What To Do When The Song Mix Doesn’t Sound Good?
Have you ever been mixing a song for a long time and then realize it doesn’t sound right? Something is obviously wrong with it but you can’t figure out what? Everything sounds OK but not great. Sounds familiar?
When we work on a piece of music for hours and hours our ears adapt to the sounds we hear. It happens quite fast and within hours. When that happens we lose the sense of how the mix sounds overall and we lose the ability to hear the details of the sounds. We may not be able to tell if the sounds are balanced well or if our mix is favoring the bass too much.
This is obviously challenging when these are the exact things we need to focus on while mixing a piece of music.
The Simple Tricks
The most important advice I can give on mixing is simple, take breaks. Common sense, right? Sadly, many music producers ignore it. Protect your ears by taking a short break every 30-45 minutes.
In addition, don’t mix in extremely high volume. This further messes with your hearing. Start mixing in a reasonable volume and every now and then turn the volume up and see how it compares. Sometimes you need higher volume to hear certain things in the mix.
Guideline For When The Mix Just Doesn’t Work
Every once in a while you might hit a roadblock with your mix and realize it doesn’t sound as good as it could be. You have been mixing the song for days and just can’t make it work. What should you do?
First and foremost, stop. Close the project and don’t open it for a day or two.
If you have been mixing the song for days already, your ears are extremely comfortable with how it sounds like. Your hearing is adjusted to it and can’t tell what is wrong with it anymore. Therefore, you need distance from it.
2. Listen Music For Reference
After your short break from the mix, it’s important to get back to it the right way. Don’t just jump in and expect to make magic happen.
Right before continuing your mix project, find a commercially released song or album that you know is mixed very well. Use that as your reference for what you want to achieve. The music should have a similar style than your own song. After all, you can’t expect to mix a banging hip hop track after listening to some calm classical music. The whole approach to mixing is totally different in those genres.
Listening to similar music as a reference is a great starting point for achieving a professional mix.
3. Mix And Compare
By listening to music that is mixed very well you can sort of ‘calibrate’ your ears and adapt your hearing to the sound of great mixes. Now when you get back to your project, you should pretty quickly notice things that doesn’t compare to the reference music you listened to. Maybe the sound balance is totally off and the snare is so sharp it could pierce your ears.
You can even compare the mixes side by side to further analyze the things that don’t compete against the commercial mixes.
What To Do When The Mix Still Doesn’t Sound Good?
Sometimes it happens that even after following all the previous tricks the mix still doesn’t sound right. Something is obviously wrong but you can’t figure out what exactly. Don’t freak out. When this happens, there’s one more thing to do. Start over.
Make a copy your current project and start going through the mix one track at a time. Mute all the tracks of the project and un-mute each track individually into the mix.
Often we can easily have up to 50 tracks in one particular song. They all blend in together and we might lose the sense of them individually. By going through all of the tracks one by one we can easily spot the tracks that doesn’t sound right or doesn’t sit well in the mix.
When you un-mute a track into the mix and notice it doesn’t sound great, adjust it. If you un-mute a track and notice it doesn’t bring any value into the mix, delete it.
With this method way we can split the mixing process into bite-sized pieces which makes it easier to hear what’s wrong.
It’s also important to go through the tracks in the correct order. Should you start from the random pad sound that is totally unimportant? No. Start your mix from the most important elements.
In a song where the rhythm is the backbone, start from drums and bass. After that, add the main instruments and the vocals. Then any additional sound elements. Of course, this order is not written in stone but I’ve found it works for most situations. Feel free to experiment to find out the best order for you and your current project.
This is the basic workflow I personally use for mixing. In addition, I may ask an opinion from few fellow producers to get outside perspective. Next time you’re struggling with a mix, give this workflow a try and let me know how it works out!