Ever wonder how to make your mixes sound professional?
One of the most difficult things for the budding musician is to make their music sound competitive against the major label releases that have big budgets. There is no single thing that will make your music sound professional. It is a collaboration of various techniques and methods that will help make the sound of your mixes and music become professional.
Let’s start at the foundation because is what will allow your song to make it to the professional sounding level. If the foundation of your song is lacking in terms of songwriting, arrangement, or quality of the recording or samples, you are going to have a hard time building a professional sounding song. I would say that this is the most important, but sometimes the least attention is paid to this fundamental process. If you bake a shitty cake(bad arrangement/songwriting), and you put some expensive icing (mixing/mastering) on it. It is still a shitty cake. You need to make sure your song conveys its meaning and emotion in a clear and concise way. After that get great quality recordings, and you are well on your way to getting a professional sounding mix.
2. Balance Your Mix
One of the most basic parts of mixing that often get overlooked for the advanced mixing “magic” tricks is simple balancing. If you want your song to sound professional it needs to be balanced so that it sounds like a song and you are not hearing the mix. If your audience is listening to your song and they are distracted by the balance of the mix, they are not listening to your song. Also, each genre is going to be balanced differently. The vocals in a rock song are not going to be as loud and upfront as a pop or hip-hop song. The drums are not going to be as loud in a jazz song as they will be in an R&B song. This is where you need to analyze the hit songs in your genre and make balancing decisions in your music. How loud is the vocal compared to the guitars or synth? How loud is the bass guitar compared to the kick drum? Etc…
3. Battling Frequencies
You want to make sure that each of instruments or elements in your song occupies its own frequency spectrum and isn’t fighting too much with the other elements. This can often occur in the low end and mid-range of the frequency spectrum because all most all instruments have frequency information starting in this range and it can easily build up. This causes a mix to sound “muddy”. For example, if you have heavy distorted guitars and a piano. You probably want to keep the power of the guitars which comes from the low mid-range, but the low end of the piano is going to muddy that up some. Creating this kind of relationship with the instruments in your song will help make your song have more clarity and impact. Also, simply removing unneeded frequency will help with this as well.
4. The Bottom End
Getting the bottom-end right is one of the most difficult things, but one of the true signs of a professional mixer. If the song is lacking the low end, it is not going be able to compete with songs that have a full, extended bottom-end. It just won’t have the “umph” it needs. The kick and bass relationship is very important in achieving a tight, full bottom-end. Also, filtering out all unnecessary low end from other instruments will help clean this up leaving more room for the kick and bass.
You need to decide whether the kick or the bass is going to drive the song. You need to choose one to take the lead. Then EQ them so they can have a little separation.
5. Effects and Ear Candy
Spatial effects can really give depth to your mix, but they can be very distracting if you don’t properly use them. I think one of the most common mistakes is the overuse of reverb and delays. If used properly they can give your mix a huge stereo feeling, but other the other hand, take over your mix. In most cases, reverbs, slap delays, and other effects like that should barely be heard (unless you are using them as ear candy such as a vocal delay throw).
I usually mix them in until I can hear them then bring the fader back down a little until I can just feel it.
Once your mix is almost finished, I believe it is important to reference it against other commercially released music. I don’t think you should try to copy the sound of the mix or individual instrumental, but just check the overall loudness, punchiness, and clarity of your mix compared to the commercially released song.
What is Saturation? It is basically distortion. It may sound counter-intuitive, but adding Saturation can add clarity and energy to your mix. Have a dull sounding vocal or bass? Give it a little saturation and see how it feels more alive. You can try adding it in many places, the mix bus, drums, guitar or even synths. Just use it liberally.
Apply some of these techniques to your music and mixes, and with patience and practice, you should start to hear better results. Be sure to analyze the arrangement and mixes of the professional. You can learn the common practices through that and then develop your own style.