3 ways to tell if your mix is ready
The definitions of audio mixing are many, but one stands out the most is that mixing is an iterative process where mix engineers combine several stems or tracks to form the final soundstage of a song or album. So, with that in mind; what does it take to create to really awesome mix and more importantly when do you know if your mix is ready for mastering?
Yes, some might argue that mixing is purely an art form and is highly subjective; however, there are benchmarks and a number of papers that have done some great work to demonstrate that you can measure such subjectivity in empirical form.
In this article, we will briefly give you a strategy to identify whether your mix is ready for mastering or not. Thanks for your patience – let’s dig in.
Start with referencing - I would recommend paying particular attention to Vocal levels and your mix compares to the reference (provided it is the same genre). Don’t be a purist and try to match low and high-end elements; instead, opt-in for relative levels and space around instruments specifically; the wet/dry relationship.
For Loudness and your song to compete: try to make sure you really scrutinise your low end and DO NOT overdo it; it’s amateurish and just makes you look bad.
You will also find that compression whether it’s on individuals or on the master bus won’t be as trigger-happy once you have managed your low end properly.
Obviously, make sure you match levels using your preferred meter and check different sections of your mix against the reference. Another crucial aspect is clarity and definition; it goes without saying so, do take your time to clean up those mids and don’t make the vocals too harsh, you will end up in sibilance-mode and you will spend the rest of the days chasing your tail.
Last but not least; width, please tread carefully on this one or your phase relationships will be all over the place so monitor in mono and verify.
I am sure you have been told this a number of times, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it one more time: Monitoring is the single best investment you will do in your career as an audio professional.
So it’s a non-negotiable to establish that what you’re listening to is an accurate representation of your mix decisions, some might argue that you can learn all your monitoring environment shortcomings. Well, there is no empirical data to support this argument; however, I would choose a critical listening room and understand exactly what I am listening to rather than mixing blind.
This will result in better translation; it means that your mix will sound balanced on a number of different playback systems as a result of mixing in an acoustically controlled space, but hey- it does not hurt to have different sets of speakers to flick between. In fact, your results will drastically improve if you do this more often; you will not be disappointed, I promise.
So get yourself a Bluetooth speaker and use your phone speakers then compare your mix against your reference and adjust accordingly. I have a consumer-grade soundbar and an old TV that I use for monitoring alongside my reference monitors.
That is one thing that can transform your good mixes into great ones, so start by taking a full, uninterrupted listen to the mix a few times and assess the focal points of the song; yes, I am talking about that lead vocal track you have been avoiding since you started mixing that song. Can you hear every word of the vocal, maybe your focal point is a guitar so, can you hear every note?
From this point on, automate to bring the final pieces to all those cool performances to emphasise the transitions and really accentuate tension and release especially between verses and choruses. Do this and you will save yourself some time doing revisions later on.
Next; listen to your mix outside the room and lower your monitoring until you can barely hear it – sum it to mono. It will really show and highlight any problems with your mix, especially masking ones. Finally, sleep on it and listen again and check it against your client brief before sending it off.
And that’s it, YOU ARE DONE.
Understanding when the mix is ready can save you some time going in circles to redo, which will also help your confidence levels. Once you clocked in some hours implementing those strategies; you will become more consistent and your clients will know exactly what to expect when they hire you.