Wow, this month, I’d say that my mixing skills have improved more than they did for the past two years.  So what happened this month, and what are some good ways to improve your own mixing skills?

For one thing, I’ve been putting in even more time mixing and listening to great mixes by people who are far more experienced.  I think the best thing you can do to get better at mixing is to listen to great mixes.  An even better way to learn would obviously be to go work in someone’s studio, but if you can’t do that, listen to the demo songs that come with Logic or whatever software you use.  In Logic, not only can you listen to those songs, but you can also see what was done to every single track of the mix and what effect plugins were used.  Last week, I probably spent about four hours on one day picking apart every single element of one song and trying to figure out what the engineers did and why each element sounded the way that it did.  It’s kind of like being able to look over the shoulders of the engineers and musicians.  Of course, it won’t do you too much good to listen to good mixes on terrible speakers, which brings me to my next point.

Until recently, I didn’t really have any serious monitors, so I would just mix on some desktop speakers and the stereo in the living room.  Last month, though, I think my dad got sick of listening to me mix in the living room playing one bar over and over again trying to get it right and sweeping the EQs at high frequencies to find a problem, so he found a good buy and got me a pair of AKG K702 reference headphones.  Of course, he’s an audiophile, too, and I’ve caught him listening with them a couple of times.  The thing is, if you don’t have a decent pair of headphones or monitors, you won’t necessarily be able to hear where your problems are in your mixes.  You might be able to tell that your mixes don’t sound much like other mixes in the same genre, but unless you’re really experienced, you won’t be able to know what the problem is or how to fix it.  Also, not all stereo systems have a flat enough frequency response to be usable for mixing.

However, even with better monitors and more practice time, that’s not always enough to get significantly better.  Another thing that has made me get better is the way I’m approaching mixing now.  When I first started getting into audio-engineering a few years ago, I didn’t have any kind of plan for going about mixing, and I never kept records about what I did.  Sometimes, I used to leave a mix for a month, and then I’d come back, but I’d have no idea what had or hadn’t been done.  But now, I start my mixes by putting together the perfect lead-vocal take, and then I mix the drums and bass in.  Once that’s done, I add in the lead instrument (usually guitar or keyboard), and finally everything else.  You have to start with the most essential elements of the mix, and take notes about what you did and what you know still needs to be done.

So that’s my best advice for now about general ways to get better at mixing.  Next time I’ll talk about some specific tricks that can significantly improve your mixes.

Let’s hear some input from you: how do you approach mixing and how are you improving your skills?

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About Shelby Rawlings Blalock

I'm a 22-year-old composer, pianist, audio engineer, student, and GRAMMY Camp 2012 alum––a Charlottesville native making my way in Nashville! I write music for orchestra and small ensembles, but my debut solo piano album Airborne is available now on iTunes.

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