Mixdown Mastery: FAQs About Mixing #1

Sam Matla Mixing and Mastering 6 Comments

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So I noticed there are quite a few common questions that arise in various communities around the internet (forums, message boards, Facebook, etc.). Some of these questions are in-depth and require a full-blown article or tutorial, others are much more simple and can be answered with a few sentences.

So instead of having a standard Mixdown Mastery tutorial or article, I though I’d start up a (hopefully) recurring series of posts where I answer common questions I come across. If you have questions yourself that you want answered then feel free to comment below and I’ll attempt to answer them either in a comment, article, or FAQ installment.

Right! Let’s get into it.

How can I make my tracks sound more polished and professional? I’m EQing stuff, using compression, etc. But it just doesn’t sound up to standard!

The short answer to this is that there’s no quick fix. Producing music is like any other creative art – it requires practice. You can watch as many tutorials as you like about mixing and mastering, and while they do help, they’re no substitute for practice.

Note that I’m not encouraging you to avoid tutorials, by all means – consume as much info as possible, but do take the time to really put in the hours. The ‘professional’ sound comes over time, and it’s certainly not something that can be achieved overnight. Somebody can teach you how to cut onions properly, but chef of 10 years will always cut them faster and with better technique. You can be shown how to use an EQ, but Manny Marroquin is still going to EQ better than you.

What is the point of lowpassing at 20kHz and highpassing at 20Hz?

As humans, we can only hear between 20Hz and 20kHz, everything outside that is inaudible. Some producers argue that frequencies up to 40kHz still affect the mix, and to be completely honest I can’t refute that as I’m just not knowledgeable enough when it comes to the complex physics of audio.

High-passing at 20Hz can be helpful as it gets rid of unwanted headroom and also removes any potential DC offset which might occur.

How do I get my kick to punch through more?

This is probably the most common question I come across and get asked. Unfortunately, most new producers grapple onto the wrong solution, they turn the kick up more. Now of course, turning the kick up may work, but it more often than not it’s not the volume of the kick causing problems, it’s the volume and spectral content of the surrounding elements.

First and foremost, a good kick sample is vitally important. You won’t have much luck trying to make an ugly kick punch through the mix when it isn’t punchy in the first place!

Second, turning surrounding elements down and removing conflicting frequencies. At least high-pass these elements so they don’t interfere with the low-end of the kick.

Third, sidechain compression is widely used and also very helpful when it comes to mixing around your kick.

How do I know when my mix is finished?

This is something that you have to judge yourself. Now of course, if you’re relatively new to producing then there’s always going to be something in your mix that can be improved – but I’ve always recommended to just get it over and done with and onto the next one (not meaning to do it hastily, but not spend 1 year on one mix).

The fact is, you don’t know, but you have to lay off at some point. A week later your mix will probably sound like shit, but that’s how we improve as producers. I invite you to mix down a track and compare it with the version prior to mixdown, is there improvement? Great! No improvement? Try again.

I don’t believe and mix is ever finished, but at some point you have to walk away. – Manny Marroquin

Short answer: don’t stress on this too much. Do the best you can, and then move on.

Why does my track sound incredibly harsh?

Harshness usually occurs around the 4kHz mark, a quick way to tell if this is the area causing the harshness is by cutting out a dip around 4kHz on your master channel. Reduce the harshness? That’s where your problem lies.

It’s going to be a problem with your high-end, EQing can usually fix this, but certain effects such as de-essers and reverbs can also help smooth it out a little. And of course, remember to attack the source material first. If you put a harsh snare in your track then you’ll just have to deal with it later – spend time picking the right samples and designing the right sounds.

Should I get monitors or headphones first?

9 times out of 10 I recommend purchasing headphones first. The only time I wouldn’t recommend headphones before monitors is if your room has decent acoustics (it probably doesn’t), and if you’ve got a wide range of other systems to check your mix on.

The problem with monitors is that they’re loudspeakers, they cause waves to travel around the room meaning that the final product that you hear is not 100% trueIn an untreated room you’re always going to run across problems, it might be that some frequencies are louder or quieter than others, or an annoying resonance, along with various other problems. Starting with headphones is a much better choice as you don’t have to worry about room treatment problems and acoustics. Of course, headphones have some pitfalls, and there’s a reason why professional studios use monitors.

Not sure which headphones to get? Check out this article. 

A Final Word

There’s plenty more questions that I’ve got answers for, but I don’t want to make you guys read through a 10,000 word post!

Keep in mind that I don’t claim to be an ‘expert’ of any kind, these are just things I’ve learnt over the years and studied. I hope this helped in some way, and remember if you’ve got any questions, feel free to comment below!