VU-meterWhat was your biggest issue when you mixed your first song? I bet you a nickel it was getting the levels right.

You probably got half-way through the mixing process, and suddenly several of your tracks are clipping, or your master fader is clipping. So you turn the clipped tracks down a bit. Well now the mix doesn’t sound right, so you try to turn every other track down by the same amount. Still doesn’t sound right.

You go back to work, re-balancing everything. Before you know it, your tracks are clipping again. You think to yourself, “Did I really turn these up that much again?” You slam your fists into your desk…or kick the dog…or yell at the cat…or maybe you do all of these at the same time.

Welcome to the world of mixing.

You are not alone. This was my experience, and I bet (another nickel) that if you asked any experienced engineer, he’d share a similar story of his own frustrated journey.

My Advice to You

This is the part where I could go into a list of techniques for keeping your track levels down to prevent clipping, but you know what? I’m not gonna do that.

Why? Because I think there is one single reason why people have such trouble with clipping during mixing. I’ll get to that in a second.

The first thing you can do to make your life easier as a mix engineer is to make sure you don’t record everything at a super-hot level. I talk about this in Setting Levels for Recording.

You don’t have to peg the meters to get a great-sounding recording. If you just get a decent level, you’ll be much better off when it comes time to mix.

Sometimes you don’t have control over the levels. Perhaps you’re only mixing the song, not recording it. If so, then you’re at the mercy of the recording engineer who recorded the tracks.

Okay, back to getting rid of all that nasty clipping on your tracks. My suggestion to you?

Turn up your monitors/headphones!!

Seriously, this is the biggest reason I get clipping on my mixes, I keep the volume knob too low on my monitors and headphones. Rather than turn up the monitor volume, I push up the track levels in my mix. That’s a recipe for failure. (It’s also a recipe that will produce more dog-kicking outbursts if you don’t fix it.)

Let’s say you’re mixing a rock tune, and you’re listening to just the drums. Before pushing the kick drum up to zero or (even worse) above zero, reach for the volume knob on your speakers or headphones instead.

You’ll be able to hear everything better, and your mixing levels will be well below clipping. Remember this next time you’re mixing. I bet (yet another nickel) it will help.

Photo by mockstar.