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What should you fix before you mix?
Mixing is a very complex art so please don't expect one tip to instantly result in Billboard-ready audio. However at Audio Masterclass we hear one common problem again and again in students' early work for our courses.
The problem is that a mix will be dominated by one instrument or vocal that really needs to sit further back in the texture. Either that or one instrument or vocal will have a frequency balance that is unpleasant - to a greater or lesser degree but requiring improvement.
The difficulty is that mixing is so complex that this one issue can easily be overlooked. So how do you go about spotting it?
My tip for today is that when you think your mix is finished, play it back at a monitor level that is too loud. Not ridiculously loud but just slightly uncomfortable and makes you want to turn it down.
Now, ask yourself what it is about the mix that is making you want to turn the monitoring level down. The snare? The lead vocal? The guitar solo? Something else?
Whatever it is that makes you want to turn the monitoring level down is the problem. Either it is too loud or its frequency balance is too aggressive. So go back to your normal monitoring level and bring the problem vocal or instrument down in level, or mellow it out a little with EQ. Tweak the rest of the mix around your changes if necessary.
Then try the 'too loud' test again. Is the problem the same instrument or vocal as before? If so, bring it down in level a little more, or mellow it with EQ a little more. Maybe now a different vocal or instrument is the feature of the mix that makes you want to turn the monitoring level down. If so, then tackle this newly-apparent problem.
Very quickly after one, two or three vocal or instrumental adjustments you will get to a point where the only thing that makes you want to turn the monitoring level down is that it is too loud overall. There is no one vocal or instrument causing you to do this.
I'm not saying that you will definitely have a good mix at this point, but you will definitely have one less problem than you had before.
I recommend trying this on any mix before you sign off on it. It's quick, easy and - if a problem becomes apparent - always gets results.