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In The Studio: Top 10 Reasons You’re Not Happy With Your Mixes – Part 1

Mixing is a game where you can absolutely improve over time, but you have to avoid some roadblocks.

Perhaps you’ve done this very thing yourself. I know I have. I’ll go through this solo-EQ-compress frenzy only to find that when I finally finish (hours later), and I hit play and listen to the entire mix, it sounds awful.

But why oh why would it sound awful after I made each track sound like utter perfection?!?!?!??!

Because, my dear friend, it’s called MIXING for a reason. If you’re baking a cake, nobody cares that you used the freshest eggs and the purest flour and sugar straight from the organic cane fields in your backyard if you got the proportions wrong.

Yes, it’s important to use quality, fresh ingredients, but only if you’re also using them in the right quantities. (I don’t care how good your flour is, if you only used a pinch of sugar in your cake recipe, I’m gonna spit it out.)

It’s the same with mixing music. The sum is greater than the parts. To put it more bluntly, the sum is ALL that matters. To go as blunt as I possibly can: It doesn’t matter what a track sounds like in solo. All that matters it how it sounds in the mix.

Now, you may be sitting there nodding your head in agreement, but are you guilty of this? You spend three hours working on your drum mix in solo, getting the perfect kick and snare tone, only to find that the drums completely disappear when you bring in the rest of the tracks? If so, you’re falling into the solo trap.

Yes, solo is useful. Yes, I use the solo button to hone in on a particular track (especially when I’m hunting for a specific frequency to cut), but I make sure to QUICKLY go back to listening to the track in context, because that’s all that matters.

When you release your song to the world, people will certainly say things like, “I love the way the vocal sounds.” Or “Those drums sound fabulous.”

Here’s what they’re really saying: “I love the way the vocal sounds with everything else in the mix.” And “Those drums sound fabulous with everything else in the mix.”

They don’t actually say that, of course, but the truth remains. No one will ever hear your solo’d lead vocal. And they don’t need to. They need to hear an amazing-sounding vocal sitting on top of an amazing-sounding mix. If you solo the vocal and it sounds shrill and harsh, but it sounds amazing in the mix, then leave it alone; you’re done.

7. You’re New To Mixing.
This one isn’t as fun as the others, but it’s true. Some people send me long emails complaining that they have put hours upon hours into a mix and they simply can’t get it to sound good. I ask them how many mixes they’ve done in their lives, and their reply is usually something like, “Oh this is my first one.”

Come on, people.

I understand the frustration, I really do. I’m as guilty of any of these 10 mistakes as the next guy. But you can’t expect to pick up a guitar for the first time, practice for 20 hours, and become Eric Clapton or Angus Young. It’s the same way with mixing. You’ve gotta spend time with it. You’ve got to get a lot of mixes under your belt. Don’t focus too much on making them sound amazing. You’re not capable of amazing mixes just yet. You need more time to train your ears.

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That’s not to say you couldn’t knock the ball out of the park on your first mix, but it’s unlikely. Strive for excellence, sure. But don’t obsess over being unhappy with your first few mixes. That’s par for the course.

6. You Don’t Ask For Feedback On Your Mixes.

“No man is an island,” they say.

This is a hard thing to do, but it can yield tremendous benefits to you and your mixes. You’ve got to ask for feedback on your mixes. And I don’t mean playing it for your spouse and waiting for the inevitable, “That’s nice.” I mean having someone who knows music and audio really listen to your mix and give real, honest feedback.

This is the great (and scary) thing about working with clients. Getting feedback is an automatic part of the process. You send them “Mix 1,” and they send back a list of changes.

Does getting negative feedback hurt? You betcha. Is it good for you? Absolutely.

You spend a lot of time in your studio, pouring your heart and time into these songs. Do you really want to stay in a bubble? (Did you have those “bubble” friends growing up? The ones whose parents wanted to protect them from anything negative or painful or potentially harmful? Yeah, how did they turn out? A lot of ‘em went straight up crazy, right? )

Nobody likes to see and admit their own flaws, but that’s part of being a grownup, and it’s one of the only ways to see real improvements in your mixes. Find a mixing buddy, or even hire an engineer you respect to give you an honest critique of your mix. It’s worth it.

That’s why years ago I started doing free mix critiques for my VIP members. Once a month I sit down for an hour and listen to as many of their mixes as I can, giving them real, honest feedback. Occasionally people will hire me to critique one or more of their mixes. (I’m doing one of those later today, actually.)

Whether you use me or somebody else, I urge you to find someone who can give you real, actionable feedback on your mixes. It is absolutely worth it.

And if you DO want to see what this VIP Membership thing is all about, you can check it out by clicking here. I’ll be completely biased, it’s the single best resource online for home studio folks. And it’s cheeeeeap. See if it’s right for you.

Next week, I’ll post the remaining Top 10 Reasons You’re Not Happy With Your Mixes. In the meantime, happy mixing!

You can read and comment on the original article here.

Joe Gilder is a Nashville based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.

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