Tip JarYesterday I linked to a few great articles on preparing to mix by Jon at Audio Geek Zine. (If you haven’t read those yet, be sure to do so.)

In keeping with the mixing theme, I have a question. If I walked up to you and asked you for one mixing tip – just one – what would it be?

You could tell me to not overuse compression. You could tell me to get acoustic treatment. Perhaps you’d tell me to get a summing box. Or maybe you’d tell me there’s no way I can get a good mix without upgrading converters and monitors. Or maybe a big, expensive plug-in bundle is the ticket to good mixes.

What do you think?

Mixing is such a subjective endeavor. Asking for the best mixing tip is like asking a guitarist what the best chord is.

However, I think it’s still helpful to simplify things. Being forced to give only one tip makes you focus on what’s really important to you.

Ready? Here’s my answer:

High-pass virtually EVERYTHING in the mix.

That’s it. That’s my one piece of advice. Let a high-pass filter become your best friend.

For those of you that don’t know what a high-pass filter is, it’s simply a filter that rolls off low frequencies. Most EQ’s will have a high-pass (or low-cut) filter along with a low-pass (or high-cut) filter.

What’s the biggest problem you face with your mixes? Chances are “muddiness” ranks right up near the top. Why? Because we put too much low end in our mixes.

Each individual track in your session may sound great, and you may not think it has too much bass, but when you combine all of these tracks together, you end up with mix that gives you an instant headache, due to all the low-mid build-up.

Try this next time you mix. Put a high-pass on every track in the session, except for kick drum and bass. Then stand back and listen to how much clearer your mixes sound.

This isn’t a magic pill, but this approach has worked wonders for my mixes.

What’s YOUR number one mixing tip?

[Photo Credit – burningkarma]

  • Joey Meder

    i would consider to take notice of the fact that you have to much low end, and filter or EQ is a solution, but not the right way. (in a esthetic and creative sense) Its better to start learning on the nature of sound frequency , harmonic intervals, spacing…damping, Timbres and tonal colors. Try to assemble your stuff before mixing in a usable palette that covers a frequency range and timbre that has a relation with each other, create a context. Try to hear and feel. After a while you will be better and better to hear wat is working for YOU and your mix. Mastering and mixing these days is much more a musical and creative tool than it was in the past.

    Every frequency is important for all other frequencies and timbre. Try to start with low volume, and put effort in sound design on your software, synths or instruments. For me mixing is more to bring stuff to the front and let it shine, not to cover up or filter the shit out of it.

    I always have the feeling that the soul is gone of a sound if you cut to much of the low or/and high or mid. Make your sounds clean and clear and you will see the mixing proces becomes much more intuitive, fun, faster, and you skills as a musician will become better and better

    Try to do more with less.

    • Great thoughts. Thanks for the comment, Joey.

  • Dave

    Take out 250Hz.

  • Andy

    A high pass filter can be a really useful tool to clarify a part if there is rumble, but I would not go as far as high passing everything. I find a low shelving cut to be much less detrimental to the impact of most sounds while still removing rumble and mud, but to each their own, if it sounds good it works! My number one mixing tip would be to rest those ears! Mix only a couple hours at a time, tempting as it may be to have marathon mix sessions (I love them myself!). Cheers!

    • Resting the ears is so hard to do. We just want to mix for “5 more minutes.” πŸ™‚

  • Andy

    A high pass filter can be a really useful tool to clarify a part if there is rumble, but I would not go as far as high passing everything. I find a low shelving cut to be much less detrimental to the impact of most sounds while still removing rumble and mud, but to each their own, if it sounds good it works! My number one mixing tip would be to rest those ears! Mix only a couple hours at a time, tempting as it may be to have marathon mix sessions (I love them myself!). Cheers!

  • CamBam

    I had a really boomy snare sound that left me very frustrated. A simple high pass filter to about 500 hz and it sounded great! (I think the vibrations from the drum were transferring to the drum clip).

    • Nooooooo!!!!!

      75% of the beef in a snare is at 100-200Hz !

      One in a hundred times a high-pass filter is the right solution for this, but did you try a broad notch at lower frequencies instead ?

      If you cut everything below 500Hz, all that will be left of you snare sound is bite, with no weight…

      Actually having said that, is there lots of snare in the overhead sound ? In that case you might get enough “beef” from there, and just add bite using the close mic – but this is the opposite way round that I would normally do things.

