Four Golden Rules Of Mixing

Although every mixing project is different, there are a few techniques that producers tend to use all the time, regardless of whether the music is throat singing, ska punk, disco thrash, ambient foot squeaking or armadillo cajon rock…

The First Rule of Mix Club…

Many books have been written about mixing, and many more have yet to be written, so it’s certainly something of a spurious exercise to try and distill such a wealth of knowledge into four bullet points. But it’s too late to shy away from this spurious exercise now, so here are my first four ‘rules’ of mixing…

  1. There are no golden rules of mixing
  2. Get Good Monitors
  3. High-Pass Everything
  4. Always Cut

1. There Are No Golden Rules Of Mixing

Every band is different, every song is different, every instrument is different, every take is different. This is why it’s highly unlikely that any predetermined formula will produce a great mix for any given collection of recorded material. However, if there were any ‘golden rules’ of mixing, the following three points would certainly be near the top of most producers’ lists…

2. Get The Best Monitors You Can Afford

Generally speaking, you don’t need very expensive gear to produce a great record. A talented and experienced artist working with a talented and experienced production team can get amazing sounding music out of almost anything. However, one area that you should really try to spend as much as possible on is your monitoring.

Basically, your monitors (and your monitoring environment, i.e. the room) will tell you what’s really going on in the mix. You can only mix what you can hear.

New Dynaudio Monitors
Creative Commons License photo credit: CJ Sorg

If you find that your mix sounds great in your studio, but sounds awful when you play it in your friend’s house, then chances are that your monitors are lying to you. This may be because they aren’t up to the task of accurately reproducing the source material, or you may have acoustic interference issues in your room. Acoustic treatment is a whole other subject, but you can read more about studio resonance here.

However, the monitors themselves need to be decent – a consumer hi-fi system won’t work, because they are designed to flatter the sound, rather than to be ‘accurate’. Even the cheapest studio monitors will be a vast improvement over a hi-fi system. They will also be better than mixing on any kind of headphones.

3. High-Pass Everything

This is certainly my number one mix treatment tip – it’s no secret, but I wish I’d learned about it a lot sooner.

Every mix has a limited amount of frequency spectrum and headroom to work within, and bass frequencies use up a lot of energy. So, if a track doesn’t need much bass information – which is probably every track except the bass and kick drum tracks – then you should insert a fairly vigorous high-pass EQ. The cutoff and slope will vary according to the content, but these tracks certainly don’t need anything below 100Hz – and a considerably higher cutoff may work wonders for the clarity of the overall mix.

Of course, I did say high-pass everything – and unless you’re doing a movie theatre mix, then you should probably roll off the bass tracks around 30-40Hz as well.

4. Always Cut Before You Boost

The equaliser is probably the single most important mixing plug-in in your arsenal, but it needs to be used with caution and control. Generally, you’ll get better results from cutting undesirable frequencies than you will from boosting the ones you want to emphasise. In fact, cutting certain frequencies can provide the same effect as boosting another, and tends to sound more natural. It’s only when you can’t achieve the desired results with a cut that you should apply EQ gain.


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