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.
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.
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 the Waves V-EQ, because I like the blind interface and how it makes you rely on your ears.
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?
Of course, other parts of the song will now need rebalancing.
Using automation can help you rebalance the other aspects of the mix and multing certain tracks can help make it all easier.
For further ideas and great strategies to take you rough mix to the next level using the five most important plug-ins to master, you’d be smart to check out my Mixing With 5 Plug-ins course.
But, the course isn’t for everyone. It’s only for beginner to intermediate home studio mixers that want an in-depth understanding of how to start making their mixes better.
If you’re like Daniel, a recent Mixing With 5 Plug-ins member, you might realize that you’ve actually learned a lot throughout the years. Even though he asked for a refund, he didn’t have a single problem with the course.
Here’s what Daniel said after I gave him a refund.
“Thank you Bjorgvin, If I can be honest, for a second. I love your emails, really love them! I read them every week/day/when I get them. Been receiving them since I bought a book couple of years ago. They always inspire me and I was struggling with a mix, wanted to quit music, you know how it is. So I read one of the emails and felt totally jacked to learn more, I’ve been looking at some courses that would especially give me multitracks so I could push myself a bit and get more time in behind the speakers, and decided I’m gonna buy as much as I can afford at this moment to learn more and so I did buy it. Unfortunately, I knew almost everything in the course, either through experience or some type of education. But! I would recommend the course to everyone. And you know why? Because the way you teach is the same way you write those emails. You write and teach in a way that completely makes the concept or the task easy to understand. I just wanted to tell you that. Even though I have known these techniques for a while and are very familiar with them and I was looking for something more advanced, I found myself saying “wow, that’s a great way to look at that” allot. Please know that in no way did I think the course was bad or the presentation was bad. I think you are a great teacher and a great musician. Thank you for reminding me that I have at least grown a bit, but even more so, thank you for inspiring me and helping me to push forward, grow, organize, plan and to stay positive so many times through the writings in your emails. I really appreciate it!”
I think that sums up my guarantee pretty nicely. I guarantee that the training I make will help you improve your mixes. But, if you’re already too advanced I don’t want to keep your money.
I’m exchanging education for money. If you’re already too educated, then my materials aren’t for you and you shouldn’t have to risk your money on something you already know.
That’s like getting a degree in the same thing twice at two different colleges. Will you learn to look at the same subject differently? Sure, but is it worth taking out two student loans? Not at all.
So, know that if you take my training, I guarantee that you’ll learn something new. If you don’t, you’ll get your money back. That’s a promise.
If you want to check out Mixing With 5 Plug-ins, click here to join the course and start making awesome mixes using only 5 plug-ins.