STOP BLAMING PLUG-INS.

That’s right, I said it. I’ve heard too many people tell me that they aren’t happy with their mixes, and the next words out of their mouth are “I need to buy another…” — plug-in bundle or another microphone, or another pre-amp or another piece of software.

Unfortunately, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but that’s not going to solve your problem.

You see, the issue is much simpler than that. If your mixes aren’t sounding good, I’m almost 100% certain that your plug-ins are not the main issue. The problem most of us run into when our mixes don’t sound how we want them to sound is that the tracks themselves don’t sound how we want them to sound.

Remember this — it’s impossible to have a great-sounding mix if you don’t have great-sounding tracks. You can certainly do a lot of things to improve the sound of your tracks, but to have a truly great mix, there’s really no substitute for starting with great sounding recordings.

You’ve heard me say this a bagillion times. Get it right at the source. I could sum up the entire life of an audio engineer with that one sentence; because if you truly make that your mantra, every time you setup a microphone, you will capture the source properly.

You’ll capture that source correctly before moving on to mixing. It’s simple, I know, but it’s very effective.

If you want your mixes to sound good, you’ve got to record sources that sound good using proper technique that makes them sound good, and then you can begin mixing. Ask anyone, and they will tell you it’s much easier to get a great mix when the tracks already sound good.

Some of my best mixes have been due to the fact that the recordings themselves were already so good. I pulled up all the faders and just listened to the tracks without applying a single plug-in, and it sounded great. At that point, my job wasn’t to fix things, but to simply enhance them, to make subtle changes here and there and make the track come together.

Imagine it this way: pretend that you can’t use plug-ins on your mix. Pretend that everything has to be completely flat with no processing whatsoever. Would that effect how you record sources? I bet it would.

So tell me, are you happy with your mixes?

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  • Purecountry70

    you are so right, but, the answer I was looking for was, if your unhappy with your mix, if you had nothing to do with the recording, this was recorded in a guarage, and for a garage it wasn’t to bad, but still, it wasn’t recorded by me.   thanks in advance

    • You can’t polish a turd, as they say. If the recording is bad, it’s bad. You can’t really fix it with mixing.

  • i am SOOO impatient when it comes to getting good sounds to tape. but i hereby resolve to try harder. which leads me to a question–when your musicians are in the same room as your monitors,  it’s more difficult and time consuming to  get good sounds. this is part of why i tend to rush  this part of the process. how do YOU deal with this (or how WOULD you) and can you recommend a pair of headphones that would seriously block out the room sounds, that maybe doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? thanks!

    • I completely get where you’re coming from, Mark. I’ve struggled with the
      same thing.

      Here’s my “solution.” Recording in the same room as the musician is no
      different than if YOU are the musician. You can’t really tell if you’re
      getting a good sound while you’re playing (or while the musician is
      playing). But it’s REALLY important to make sure the sound is good before
      you start recording a bunch of takes. His guitar amp may sound amazing in
      the room, but if the mic is in the wrong place, you’re hosed.

      So my solution is to record a part of a take (maybe a verse and chorus),
      then listen back TO THE RECORDING through your monitors. (Obviously you’ll
      want to make sure you don’t have a hot mic, or you’ll get feedback.) This is
      good for two reasons: 1. You can solo the track and listen to EXACTLY what
      was captured. 2. The musician can also listen and give his opinion.

      Back to the amp example, you both might be thrilled with the amp tone, but
      once you listen to the playback, you realize it’s too bright, or too
      dull…so you either move the mic, try a different mic, or adjust the amp
      tone. Does it take more time? Absolutely, but it’s certainly not a “waste”
      of time. What WOULD be a waste is recording guitar for 14 songs, only to
      find out that the recordings sound crappy.