Last week I shared with you the first five reasons you’re not happy with your mixes. Today, let’s finish out the countdown.
5. You don’t have a good understanding of EQ and Compression.
Early on in the history of Home Studio Corner, I decided to create two in-depth courses about EQ and compression. They seemed like obvious topics to me, but I didn’t expect them to be as popular as they were. To this day, Understanding EQ and Understanding Compression have been the most popular courses I offer over in the HSC Store.
Why is that? Because people quickly realize that while EQ and compression are fairly simple concepts, it is crucial to really understand what they do and how to use them if you want to create good mixes.
EQ is all about frequencies. You can never use EQ properly without first becoming intimately familiar with what different frequencies sound like. For example, you may think you know what 500 Hz sounds like, but you could be way off. I used to think 500 Hz was a “muddy” frequency. If something sounded muddy, I would cut 500 Hz. It never really helped, because muddy sounds happen more in the 150-250 Hz range.
It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but developing a deep understanding of what different frequencies sound like made a massive impact on my ability to get great mixes in my studio.
4. You rarely actually finish a mix.
If you take nothing else away from this list, at least take this one to heart — you need to finish projects to get better.
Anyone can start a project. The people who are good, the people you look up to, are people who finish projects. If you spend more time watching tutorial videos than you do finishing projects, something’s wrong. Yes, tutorials are good. (Heck, I built a business around them.) But they’re only useful to you if you use them to work on and finish projects.
Do you have friends who always talk about this big project they’re working on, but they never actually have anything to show for it? It gets old after a while, right?
I don’t care if you annoy your friends. I care that you make great music and hit your musical goals. You can’t do that if you never finish anything. Make it a goal to FINISH what you start next year.
3. You don’t spend enough time getting levels right.
This one is more important than getting EQ and compression right.
EQ and compression mean nothing if you don’t have a good, balanced mix. And balancing a mix is a simple process of setting levels, moving faders.
We mixers love to skip over this phase. We want to “get to the good stuff” and start using our fancy toys and plugins.
Well guess what? Those toys won’t do jack for you if you don’t have a balanced mix first.
Graham and I did a full podcast episode exploring this one topic. It’s that important. Definitely worth a listen.
2. You’re aiming for perfection.
If you’re a perfectionist, it’s time to stop. 🙂
There’s a massive difference between excellence and perfection. Sometimes we think we’re pursuing excellence when we pursue perfection, but in reality we’re creating something dull, lifeless, and sterile.
Sometimes perfectionism is simply a form of procrastination. We don’t want to finish because we’re afraid no one will like our work, so we procrastinate. We say things like “It’s not quite perfect.”
Sometimes the most endearing aspects of an album are the imperfections. I like to hear noise on a guitar track, or when the singer isn’t perfectly in tune. It feels real. It feels human.
Aim for excellence? Absolutely.
Aim for perfection? Please no. It’s not worth it, and it will ruin your music.
1. Your source material isn’t good enough.
You knew I was going here, right? It’s become the mantra of Home Studio Corner.
GIRATS — Get It Right At The Source
You can follow all my advice perfectly and still end up with mixes you’re unhappy with if you don’t get this part right.
Your mix is only as good as your recording. Your recording is only as good as the performance and the song itself. If any of those are lacking, the mix will suffer. No amount of mix tricks will save a bad song, or an out-of-tune guitar. If you swap your focus and spend 90% of your time and attention on recording raw tracks that sound amazing rather than trying to learn new mixing tricks, a funny thing will happen: your mixes will sound better…way better. You will realize that you’re better at mixing than you thought. You simply weren’t very good at recording (or songwriting, or playing guitar, etc.).
There’s no shame in that. It’s simply reality. If I can’t play trumpet (I can’t), it doesn’t make sense for me to seek out information on how to get a better trumpet mix on my trumpet recordings. Why? Because my trumpet recordings sound like garbage because I can’t play trumpet.
Oftentimes we ask the wrong question. We make connections that aren’t really there. It would be like getting all hot and bothered about a study that says people who visit cancer clinics are 10 times more likely to have cancer. While that information is true, it isn’t helpful. It implies that going to a cancer clinic is what gives someone cancer.
It’s the same (albeit far less serious) with music. We blame our bad mixes on our bad mixings skills (or our cheap plugins), when in reality the real problem (most of the time, at least) is the recording itself.
That’s not always the case. We still need to learn how to get better at mixing great-sounding tracks, but it always has to start there. Otherwise, you’re fighting an uphill battle that you can’t win.
Which of these top 5 resonates the most with you? Leave a comment below.
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