      Once again, the answer is always “it depends” πŸ™‚

      Ian

      • Yeah, don’t forget about the overheads. I often have to match my snare EQ with my overheads if I’m going for a different tone. Making sure the snare has a similar tone in both the spot mic and the OHs.

  • Adam

    Hi Joe

    Obviously you’re going to tell me to listen to it, but would you normally use a high pass filter on keys and synth?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

  • diky fatoro

    nice tips joe πŸ™‚ i like your web so much. it really help me , even i’m just amateur on this.:) a bunch of thanks.

  • Great discussion piece indeed! My tip is similar to Ian’s but more inclusive of electronic producers. I am personally very frustrated with the amount of “engineers” out there who consistently add to the whole confusion of sound study by not distinguishing between “live/recording” and “electronic” techniques; there are often significant differences. Without distinguishing you’re not helping, you are making the job harder.

    My tip: Choose the right sounds and they will mix themselves (pretty much…)

    for Live – this means, as Ian said, better mic placement/selection

    for Electronic – this means program your synths better or select higher quality, more appropriate samples.

  • Always reach for your EQ first is my “motto”.
    The EQ is such a powerful thing. And kinda on some times i can find it useful to really bring up some certain note frequencies in the respective instrument track. To get more power in particularly (?) that note.

  • I’ve been recording for quite a long time (well.. i’m kind’a young, but the last 5 years or so, are a considerable time range in my life) and yes, this is the best advice ever. Ever. EVER. Excellent site!

  • Praveen

    Hey Joe.. looks like a nice idea!! Must try this!!
    Peace!

  • Kevin Hilman

    Hi Joe,

    I just found your website yesterday and I am so impressed. This Best Mixing Tip and your article on EQing the bass guitar really did wonders for a recent tune of mine.
    I don’t yet have monitors in my home studio so I have to mix on headphones. I got my piece sounding great on the headphones and was really excited. I burned it to a disc and played in my car on my way to work yesterday. It was HORRIBLE!!
    The bass was pretty much covering everything up and individual horn, guitar, key, and vocal parts were just murky.
    After EQing the bass as you recommended and putting high pass filters all over the place, the quality of the sound is just SOOO much better today.
    Thanks for sharing this good information to us…I look forward to learning more!

  • Lukas

    Another great post, Joe!

    Apart from all the great technical tips mentioned above, I would throw in one other thing to consider while mixing – to preserve the feel, emotions and vibe in the song. Build the mix dynamically with all these drop-outs and build-ups. It all should come in the arrangement in the first place anyway, but too often we forget to enhance that to send the message across and let the listener connect with the song, lyrics.
    I recognize excellent mix by having a ‘momentum’ that sends shivers down my spine, no matter if it’s a line in lyrics or that awesome drum fill, or anything else – it keeps me focused and makes me coming back to the song over and over again.

  • Dieter

    I completely agree with you.

  • Sarang

    Yaaa,This is absolutely nice trick,and one more thing I want to add with this,”lows never makes your mix loud”.So at the end this is very nice tip- High-pass virtually EVERYTHING in the mix.

  • When mixing levels, try mixing in mono first. Its easyer to get it right here then switch back to stereo and go from there.

    • Have you ever mixed in mono, then forgotten about it? Then hours later you switch to stereo and it blows your mind? So cool.

      • Arjun Ramesh

        Joe,
        How do you mix in mono in Pro Tools? When I mixed in Logic, I just clicked on the Out 1-2 track’s interlocked circles and was able to to knock it down to mono and click it back when I wanted to switch back to stereo. However, when I created a mono Master Fader in Pro Tools, I only heard the music on the left side of my headphones. What do you do to mix in mono in Pro Tools? My ProjectMix I/O does not have a button, like the Digi002 to make the main outs mono, either. I would greatly appreciate your help on this one. Thanks.

  • Sam

    How about just passing only the frequency band of each instrument in accordance with its characteristics…

    Not only does this keep it from getting “muddy” it also takes away perceptible high-frequency noise that would be summed.

  • My #1 tip is to reference an existing track in the marketplace. Who are you competing with? What chart-topping track in in the genre you’re working on and has similar instrumentation?

