Home music producers can go out and buy every single book on mixing, every book on production, and every book on mastering and yet still have a final mix of a song that sounds terrible.
I’m not saying that home recording studios don’t need to invest in text books. Books are fundamental, and every studio should have a few sitting by for easy reference. However, books can’t make your ears any better; you’ve got to work on that yourself by listening for specific things in your mixes. Here are three things that every home mixing engineer should listen for in their songs.
1. Proper EQ separation of different instruments. If you’ve got a good mix, you should not have any problem picking out a specific instrument and listening to it. Even if an instrument is low in the mix, you should be able to hear how it’s different from other instruments. If you cannot, chances are fairly good that it’s in the same frequency range as another instrument, and those instruments are duking it out for that space–which makes your mix sounds convoluted, odd, muddy, boomy, or otherwise, well, bad. EQ instruments in a way that provides separation.
2. Proper stereo separation of different instruments. Equally important is where each instrument sits in the mix relative to the stereo center. Your mix should sound even and full. Nothing should be in the dead center of the stereo spectrum that isn’t incredibly important to the song (the vocals, bass guitar, and kick drum are often kept in the center, as they’re integral parts of the song). Guitars should be panned to either side, but not 100% to either side, unless there’s a very good reason to do so. Instruments sharing the same frequency range can be separated in stereo to diminish the bad effect. Use panning as much as you use EQ.
3. The song should sound like everything was recorded in the same room. If it doesn’t, there’s either an EQ, volume level, effect, or panning issue. Vocals commonly stick out like a sore thumb in a poorly-mixed song, because of one or more of these issues. Consider whether each problem could have contributed to the bad effect, and listen to the mix in different ways: on different speakers, from outside the room, on a single channel, etc. until you can identify and correct the issue, leading to a much better sounding and more literally-mixed song.
What do you listen for while mixing your home recordings? What makes a song sound great? Post in our comments section and let us know.