For beginners, it is best to not focus on what they should do but to avoid doing what they shouldn’t.
You don’t need to make the same mistakes that most novices make when mixing audio. We can help you get there with the “Audio Mixing For Dummies” tutorial.
We will also provide alternate explanations and tips, as well as introduce you to advanced concepts that can be used to improve the quality of your mixes.
For now, however, we will be highlighting the 8 most serious audio mixing errors that can be made in music, movies, and any other situation where you are trying to achieve a balance between instruments, the environment, and the performers.
There are some assumptions that we will need to make:
- You have all the equipment you need to record
- The computer software allows you to record and mix
- You are familiar with digital audio station effects such as reverb or EQ
- At least headphones and, preferably, listening monitors are essential
It’s OK to be new even if you have already read the four points. Keep reading, even if you aren’t sure of certain things. You’ll learn the pieces and get better at it by repeated exposure. Let’s get started.
These fundamental mixing errors are a surefire way to get your listeners and mastering engineers swooning. These audio mixing tricks will help you avoid these common mixing mistakes and get you on the road to mixing success.
We’ll give you a brief explanation of the 8 dummy-misleading mistakes but not cover them all. You don’t have to be perfect.
You can quickly fix these issues and learn how to solve them later. Our goal is to help you find the solutions and problems first.
1. The main audio mixing error: Muddy and Booming low-end
Amateur mix engineers have a problem with the lowest frequencies. Too much bass is a problem. It blurs and bleeds into the instruments.
Because the mixer is trying to hear clarity, but cannot achieve it in another way, the bass gets louder and louder.
This issue can be summarized in two points
- It’s difficult to distinguish between kick and bass.
- It’s difficult to distinguish between the mid-frequencies and the bass region.
Let’s get to the bottom of both these issues quickly!
KICK AND BASS SEPARATION
We have already covered how to handle the seperation of kick and bass. For advanced practice, you can learn that later. But for now let’s focus on the basics.
You can make a decision before you tune and select your kick and/or bass, or after you have made the selection.
Both must have the lowest bass register, while one will have the upper part. Each is equally good, but the genre will determine which one is best.
You have two options here: side-chaining compression to ducking and equalization. Roll-offs are used to create separation in EQing.
If the bass guitar has the lowest frequency and the kick drum the highest, you might use the kick to roll off some lower frequencies and then roll off the high region of the bass more lightly because it has more sustain and isn’t as transient.
EQ NOTCHING BOOST & CUT
You’ll then be able to identify the specific frequency ranges that give each instrument its unique sound. For example, the 80 Hz frequency range gives the bass its character. It might be possible to give the bass an EQ boost at 80 Hz, or none at all, with a very thin Q.
Next, you would go to the kick drum, and give it an EQ cut at 80Hz. To make a place for the kick, you’d repeat the process. This allows both instruments to be played simultaneously and preserves their character and clarity.
COMPRESSION SIDE-CHAINING PERFORMED FOR DUCKING
A compressor can be applied to the bass and side-chained to the kick drum. This is a last option that may not always be necessary. The compressor will only activate when the kick drum is playing. The compressor would then be set to reduce the volume slightly when the kick drum plays.
The bass is moving away from the kick for a moment. This will create a feeling of “pumping,” which can be quite noticeable.
This technique will make it invisible to others. Only you can know.
SEPARATION OF LOW-END & MID-RANGE
Amateur “dummy mix” amateurs have difficulty separating the bass and mid-range parts of the song.
Even if you are lucky enough to get the right samples or one-shots, the bass region can still be diluted into the mid-range. The song will sound muddy and unclear. Let’s get this fixed.
Roll-offs will be used again. You can roll off all your higher frequency instruments at 250 Hz. Or, you can go more aggressive and use a high pass filter. You can then take your bass instruments, and reduce all harmonics to 500 Hz.
Except when you are intentionally adding distortion to the bass, the kick and bass should not exceed 500 Hz. You have achieved a complete separation between the bass and upper regions, while minimising any bleed-over into the mid-range.
You now have separation, but some clarity is still missing. It sounds too warm and muddy. It will happen, but it is more common in amateur recordings made in small rooms that have no acoustic treatments. We’ll use a wide Q to start reducing the EQ for these mid-range instruments.
You’ll be able to see the sweet spot between 200 Hz and 550 Hz. Be gentle with each track. Compare the whole mix with the song un-solicited. The full mix will have a slight cut to each instrument.
Here’s a sample of muddiness at 200 Hz
This is the point where your mixes have one thing going for them: a clear, crisp bass section that doesn’t need to be turned up to 11 in order to be heard.
2. Ear-Piercing Treble Imbalance
High frequency regions are the second most problematic part of dummy mixes. To get that crystallizing shimmer back, turn up the bass volume.