    Place that track in your session and continuously reference it. How do your kicks compare: the level, the punchiness, the fundamental frequency. How about the snare? high hat? where is the vocal sitting? how wide is the reference track? how much bass is there?

    Oh, and also check the mix at the lowest volume possible. Listen for the relationship between kick, snare, and vox at that low level. Is your track the same? 9 time out of 10, the kick isn’t loud enough…. damn kick drums.

  • Great conversation-piece, Joe !

    I agree with most of the suggestions here, although personally I don’t use high-pass filters unless I can hear a problem. For example, if the acoustic sounds boomy – move the mic. If the vocal sounds boomy – move the mic, or where you are sitting. If the bass sounds muddy – move the mic, or the amp… hm, maybe “keep moving the mic until it sounds good” should be my tip…!

    Anyway I started typing a reply here, but ended up writing way too much, so I’ve turned it into a blog post:

    My Top Mixing Tip – No effort required !

    Ian

    • Great article, Ian! You’re completely right, I don’t listen to my studio monitors NEARLY as much as I do earbuds or a car stereo. Now if only I could find a way to install my monitors in my car… πŸ™‚

  • Sam

    Don’t record your levels too hot on digital systems. Mix tip? Maybe not, but it certainly makes mixing a heck of a lot easier. Yellow is the new red, as has been said over at Gearslutz again and again.

  • Joe, I couldn’t agree more. Highpass filtering was actually the first thing that popped into my head as I read your question, and it was good see this confirmed as I scrolled down to read your answer.

    The more I mix (in the context of post-production audio rather than recording), I more I realize how much I still have to learn about mixing πŸ™‚ Case in point, I’ve been having terrible issues with getting my low end to translate well to other systems, even with a well-treated studio and high quality monitors. The issue wasn’t in my environment, though, but rather I wasn’t rolling off ENOUGH low end.

    I’ve been talking with more experienced sound designers and they’ve taught me a whole lot about how valuable the high pass filter is. For instance, low frequency effects for big impactful events in film and games can in actually be rolled off pretty high, sometimes as much as 300 hz and still sound very heavy on a consumer system. Now that I’ve been putting this advice into action with my own demo reel projects, the mix translates soooooo much better outside of my studio.

    • That’s awesome. It makes me think of Waves’ MaxxBass algorithm. They use harmonics to make smaller speaker systems “sound” deeper and lower. Crazy psycho-acoustics!

      • Sam

        The Optical Big Bottom / Aural Exciter from Aphex does this in real time with balanced analog connections. It’s been my go-to for eq-ing things without raising the noise floor in any part of the spectrum. yeah, a plug in is convenient, but clean source is the best.

  • Joe, In the past I’ve only used HPFs on anything that I thought really needed it because I didn’t want to eat up CPU with plugins on every channel. Are you using plugins or printing them somehow? Any good plugins that won’t eat up processor speed?

    • Hi Chad. Sometimes I’ll just put the really simple 1-band Digidesign EQ on every track, and I’ll set it to a HPF. I really don’t think it takes up all that much processing power. However, once you determine that you want to use a HPF, you might as well “commit” to it, either by printing the track with the effect, or using an offline (AudioSuite) plug-in to permanently change the audio file itself.

      • Sam

        Why not use analog band-pass filter equalization patched into the pre-amps, tailoring the band of the spectrum to the instrument as its recorded. I am a fan of the cleanest source possible and not having to come back in to dust out the cobwebs… I guess it’s a question of how much a person wants to work, and whether or not they want to spend extra time in mixing correcting the result of the lack of attention in recording.

    • OR run everything you want to HP through 1 sub-bus first and put 1 HP on that bus.

      • Great point!! I’m actually going to cover this idea in a series of posts this week. You’re way ahead of me, Rupert. πŸ˜‰

  • WILLIAM JONES

    Basically the same thing Shawn said.

  • WILLIAM JONES

    I like to dim my monitors a lot. Everything can sound good cranked. But it’s amazing how tinny it can sound on a different set of speakers afterwards.

  • high pass everything except kicks n bass?? well, snares need to have some subs imo, i just add them a hipass over 40hz, to get out the vinyl mud…and then re-eq to take out some bass, depending on the snare… well..

