Mixing and Mastering Advice You Don’t Want to Hear

Mixing and Mastering Advice

If you are anything similar to me, then you are probably looking for mixing and mastering tips and tutorials constantly.  You are trying to take your music to the next level and want your records to sound like the pros, right?

Me, Too!

But for whatever reason, we will ignore the good advice that can help us and instead we will take advice from anyone and everyone who puts it out there and what we want to hear.  I can relate, because I am very similar.

How did you get that snare to pop?

Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend about a common question I get asked a lot: “How do you get your snares to pop?”  I always cringe when they ask me that because the answer is truly anticlimactic and nothing remotely close to what they were expecting.

The way I’m able to get that great sound is that it wasn’t from drum samples, it wasn’t a cool new plugin, and it wasn’t even through EQ or compression.  The reality is that I got that snare sound because that’s just the way it was recorded.  Boring, I know.

It was about finding the sweet spot with the microphone and the snare drum and finding the best spot that those two things played well together.  I had to fall in love with the sound and I knew I was there.  Remember, that mixing and mastering does start with the source material.

For most people, you are probably mixing your tracks or at the very least, it’s music that you’ve recorded.  So if that’s what the case is, then you are in luck.  So the best mixing and mastering advice, I could give, is just to record material that sounds great from the start.

Make sure that you are recording drum sets that sound good, that have new heads and are in tune.  Make sure your acoustic guitars have fresh new strings and sound like you want the finished product to sound like.

Video on Tuning Drum Heads:

You might not like this

I know the advice I am giving, sounds pretty obvious but the truth is that most people don’t even both doing it.  I know because I don’t do it sometimes either.  I honestly should know better, but I still put op some microphones, press record and then I think to myself “Ah, I’ll just fix it in the mix.”   It’s probably just in our human nature to do that because I talk to a lot of people, and they all seem to be doing the same thing.  We want to fiddle with sounds for hours rather than take the time to record something truly memorable from Day 1.

So put away the equalizers, the compressors and whatever plugins you are anxiously trying to get your hands on.  Focus on the recording and the sounds you get from the start!

Action Steps for Better Mixing and Mastering

Remember that the first thing that’s the most important is to focus on the microphone selection and the room position when recording.  Get a great sound and your mixes will thank you later.

Next, you need to do a little work to get the instruments to sound good.  Tune them up properly, use fresh strings and replace the drum heads if necessary.  You can’t compromise on a great sounding instrument.

Lastly, stop over processing!  I can’t say that enough.  I see too many people get GREAT recordings, but then their mixing and mastering falls short because of their Overuse of plugin processing.  Focus on the balance and vibe of the music and your tracks will sound better before you know it.

Some more mixing tips straight from a mastering engineer…

3 questions to ask when using EQ

EQ is a big part of the mixing process but how do we know that?  Like where should we be boosting frequencies and where should we be cutting? Is there a good place to start? It’s all so complicated, and these are questions I continue to get from my followers.  I truly do understand what you are going through so let me ask you some questions to help you make better EQ decisions in the future.

Are There Frequencies That Add Nothing to The Track?

Okay, so lets begin with a simple question:  What frequencies can I remove from the song that are adding no value whatsoever?  Have you ever considered that in every song there is frequency information that just doesn’t need to be there?  It’s a complete waste of headroom and is more specifically the low frequencies – below 40Hz.  You can use the most commonly used filter to do yourself a favor and remove all of that low-end junk.   It’s not adding anything except for some volume on the track.

You mine as well take out the high pass filter and get rid of everything above 90Hz that’s not part of a Bass guitar or Kick drum.  And why is that?  The audio below 90Hz is best used for the low-end instruments, so you should free up some room for the bass and kick combo to let the rest of the tracks do their thing in the mid range.

Are Any Frequencies Hurting Your Track?

Once you remove the pointless and neutral stuff from your record, it’s time to go looking for those problematic frequencies that are making your song sound terrible.  You should never assume that your track was perfectly recorded and contains only good things.  Even professionally-recorded tracks provide some sonic information that’s making things sound more terrible than they should be.  So find them and get rid of them.

I’ll usually boost a frequency up 12dB (extremes settings so that I can hear it) using a pretty narrow Q and I start sweeping around.  I’m trying to pinpoint all the nastiness I can find.  The good old stuff.  A lot of times I’ll find Mud in the 400-500Hz range.  Sometimes it could be boxiness in that range, or it could be ear piercing frequencies in the upper mids.  It could a resonant ring in the drums.  Whatever it might be I try and get rid of it by about 3-6dB.

This subtractive EQ process does a couple of important things for you: it makes your song sound better by removing the unwanted frequencies, which in turn better highlights what DOES sound good in your track.  All the while freeing up some more headroom for you. It’s a win-win.

Are There Frequencies That Make The Track Sound Great?

After getting rid of those nasty unwanted frequencies, you should be asking yourself: What frequencies do I hear that I like?  What is it about this track that makes it sonically great?  It could be the beat of the drum or the wispiness in the singer’s voice.  Whatever it is, you can highlight those areas with some EQ to help the track stand out.

This process is the same as when you were searching for the nasty frequencies; the only difference is that you are looking for the things that make the song great.  If I do decide to boost a frequency, I tend to stick with a simple 3dB; nothing more and uses a wide Q setting.  This helps to keep things smooth and subtle sounding.

If you’re having problems figuring out how to hear these audio frequncies check out this EQ cheat sheet.  It does a great job of explaining how to hear the audio frequencies instead of just telling you what to do.

Now Do it Over And Over.

That’s it.  So those are the three questions that you should be asking yourself whenever you pull out an EQ and decide to go at it.  You simply remove the frequencies that are either hurting the track or are unnecessary and then accenting the ones that make it great.  You should be on the path to a more musical sounding mix.

Just one last thing:  Make sure you bypass the plugin every so often so that you can gain some perspective on what you’ve done.  It doesn’t seem like you are doing much but when it’s all added up it makes a big difference, and your ears are terrible at remembering things.

Also check out this video on EQing for some more tips:

Welcome to the New Home of Alex Band and Friends

Hello Peops

Just wanted to let you know that this site is undergoing a complete facelift and change and should be back up and running shortly.  We can’t wait to share tons of cool stuff with you but in the meantime we thought you would like this super duper cool video on recording tips..