Your song is already a mess and has zero mid-range. Amateurs learn about crap like aural exiters but have no idea how to deal with sibilance .
Problems with vocals, hi-hats and occasional cymbal crashes are usually the problem. Each may have a harmonic, or a nuance that creates bright peaking at certain frequencies.
This will penetrate the human brain and make it The Hulk. This problem will render a song unlistenable. using a de-esser is the solution.
A de-esser compressor is one that targets certain frequencies. Sometimes, your vocalist may make a very loud “S” sound once they’ve recorded it. The compressor function can be used to target that frequency with the de-esser.
If the frequency reaches above the threshold, it will be reduced in volume until it is audible. The same applies to high-frequency instruments.
Amateurs don’t test mixes in all environments. This is not possible in a properly-treated listening room. Mixers can give the mix a shelf boost because it doesn’t have the same sheen and shine. It does.
It’s impossible to hear the music in their room with those poor computer speakers that double as monitors. They boost the region, and anyone listening in a balanced environment can now hear the high-end at twice as loud, making it impossible to listen.
This compensation can be achieved by cross-monitoring with more than one set, by mixing both monitors and headphones and by bouncing MP3s to check in the car or the living room.
They may not have set up their monitors correctly to create a listening area that is ready for mixing.
This is the point where you have a clear low-end, a non-muddy middle and a crystal-clear high-end. There are many other things that could go wrong. Lots, unfortunately.
3. Overcompressed with No Dynamics
To create a push-pull sensation for the listener, songs need to be able to breathe. Brains and ears need to take a break from the constant stream of information.
Mixers will ruin any remaining dynamics in the mix, even though a lot of it should be done in the orchestration and arrangement. This problem is evident in almost every pop song you hear these days, and it has been taught to listeners to love it.
Mixers who are just starting out will try to squeeze every instrument’s ever-living life into a single unit. This illusion leads to clarity that they don’t get in the equalization stage (which should be first).
It’s like turning up the bass in order to hear the clarity. What happens if everything is compressed separately? Then you try to master everything at home and compress it even further.
The result is a lifeless shell of what was once a decent tune. We have no other solution than to tell you stop compressing.
This is in addition to imitating pop music. Amateurs also tend to mix with their eyes rather than their ears, mimicking master waveforms, even though their song isn’t yet mixed.
Mix the mixture with your ears. When you feel that compression is sufficient, reduce it a bit. Beginning users overdo it all.
You shouldn’t mix until you are really proficient at it.
4. Too Much Panning or Too Little
Your mix is looking great. It is clean, clear, and it breathes and lives. It’s just not in the right place at the right time.
You can also leave panning alone if you prefer to play safe. This will result in a monomix world. It’s important to pan, and it’s better to have wrong panning than not.
There are two kinds of pan in the mix world. The choice of a method will depend on the thickness and complexity of the song’s orchestration. There’s the “spread it evenly”, and then there’s the “left-center/right” crowd. Slowly, I find myself switching to the LCR crowd.
KEEP BASS, KICK, & LEADS CENTERED
There are some instruments that you shouldn’t use for either approach. They should be anchored in the middle. Your kick and bass are the first because they need a lot power to be heard. Pan those too loud and you risk causing your listeners to lose their ears.
It’s confusing because it is difficult for the human ear spatially to locate bass sounds. Your lead vocals, solos on guitar, and any other focus should be kept up in the middle.
You can do double takes, emphasis takes and harmonies. Keep the lead takes at the center.
SPREAD WITH SIMMETRY
Push one instrument left and push the other similar to it right. You can adjust the volume or weight of one instrument to make it louder or heavier. This is an art and not science. Feel it out. This is not a science.
Here’s an example. To make space for the vocals, you will want your snare to be centered. You might need as wide a snare to make room for the vocals as possible. To avoid phase issues, you can double it and pitch shift one cent per note.
Instead of panning one side 100% to the left, you’ve kept symmetry. It would be absurd, for the most part.
MIXING LEFT-CENTER RIGHT
We’ve already mentioned the “spread it evenly” crowd. There is a school that mixes only with the hard left, perfect middle, and hard right when panning.
Only two exceptions to this rule are percussion and reverb. The vocals, bass, kick, snare and snare are all in the middle. The rhythm guitar can be difficult right, while the lead guitar may be difficult left.
The hi-hats and toms can be dragged through the empty space, while the reverb can fly through the inner space. This creates the largest possible space and gives it the greatest width.
Although this is not the best way to use , it works well for LCR mixing in sparse arrangements. For more information, see the image below.
This is a great method to solve any equalization issues that you can’t fix because of the source material.
5. Rare Audio Mixing Scenario: Phase Issues
Most amateurs simply don’t realize phase cancellation exists. It is only after they have mastered panning.
Sometimes the problem is in the source material, because the recording engineer misplaced the mics. But most often it’s the beginner mixer who created it by panning and doubling tracks or not catching it on different instruments.