    • Yup, there definitely needs to be some body on the snare, for sure. But you still said you high-pass it. πŸ˜‰

  • Shawn Manigly

    I’d recommend alternating between high and low listening volumes. Everything sounds great when it’s cranked, for the most part. I like to bring it down every so often to hear how it sounds at a volume that is a little bit above silence. You’ll be surprised what jumps out as too loud when you do this trick.

    • This is a really good point. Fletcher Munson curves and all…different frequencies sound louder at different volumes.

  • dd

    this is great. thanks. i paid a guy $100 to come over to my house one afternoon and help me understand mixes. this was basically the main thing i learned. this blog post is worth $100.

    • HA! You heard him, everybody. Make your checks payable to “Joe Gilder”. πŸ™‚

  • If it sounds right it is right πŸ˜‰

  • Be aware of proximity effect, and compensate accordingly. This goes along heavily with your high-pass tip, Joe. Quit adding high end, start cutting low end.

  • You’ve got a great point about the high-pass! I love the low-end of an acoustic, but sometimes it can really muddy things up.

    ‘My’ tip: I’ve heard it a million times, but it bears repeating. Listen on every pair of speakers/headphones you can get your hands on. Computer speakers at your job. Laptops. Car stereos. Every pair of headphones you own. And especially those crappy ipod earbuds (that, as a musician/engineer/audiophile, I assume you immediately put in the back of a drawer somewhere!). Take notes on how it sounds over each system. Your music will (hopefully) be listened to on all of these, so make sure it translates as well as possible.

  • Actually these are all good tips (except the low-pass). I have to agree with your High-pass filter as the #1 thing for me right now, Joe. Really clears the bottom for the bass and kick.

    I have recently been tweaking my live Mainstage setup, which is basically effects for 2 electric guitars and an acoustic, and I have been high-passing the low end on all of the patches- it really helps clear things up in the live setting as well (especially in some of the wonderful rooms we’ve been rocking in lately)

  • Avoid using the solo button except when solving difficult problems. Whenever sculpting a sound or setting levels do it within the context of the whole mix. This is especially true if you’re mixing your own music and you’re an instrumentalist (guitarist, drummer, etc.) It’s so tempting to focus in on your own track, make it huge and glorious and then struggle with the rest of the mix because that one track takes up too much audio space.

    • carlisle

      kool this sounds like something I need to try

    • GREAT point, Sparqee. Who cares if it sounds good solo if it screws up the rest of the mix?

      • It’s so true. Sometimes tracks that sound great in the mix are downright horrible when soloed.

    • sarang

      Yaa,that is nice thing but its depends on Style of Mixing

  • Steven Carey

    I try to mix as much as possible witout reverb. It can become like a crutch.

    • Too much reverb is like the kiss of death for a mix.

  • Ha ha ha Joe at least you only called the subject Tips.. Because with the dollars in the glass if you had said “Tricks” I would have been worried about your “night job” ?

  • Get it right at the source first or as best you can before screwing with what you have using plugins and external kit..

    Make sure you use the right/best mic for the job and optimum mic placement etc.
    Make sure that there are no additional artifacts introduced by mic placement or room acoustics that you could fix **before** recording commences. Ala use bass traps etc to reduce any issues, kill unneceeary reverb etc by using shrouds or wall treatments (quilts etc). Do it all **before** recording so you don’t have to fcix them up after.

  • From recent personal experience, probably the single best tip is acoustic treatment of your monitoring/mixing station. I was really struggling with my “brick wall” studio area, hearing reflective stuff and just not sure if what I was hearing was what I recorded. I recently snagged some Auralex foam pads from a non-smoking studio that’s closing down, also grabbed a pair of MoPads. Here’s hoping for a better monitoring environment!
    Hey Joe I’m doing the 2×2 tile thing with my Auralex foam pads,similar to your setup. πŸ˜‰ I’ll send along pictures.

  • All technical stuff aside, what I always need to do is get up and walk away to refresh my ears every so often if I’ve been mixing a particular song for awhile.

  • scott

    My tip is actually in the article. I like to have people listen to the mix and ask, “what do you think?”

  • tim

    low pass filter everything!

    • Really? πŸ˜‰

      • oh yeah, Low pass it all at 50Hz. Nothing important above there anyway.

        πŸ˜€

        mmm subz