Transform Your Rough Recordings Into Released Records, Even If You Only Have a Home Studio

How to Get a Great Rough Mix In 7 Simple Steps

Getting a rough mix going is half the battle.

Once you’ve got all your tracks balanced together with levels, EQ, compression, and space, you’re already 80% there.

Remember the 80/20 rule. 20% of the effort creates 80% of the results.

So here’s the step-by-step process to get you a rough mix that will get you 80% of the way to a finished one.

1. Find the Busiest Part of the Mix

Find the spot in the mix where most, if not all of the instruments are playing at the same time.

This is the densest part of the mix and therefore the hardest one to balance together.

Start there.

2. Do Levels and Panning

It’s amazing how much a rough mix can come together if you just take the time to fine-tune the levels of your tracks.

Trust me, a dB up and down on the fader can make a difference.

The same goes for panning. Just moving certain instruments away from each other in the stereo spectrum cleans up the mix.

3. Filtering and Subtractive EQ’ing

Here’s a hard exercise for you, and one I know you don’t want to do:

Don’t boost at all.

We’ll get to that. In this step you only filter out all the unwanted frequencies you don’t want and cut annoying resonances and frequencies you don’t like. If you’re not sure which frequencies to cut, refer to EQ Strategies – Your Ultimate Guide to EQ for an in-depth blueprint on which frequencies to cut.

4. Add Compression

Don’t try to use every compressor you’ve got. I wouldn’t even recommend using a specialty compressor like an LA2A or an 1176. Just start with the stock compressor you have before spending money on expensive emulations.

Use a compressor you can really tweak. I come back to the Logic Pro X stock compressors all the time because of their versatility.

At this point, you just want to use the same compressor on every track, specifically one you’re really comfortable with.

Think of this compressor as your “balancer.” Use it to keep uneven tracks in check and to add tightness to your tracks.

Word of advice: Really spend time tweaking your attack and release settings. It’s amazing how much you can sculpt a sound by just moving the attack and release around.

Further reading on compression:

5. Add Character EQ

Once you’ve gotten rid of all the frequencies you don’t like and tightened up your tracks with compression, it’s time to add some character.

Grab a different EQ that has some character to it and use it to sweeten your tracks. My go-to EQ for this sort of thing is usually my own Audio Issues EQ plug-in because I deliberately designed the bottom analog enhancement module to add character to your tracks.

6. Saturation or Tape Emulation for Color

At this point, your mix should be pretty well put together.

However, using saturation is a common way to take it to the next level. Just slight tape emulation can add warmth to tracks. If you’ve taken the Mixing With 5 Plug-ins course, you’ll know that I use a combination of Kramer Tape and Fabfilter Saturn as saturation on my tracks.

7. Space and Parallel Processing

Your mix might sound very good already if you’ve followed these steps so far. However, your tracks might all sound pretty one-dimensional because they don’t have any space to them.

This is the time you start sending your tracks to reverbs and delays.

This is also the time you can send your tracks to parallel busses for further processing such as compression, stereo widening or saturation.

I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. If you only want to use one reverb then go for it. If you want to use different parallel processing and spaces on all your tracks then go nuts.

If it sounds good in the end then all the power to you.

Congratulations. You’ve got a great rough mix.

Where to Go From a Rough Mix?

For further ideas and great strategies to take your rough mix to the next level using the five most important plug-ins to master, you’d be smart to check out Step By Step Mixing: How to Create Great Mixes Using Only 5 Plug-ins.

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About me

About Audio Issues and Björgvin Benediktsson

We help musicians transform their recordings into radio-ready and release-worthy records they’re proud to release.

We do this by offering simple and practical music production and success skills they can use immediately to level themselves up – while rejecting negativity and gear-shaming from the industry. A rising tide floats all boats and the ocean is big enough for all of us to surf the sound waves.

Björgvin’s step-by-step mixing process has helped thousands of musicians confidently mix their music from their home studios. If you’d like to join them, check out the best-selling book Step By Step Mixing: How To Create Great Mixes Using Only 5 Plug-ins right here.