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How to Mixing II

Posted by johnfn - July 17th, 2015

Here's a link to the last guide.

Ironically, even though this is part II, these tips are actually more fundamental than the previous guide. So pay attention! :-)


Volume levels.

Internalize the following fact: 90% of mixing is getting volume levels to be right. For the longest time I was obsessed with using EQ to get my mix to sound good - not realizing that my levels were way off. This is dumb. If you're building Mt Rushmore with your trusty DAW, volume levels are the dynamite, and EQ is the chisel. :-)

Aside from a high-pass on non bass instruments (see the previous guide), you don't really have to worry about EQ until you're confident you've got your levels correct. 


Wait - how do you become a good judge of volume levels? 

Eventually you'll just be able to intuit it, so keep practicing. Until that point, there's a really good trick: make all mixing decisions with the volume turned down low. For complicated reasons, the brain can make better mixing decisions when a track is very quiet - it's much more easy to recognize which instruments are too loud or quiet.



Imagine that your song has a couple of slots:

  • bass
  • midbass
  • midrange (melody/singing)
  • midrange pads
  • high range (high arps, or sometimes nothing).

If you put one instrument in each slot, the song will sound full. (Yep! It's that easy.)

If you put more than one instrument in the same slot, they will fight with each other and make each other inaudible. 

If you notice that your song is sounding cluttered, this is almost certainly why. Yes, it means you have to get rid of elements - sometimes good elements - and it sucks! But trust me, a muddy song is always worse. 


Never let your volume meter go into the red.

This is called clipping, and it's bad. If you are, turn down your volume levels until you aren't any more. 


If you're using FL Studio, for God's sake, take the limiter off the master channel, and never put it back on. EVER

Limiters make it impossible to make good mixing decisions. Just trust me on this one. (Once you get much better, and you want to drive up the loudness of your song, you can add it back on - but only after you're completely done with your mixdown.)

Comments (10)

Thank you ;)
Goinna use this later, hehhe...

Excellent.. :D

and don't forget to highpass either every instrument/synth ect. or master EQ setting to atleast +/- 16000Hz. (dont go any lower, unless it really is hitting those high spots hard)
just something i always keep in mind when mixing/mastering.

I think you mean lowpass? Because if you highpassed everything above 16k hz, everything would be gone. :P

Nice!! Great tips! :D

Not that you need them ;-)

"If you're using FL Studio, for God's sake, take the limiter off the master channel, and never put it back on. EVER"

I used to not have it there, and you'll notice if you ever stumble on my (extreme)clip tracks.
Then I put it back. I thought everything was better, (well didn't clip anymore) but then everything started ducking. At that time I figured the best way to deal with that was to say "NO" to the loudness war and just lower everything until nothing ducked.

Then I did this: Put all mixer channels to 50% (master as well) and then I added a EQ with a bass boost to the master. After I would be done with the song and ready to export I'd remove the bass boost and restore the master to 100%. The result was that the songs didn't clip and didn't sounded muddy due to too much bass. On bigger sound systems like Pa's and car sound devices, the music also sounded 10x better.

So I think it worked. After reading this though, I think I missed a few important things in my attempt to fix my songs.

But the EQ on the master is the best thing. Like if your sound system is lacking or overwhelming in some frequency, you can just fix that with the EQ. For example, if you have headphones that don't have much bass, you're very likely to boost your songs bass, so much that when somebody with normal or boosted bass listens to you, they will hear only mud.

Also is it okay to use a limiter as a volume controller or should I find something else that has a basic volume controlling knob/slider? I like to use a volume controller that is linked to my midi slider, so I can quickly choose a loudness level when composing/mixing the song.

Well, if your song is clipping, the solution isn't to put it under a limiter. That'll stop the clipping, but now you'll have the sound of previously-clipping audio that's now under a limiter, which is also pretty bad. Just turn down the levels so you're not clipping in the first place :P

The bass boost EQ idea is really fascinating, but I have to feel like it's going to teach you some bad habits. :P Eh. If it works for you, go for it. Perhaps it is just that your headphones/whatever are unbalanced.

EQing the entire song seems okay, but I think I'd rather just EQ the instruments that are contributing to the problem.

> Also is it okay to use a limiter as a volume controller or should I find something else that has a basic volume controlling knob/slider?

If the limiter just has a normal gain knob on it, that's fine. I'm not sure what DAW you're using - Ableton has a Utility device specifically for the purpose of wanting a random gain knob.

This stuff is hard to give advice on because in the end I'm like "Ehh, well if it works for you, who am I to tell you you're wrong?" :P

Oh! So that's what clipping is. :D I had known to avoid making the volume meter go into the red, but I didn't know the name for it. XD Wait, so what's "peaking" then?

Same thing as far as I know.

I guess I should be a little more accurate. Clipping is when going in the red makes a distorted sound, and that is very bad and you should never do it. Sometimes going into the red can still sound fine. :P

It's probably best as a rule of thumb to stay out of the red until you know what you're doing, though.

^ Okay, cool! Thanks! I had always thought that peaking was when the volume meter goes into the red, as my FL Studio "getting started guide" called it the "peak meter." ;)

When I search "peaking definition audio" the first result is the Clipping page on wikipedia, so I guess they must be the same. :P

Peaking is maxing out the channel's volume, but clipping is an audible result. Clipping happens more often when you flat-top than when you occasionally peak.

I TOTALLY SPACED ON THE FRUITY LIMITER. The fundamental issue I've had with my songs lately has been the ducking, and... wow I'm stupid. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

Wow, I haven't commented on it yet but this has been very helpful.

thanks! i'll have to update it soon, i have a few changes i might make to it...

Clipping is not when the meter goes into the red though. Clipping is the sound that it may produce, and it doesn't always necessarily produce that sound when it goes into the red. It may work just fine. This happens to me all the time. I am actually currently working on a track that is in the red for much of the song, and there is no audible clipping. (and it's not an occasional peak, the bars are literally not moving)

ok, real talk, my mixes are in the red like 90% of the track. BUT, if you're trying to learn how to mix, you shouldn't do that until you've developed a grasp for identifying clipping.

you're 100% correct though about me using clipping incorrectly, though. this is a bit of an old guide; i'll need to update it.

I'm not actually sure though what causes it to clip some of the time in the red but not always. I think it may be related to which frequencies are loud enough to cause it to go in the red, but again, I'm not sure.

the intuition i've gotten is red is more of a warning than an error.