This requires knowledge of wave Physics to fully comprehend. Because we have all been in the tub, the basic idea is easy to grasp.
Sometimes, two waves collide in the pool or tub and cancel each others out. There may also be a splash of water/frequencies that burst forth.
Sometimes, a faster wave can catch up to a slower one moving in the same direction. They join forces to create a double-strong wave. That wave suddenly got bigger.
This is constructive interference. Two waves can either help or harm each other. The fullest extent of the interference is when they double or cancel each other out.
Listening for this problem is the solution. In stereo instruments, you’ll notice strange spikes and dips in their frequency range.
Listen to stereo tracks in solo mode, then switch to mono on your master track. A phase problem is when you hear the frequencies change in any way.
You can fix it by changing the wave pattern of the right or left track in the frequency region. This is not always possible. It is best to avoid it entirely on the recording stage.
If you do find it in the mix’s phase problems, one of these two options may be a good option:
- By a matter of cents, pitch shifting on one side of the recording.
- You can move one side in a matter of milliseconds.
They will be obvious and may even be part of the mix. This will be more noticeable than a phase problem.
6. Basic Audio Mixing Mistake: Vocal Volumes
This one is not difficult. Even pros can have trouble finding the right place for the volume of their vocals. This is because you are familiar with mixing vocals and lose your perspective.
You will be able to recognize the lyrics of songs much faster than a novice listener. You end up hearing them at a lower volume that is needed.
It is easy. You can simply bounce three different versions of the song, and label them Vocal Up/Vocal Down/Vocal Middle. The “Middle” version should be the one that you feel is best. Other versions have the vocals raised (my suggestion: 2dB) while the volume is reduced.
Next, ask several people to tell you what they think. Ideally, ask a professional but also some non-professionals. They will rely more on intuition and experience than analysis.
7. Audio mixing error: Misaligned tracks
This is something I detest with all my heart. It happens to everyone. Sometimes, misaligned tracks can sneak into the final mix. This happens for many reasons.
- The software glitched, shifting one track by 300ms.
- The mixer couldn’t snap onto grid so had to place tracks (like chorus) by ear.
- The recording collaborators did not send stems to one another and had to place tracks by ear.
This is a common occurrence on your favorite records. The vocal track, including all three choruses and versus, is off to the worst by half a second.
This occurs when the mixer looks at the DAW projects, decides they are good and bounces them.
You won’t know if your computer is having a problem. Listen to the files that bounced and pay attention!
Another problem is that mixers receive files that cannot be synced to the DAW grid to a set tempo. They might lose the regions they need to copy and paste, such as the chorus vocals, by 200ms.
It’s not obvious to them, but it will be noticed by the millions of people who hear the song repeatedly. You can only be careful and get permission from the original artist. They will be the first ones to notice the issue.
Collaborators can send files over the internet. The temptation is to bounce a rough mix, and then send it off for someone else to add guitar or vocals.
Imagine your job is to play a solo synth over the bridge. You record the performance and send it back to the original artist. You only have about five seconds silence before the synth.
This forces the original artist into trying to place your synth at the right time. Send stems. Stems should be sent at the beginning of each song. This will allow you to have three minutes silence before the synth solo starts. No more misaligned tracks or placement problems!
8. You Have No Problem With Your Listening Gear
It’s a shame that you don’t have an acoustically-treated room. It’s not a problem you have to live with, and you can still make great mixes.
Knowing the characteristics of your room, monitors and best studio headphones can be a problem. You’ll end up over- or under-compensating to compensate for their problems. This has a double effect on regular listeners in their listening environment.
Because you don’t know where or how your listeners will go when they turn on your music, it is important to make the best mix possible.
First, realize that your room is small. This will allow you to hear more bass. You’ll also hear reflections from the walls. This can cause phase issues in your recording that might not be present.
It is important to understand the nuances of each room in order not to ruin your mix by trying and fix problems that aren’t there.
This is true for both your headphones and monitors. One might have a greater bass response than the others. The same applies to the high-end and any other frequency range.
You can create a mix in your car and then analyze it in various places, such as in your best Studio Monitors, headphones, in your car and in other rooms. This will help you to identify the problems that are caused by your mixing equipment and environment. You can then adjust for them.
Audio Mixing for Dummies – Conclusion
Let me tell you the bad news first if you are dealing with these problems. You’re a newbie. These problems can be easily overcome with this article Audio Mixing For Dummies. If you have any questions, please read it again.
Check out the links below. Experiment and practice is the most important thing. You’ll be able to graduate from beginner to intermediate in a matter of weeks. Your fans will be ecstatic.
You may even be inspired to fix up some old mixes of fan-favorite tracks. There are many options available if you know what to do!
One thing is certain: You are capable. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge.