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I've spent days trying to mix a track I've done for a local vocalist. There is EQ, panning, a little compression on the drums and some reverb and delay effects.

It's not a complicated song, yet I can't seem to get it sounding open or exciting; it just sounds amateurish and quite dull. A lot of the life of the song seems to disappear during the mixing process.

I've made music for a while, but I've always sent it off to be mixed and mastered. This is my first time trying to fully Mix a song myself, so I'm a bit of a newcomer.

This is a little sample of the Unmixed Raw Track:

And this is the same sample but with my mixing changes applied:

Where am I going wrong??

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I just took a very quick listen. It sounds to me like you're trying to change the character of the song+sounds in mixing - making it much more mellow or darker sounding.

If that's the case, you probably get better results by changing the sounds you use.

If that's not the case, do less:

  • Less compression
  • Less EQing
  • Less reverb

Get the balance right first

  • cymbals and piano are way soft in your mix - a lot of highs in these sounds. Also, you killed the highs in the bass - result: your mix sounds a little dull (your word. I'd not use that word). Meaning, set the levels (start by doing this in mono), then the stereo field.

Then go for depth

  • Adding reverb to select elements to move them back
  • Adjusting highs for the same effect…

Also, find (commercial) mixes you like in a similar genre. Compare yours to them. Listen for how individual elements sound, level balances, effects used...

  • I have tried a few things you've said, but I feel like if I cut less or compress less, the individual elements don't stand out (e.g I feel the highs in the bass steal a lot of space from the keys and the synths). Basically if I do less, the frequencies clash and it gets muddy, but if I do more the track ends up sounding a little dead (as in the one I posted). I didn't intend for it to sound darker or more mellow, simply for all the constituent parts to stand out and the track as a whole to sound crisper. – nobosity Dec 11 '14 at 22:07
  • try this (a tip I got from the book "Mixing with your Mind". When EQing (or compressing one sound, listen mainly to how the other sounds close it (in frequency range or similarity) are affected. for example, if the highs of the bass take away from the keys. cut the bass highs but listen to the keys. at which point do you here the keys better (=closer to what you'd like to hear them). experiment. don't hesitate to try radical settings. save different versions of the mix. – WolfWein Dec 11 '14 at 23:38
  • also, try cutting overlapping frequencies in one sound (bass in your example) with a multiband compressor (or dynamic EQ) side chained to the sound it clashes with. the most typical example is where you side chain the bass drum into a (multiband) compressor on the bass to (gently) reduce the area that clashes with the bass drum - but only when the bass drum hits. – WolfWein Dec 11 '14 at 23:44
  • I agree with the bass. Because you took the highs of the bass out, you increased the volume of the bass. Now it just covers everyhting. I'm not comfortable with panning either. strings should be more everywhere then a single point. And try to use a single reverb for all instruments. It sounds like different recordings from different locations brought together. – Guney Ozsan Dec 30 '14 at 20:46
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I prefer the unmixed version at the moment, as it seems to have more space and atmosphere compared to the rather stifled and somehow 'unbalanced' mix.

I've found myself going through this process a lot, where I mix & mix and eventually end up discarding it and trying again. Ultimately, I'm slightly embarrassed to say, I found simply using alternative filters provided the results I was after.

That is to say, having tried various approaches to EQ, compression, etc, a third party mastering plug-in was a much better way to get the job done. At time of writing, I don't know if I'm allowed to mention specific products, so I'll just mention that they're called things like "Exciter", "Stereo Imager" and "Mastering EQ".

I recognise of course that the more skilful members of the field will know how to achieve these results by application of the various basic filters & compressors, but for me as a total amateur I was only too pleased to get the results I wanted by taking advantage of software that had been put together specifically for the job.

To paraphrase then, "try a special-purpose set of filters / plug-ins".

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If I were to comment, you may be using a pinch too much compression but the mix sounds solid overall! I think you're also forgetting about what mastering will do for a solid mix.

I used to master tracks and once I got lucky enough to master a track for a Grammy winning audio engineer Ben Arrindell. To my (amateur) surprise, the mix wasn't "radio ready" because thats not what the goal of mixing is. In fact, if you're preparing a mix to be mastered you'll see that mastering engineers want enough headroom to do their work.

The goal of mixing is to get a solid, balanced mixture of tambre, frequency and color.

Good luck!

  • no links..got it JoshP. – MiiinimalLogic Dec 11 '14 at 18:19
  • In fairness, links are ok as long as they add materially to the answer and are relevant to it, but simply saying "check out my material" or offering off-site help by contacting you privately isn't allowed. The idea is that if someone needs help, we want everyone to benefit from it. There's also chat available if something is too discussion oriented for the Q/A format. – AJ Henderson Dec 11 '14 at 20:17
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Some interesting things have been said so I won't repeat, but one important miss i think: Although it is a bit too loud in the raw track, the ride cymbal is way way way too low in your mix, and you lost all the groove. I really think that is the biggest error. This ride really is IMHO the key of this groove, and it has to be "LOUD", I mean you sure could go almost as loud as the raw track, with a sensible eq shaping it'll be delicious. Listen stuffs from The Cinematic Orchestra, I'm sure it will inspire you and gives you good ideas for this mix.

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I think you are mostly just suffering from editor's ear. My only comment is that the bass is now a little under powered as far as where I'd mix it. (I'd put it about half way between where the original was and where you mixed version is.) The over quiet bass makes it feel like it has a little bit less of a beat, but overall the mix sounds fine.

If you want it to mostly be in the background, I'd try applying some expansion to the bass so the big hits of it still push through to the top, but it would then drop back down behind the keys, though personally I think it would sound ok just bringing it up a bit overall, maybe with just a hair of expansion.

One other minor thought, it sounds like you may have put some reverb on the keys, but I might back it off a bit on parts of the keys to keep them having a crisp punch. It serves them well on the notes that hang out there, but it cuts the punchiness when the keys are playing more actively.

It's normally to second guess yourself when you are doing your own work though as you know what little parts you wish were a little different, but to an outside observer, it isn't really that noticeable.

If you still have a problem with how it sounds after stepping away for a bit, can you try to describe more of what about it you are trying to fix? That would help direct the feedback a little more.

  • The comment on the piano reverb really helped, thank you. Basically, I just feel that I can't separate each instrument so they're audible without killing their individual sound. The sound I'm looking for is more expansive and vibrant. I want the kick to be punchy but sound natural, the bass to have presence but not overpower everything else and the piano to sound as clear as it would do if there was nothing else taking up headroom. To be fair, though, it doesn't sound as bad as it did to me when I first posted this question... – nobosity Dec 11 '14 at 22:15
  • @nobosity - I kind of expected that. That's normal. Things always sound/look funky to you until you sit on it a while and hear/see it as a consumer rather than a creator. This is perfectly normal and you get used to it after a while. – AJ Henderson Dec 11 '14 at 22:23
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Do This ...

  1. EQ cleanups of bad frequency (you can google keyword tutorial)

  2. Compress the vocal for tightness

  3. Delay effect for open and spacey delicious pop vocal effect

  4. Reverb in a chamber or plate reverb for sheen and spacious hall sound

  5. Use some hardware emulation effects like Acustica Audio plugins, or SSL or Waves CLA vocals premade effects rack for noobs

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