In the first part of this article we went through four common problems that keep occuring in mixdowns and discussed the solutions to tackle them.
1. The low end clash
2. Too much bass
3. The mixdown is heavily compressed/limited
4. Clicks/pops/errors in the mixdown
Without further blabber let us get on to the next scenarios. Please note the advice here is written with drum and bass and dubstep music in mind.
5. The mixdown is too quiet
This will force the mastering engineer to artificially push up the gain which then results in reduced quality/resolution. Imagine having a low resolution photo to work with. You can maybe sharpen it a bit but there’s not a whole lot you can do if the resolution isn’t there!
To avoid this just simply bounce/render you mixdown as loud as possible without clipping. Anywhere between -1dB to -6dB is good.
BTW: you should always try to avoid all kinds of normalization in the production process. It causes the exact same thing – loss of resolution – to happen to your sounds. Unnecessary processing = evil.
6. The stereo image is all over the place
Sometimes it’s easy to forget about the stereo image when working on a track and vibing off ideas. Also most bedroomesque production setups don’t really allow for a fully accurate stereo image. There would be so much to talk about on this topic but for the purposes of this post here’s a few good ground rules to keep in mind:
- Don’t just pan sideways. Use EQ to utilize the depth of the stereo field as well. We perceive sounds with less high frequency content as being further away and vice versa.
- Keep drums in the middle. Especially bassdrums and snares.
- Sub-bass should always be mono.
- Don’t let anything get out of phase. Use a phase meter to keep up with your tweaks.
- Check how your mix sounds in mono. You don’t want to lose vocals or anything else because of phase cancellation. Many club soundsystems are mono.
- Use a stereo analyzer to get visual reference of what’s going on. I like to use one with 3D “waterfall” mode which lets you pin down on individual sounds very precisely.
These things alone will go a long way in achieving a nice balanced stereo image.
7. The mix is too busy
Obviously this is also a question of taste and genre. But if there is a lot going on in a track it becomes increasingly challenging to find space for everything in the mix. It also compromises loudness. The more stuff you put into your mix, the more audio energy it contains within the same amount of space (time). This leads to more difficult time achieving good separation and more potential issues with phase and distortion.
This goes for ideas/elements but also the amount and kind of effects that are used in the track. It’s equally easy to make a “minimal” track sound messy with too many effects.
From mastering point of view it becomes harder to touch down on specific things without affecting the other stuff too much. So keep it clean and trust your strongest ideas.
8. The bassdrum/snare balance is off or they are too quiet
This will have a huge impact on how the beats are perceived and how the track “moves”. The key to learning the right balance is to again reference with a lot of other similar music.
What I like to do when mixing is turn down the volume completely. Then slowly start bringing it back up. The first thing you should hear is the bassdrum and snare. If you only hear one or the other (or something else) you might have a problem.
I hope these tips provide useful to you. The issues are certainly something I encounter a lot.
It’s mastering engineer’s job to resolve things like these the best he can. But there’s only so much that can be done at that stage. The more problems you can eliminate in the production stage, the more the mastering engineer can concentrate on polishing an already refined mixdown. This is when the music truly starts to shine.
What kind of problems have you encountered when mixing/mastering? Anything you would like to read about? Post your comments.