo visually appealing.

By all means, check the sound isn't getting ruined by an effect with solo, but by the time you are mixing a song, you should have all the tracks of a high enough quality that it is mostly redundant.

There is the period before mixing, of composition and arrangement, where you want to fix as many issues with the track as an individual as possible. Use solo here instead. That way you know that you are going into the mixing process already happy with the track, it will mix nicely and you can go through much quicker.

As a counter-point though, soloing instruments in a bus can be extremely useful. When mixing drums, you may want all the drum sounds soloed together so they can sound tight, before you introduce it to the context of the overall mix.

Mistake #2 - Mixing for the Sake of Mixing

Guess what, some things work from the start. Rough around the edges can work. Dry signals can be fine. Don't feel like you have to add a compressor or EQ to something, it may just be a perfect take. Perhaps that dynamic vocal is what the rest of the track needs, especially if you jump to compress everything.

Not everything needs backbreaking work to mix it together

Especially if you are recording with good performers and musicians, they may know the good mic technique needed to prevent a recording or more likely, a live mix from sounding too rough.

I suggest you toggle the FX on/off button throughout to make sure you are truly adding something to the mix. If it sounds better without the FX then you know you can leave it.

Mistake #3 - Going Straight Into the Mixing Stage

I have never enjoyed following this one, you have your bursts of caffeine induced creativity, you want to keep going. Ask yourself, however, if it's best to give your ears a break.

Two reasons necessitate this:
  • hearing damage
  • loss of objectivity
If you listen to loud music for long enough you will lose hearing. Assuming you mix sensibly though, listening to the same sound for hours on end make you too familiar. We know music sounds better with repetition and recognition. You will recognise the song too well and may not see issues for what they are.

Ableton's performance mode, while innovative, can be a really easy way
to slip into hearing the same loops over and over.

Give yourself a break, grab a walk, give your ears a rest. Otherwise, you are going to find yourself cursed by "the loop".

Every single producer is guilty of "the loop" where a section is looped for extended periods of time to get it nailed. Avoid this. Listen to it a couple of times, note what needs to be done. Apply those changes, and keep repetitive playback to a minimum.

Mistake #4 - Ignoring Automation

Automation is a gift, I really believe that. Let's look at vocals, there will often be a significant increase in volume during the chorus. If we want a fairly level volume throughout, we could slap on a compressor.

Adding a compressor though, can be quite crushing on the life of the loud parts. We would end up with a very compressed sounding chorus and a fairly dry verse.

As a general rule, macroscopic volume issues can be resolved with automation. If the 30 second long chorus is 6dB louder than the rest for example, just drop it down so it's only slightly louder.

That way the compressor can be applied much gentler and it will just smooth out the dynamics. For short busts of volume such as plosives, there is no point in automating them (unless they are horrific), as they are over so fast that a compressor would not be as noticeable.

Remember that the tone of someone belting out the volume will be very different sounding to someone singing softly. The brain will recognise that tonality and understand that they are singing louder. If you compress out all of the dynamics however, it will not quite sound like a real voice and not benefit the song.

Automation also can allow you to space elements differently and adjust the critical settings on your mixing plugins as you go. If you look at traditional live mixing, the sound engineer is constantly adjusting things. You should be doing this too (when needed).

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