How To Get Great Mixes Without Having To Mix
First of all, before I begin writing this, I want to say that I do not consider myself a great mixer at all. I really only have basic knowledge, and I would never claim that I am anywhere near an expert on the topic. However, I still get a lot of people asking my how I mix my tracks and get all the sounds to sit well with each other.
The funny thing is, any mixing I do on my beats is really quite minimal. Today i’m not going to focus on my actual mixing process (that will be covered in a future post), but I will be talking about the MAIN technique I use to get everything sounding clear. And the thing is it’s really quite simple.
It All Comes Down To Choosing The Right Sounds
Easier said than done, right?
Now obviously me telling you to choose the right sounds is worthless if you don’t know what the right sounds to begin with. And on top of that, there are no perfect sounds which will automatically make your mixes sound amazing.
But the main idea is to choose the right sounds that work WELL with the other sounds.
Over the years i’ve spent producing, sound choice is probably the number one factor that has contributed to getting me decent mixes. And the fact of the matter is, no matter how much technical knowledge you gain about EQ, compression, panning, and whatever else, if you’re a producer, the mixing process should really only enhance how your music sounds.
You shouldn’t expect the mix to make your poor tracks sound great.
They should really sound good before the mixing process begins, and if you’ve picked the right sounds then you won’t need to put in as much work in the mixing stage.
So, how do you find sounds that ‘fit’ right toegher?
Well, first of all, you have to understand the frequency spectrum. The frequency spectrum is basically the range of sounds that can be picked up by the human ear. You don’t really need to know specific numbers in this case, all you need to know that there is a range that goes from Low (think sub-woofer), to high (think a high-screetch, or that squeeky noise when you rub polystyrene)
Now the main cause of bad mixes is when one or more sounds are “clashing” with eachother, on this ‘frequency range’. ‘Clashing’ basically means that those sounds are fighting for the same ‘space’ in the spectrum, and because they’re both taking up the same space they cloud eachother and sound ‘cluttered’ as a result.
The idea is that you will want to choose sounds that all fill different ranges of the frequency, therefore each taking up their own seperate space, and so will all be able to be heard clearly.
I don’t remember where I read this, but someone said you should think of sounds as items in a closet or wardrobe.
You want to make sure everything is neatly packed into its own spot, so when you open the closet everything you want (shoes, jackets, hats) etc has its own space and is easy to find. If you have all your clothes messed up everywhere with your shoes all over the place, jackets pilled up rolled together with jeans and t-shirts, it’ll take you ages to find clothes when you need to. That’s basically the same with your mixes.
You have to place sounds that each take up their own distinct place so when you listen to your music, your ears can “see” each sound clearly.
First Off, The Kick
I consider the kick the most important part of the drum sounds. The kick provides the tempo and really gives the listener something to nod their head to. Kicks will almost always take up the lower frequencies. This means if you have to many other ‘bass heavy’ sounds, they will cloud your kick and make them harder to hear.
Really you should only have one other sound in the lower end of the spectrum, and that’s the bassline. However, you have to make sure that the bassline isn’t SO low that it takes away from the kick by fighting from the same space. If you listen to the beat below, you can hear how the bassline and the kick compliment each other.
The clap/snare is next, and getting your clap or snare to really ‘pop’ has a lot to do with the way you layer your drums. Because this article isn’t really focused on that, i’m not going to talk about the clap/snare too much. However, I will be writing a DETAILED article about the art of layering your drums, and I will have a video explaining my process on how I get my drums to really hit hard.
The most important part of this article is in the actual melodic sounds, as these are the ones that really have the most chance of clashing and fighting for “frequency space”. On average I have around 5 ‘melodic’ (non percussive) sounds in a track. Sometimes I have a bit more, sometimes I have a bit less. In this particular beat I had four.
So I’ve already covered the bassline. Once you’ve picked out a bassline you shouldn’t really have any other low-end sounds in your track. Most of the other sounds really will go from the mid-low to high frequencies.
Usually I ‘fill’ my mid frequencies with some kind of ‘chorded’ sound. This could be anything from a synth pad, to string chords. In this particular beat I actually created this sound using Massive VST, and it’s a sort of synth chord. If you look at how I played the chord, I am playing the the ‘root’ note on lower octaves to give the chords an extra thickness in the mid-low range.
This helps fill up some of the lower frequencies, but not so low that they compete with the bassline and kick.
Next ill pick some sounds to fill the mid-high and high ranges. In this beat you can hear the ‘verse lead’ and the ‘chorus lead’. They both were played at higher octaves to avoid clashing with the other sounds that were already present in the track. And even those two sounds were played at different octaves so they wouldn’t clash with each other.
If you listen you can hear that the ‘verse lead’ is played higher than the ‘chorus lead’, and because they are played at different octaves they sit in different spots frequency-wise, which means they both are easier to distinguish when played TOGETHER.
So that’s really the framework I use when choosing out sounds, and that’s how I get my mixes to sound clear before I even start the mixing process.
Now, after I finish my beat I do go in and apply EQ, panning, compression, and various other effects to the sounds in my track, but going through that process wasn’t the point of this article.
The reason I wrote this is to highlight the fact that one of the most important factors to getting a clear sounding mix is understand how sounds fit together in the frequency range, and learning how to choose sounds that COMPLIMENT each other rather than COMPETE with each other.
Obviously, this is a skill that has to be practiced, but you can start now by listening to some of your favorite music and identifying the sounds that were used, and how they sound against all the other sounds in the track.
I hope this helped some of you! I’m interested to hear your take on this so leave a comment below and tell me what you think, or if any thing wasn’t clear at all (I know this concept can be a little confusing for some).