When you start mixing a track, what’s your approach?
Do you just start adding plugins and trying presets until everything sounds good? In the end, you might have 10 plugins on each channel and you might not even know what each plugin does anymore?
That’s almost like trying to make a meal taste good by throwing anything you find from the shelf into the pot.
That used to be me in the early days though…
Especially when you’re just learning and don’t have the necessary knowledge in mixing, this is totally fine.
However, it’s important to slowly start adjusting your approach and learn the specific purpose of each plugin. When you understand what each plugin should do to the track, you always know what plugin to add. At that moment, you can stop throwing random and unnecessary plugins into the mix!
When mixing a track, you’re essentially fixing issues in the audio, emphasizing or de-emphasizing different things and making everything sound good together. In short, that’s what mixing is.
It’s not magic (even though some people think it is).
Analyze The Track
The first thing you should do when starting to mix is to analyze the track(s).
Let’s take the kick drum as an individual example.
What does the kick sound like? Is it dull? Is there too much low-end? Could it be warmer? Punchier?
Whatever the case may be, you should listen it with an analytical ear and figure out what you want to do to it. When you know where to go, you can get there easier.
Read this article on how to practice your analytical hearing as a music producer.
QUICK TIP: Sometimes you don’t even know what you would want a track to sound like. Then, using presets is a great way to get some ideas! But, you should never rely solely on presets.
Attack The Issue With Precision
Once we’ve analyzed the track and know what we want to do, we can attack the issues with precision.
Want to make the kick punchier? Add a compressor. Too much low-end? Too much high-end? Is the low-mids annoying? Add an EQ. Want to make it more interesting? Add a distortion, it can do wonders to a track!
When adding plugins into the mix, it’s not said that you should have just one plugin that does everything.
For example: You can add several EQ plugins that each have their own job. EQ for cutting unnecessary low and high ends, EQ for fixing issues in the low-mid frequencies, and EQ for boosting some frequencies. This can be useful especially while you’re learning.
It Takes Practice
Developing analytical hearing and attacking the mix with precision takes a lot of practice. Also, it’s impossible to do without understanding what each plugin does.
But don’t get discouraged!
You don’t need to learn how a hundred plugins work. You need to understand the 20% of plugins that does 80% of the work. In fact, most of the time I use the same 5-10 plugins on each mix. That’s it.
The few plugins you should understand completely are compressor, EQ and reverb. In addition, perhaps distortion and limiter. Those are probably the most commonly used plugins that does majority of the work. Everything else is just like the cherry on top.