Top 17 Common Music Mixing Mistakes And How To Fix Them!
Written by John Rogers
These are the Top 17 most common music mixing mistakes I see daily. Correcting them could will improve your audio mastering results and make your mixes sound more professional.
I've mastered over 40,000 songs, and these are the problems I see most often.I'm not going to get into advanced mixing techniques in this article, but I will mention a few basic solutions for the most common music mixing mistakes I see daily (in no specific order), which will ultimately make your mix sound more professional.
I want your music to sound the very best it can. And if you follow these tips they will greatly improve your audio mastering results. And hopefully, you'll use me at JR MASTERING when you're ready to master your CD project!
#1 WRONG FILE TYPE!
What To Submit - .WAV File - 44.1 or 48khz / 16-32bit (preferably 24bit) OR .Aiff file
No one wants (or needs) to work with a HUGE 1GB 96khz file! Don't send your mastering engineer a 10GB album! It's overkill since CDs are 44.1khz, and mp3s are even lower quality. One exception - You're working with mastering for itunes.
#2 Plug-Ins On The Stereo Out (Main Out)
If your songs are going to be mastered, NOTHING should be on your stereo/ main out. No limiter, no loudness maximizer, no EQ, no spectral enhancer. This is my job in the audio mastering process. I set everything where it needs to be based on your style of music. Then you tell me if you feel it needs a little more a less of something, and I'll adjust as necessary.
I don't need you to partially master the song for me. Most of the time when a client tries to do this, they go way over on several sonic qualities, and I cannot correct their mistakes.
#3 The Songs Peak Too High, Are Distorted Or They Have No Dynamic Range
There are four thing that make a mix sound fuller.
A. The LOW bass and UPPER-MIDS must have the proper thickness/boominess.
B. The vocal and instrumentation amounts have to be sufficient. For example, four guitars or vocal tracks sound much thicker than two.
C. Don't roll of too much bass from your mid-frequency tracks. I get in a lot of songs where the lead vocal and lead guitars (or synths) are all high bass filtered around 500hz which leaves you with a thin tinny sound. This is very difficult to correct in audio mastering. Yes, some tracks do need to be high pass filtered around 200-300hz, but make sure you're not removing too much bass and left with a thin tinny sound.
D. You tracks are properly panned across the stereo spectrum. If you have 4 guitars all panned dead center, it's going to sound like you have ONE loud mono guitar, which is not a full thick guitar sound.
#5 Bass Too Loud In Mix, Mix Sounds Muddy Or Too Boomy
35% of the hip hop songs I get in are very bass heavy, they go over 0 level, have no dynamic range, and are usually distorted too. The big bass you're looking for is added in the mastering process, along with a boost in overall song volume level. There's no need to make your bass super loud during mixing.
Mixes that sound dull are actually good for mastering! Listen to the BEFORE mix samples on my before and after samples page. Notice how the mixes are either average brightness and bass, or dull (slightly muffled). This type of mix allows me to put it where it should be.
As a mastering engineer, it's easy to make a dull song brighter and a set it exactly right where it should be. But a super bright song that requires a big EQ cut, many times will leave you with a flat lifeless master that has no sparkle.
#6 Mix Sounds Bad In A Car, Weak Stereo Field The car is the ultimate judge of the stereo field. If you didn't do a good job with it, your song will sound like its a foot wide, playing right above the stereo, no a full wide sound that blasts out from the left door all the way across to the right door.
Most amateur mixing engineers think stereo reverb is the solution to a mix with a weak stereo field. WRONG! If you pan everything centrally, and then put stereo reverb on it, all you'll have is a weak reverb echo on the outside of the stereo while the meat of the song is all up the middle.
Yes, you can use delays that bounce to the outsides, the Haas effect is great to, BUT the simple rule I learned many years ago and follow is this.
If you want to be able to hear something on the outsides of the stereo field, YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING PANNED THERE!! For example, if you have two different guitars (or Hass effected) panned L80 and R80, they will play out of the doors and create a nice stereo. If you have one or two guitars panned at 20L and/or 20R, it will sound like its right above the radio.
But sometimes guitars aren't playing. Well, put some background vocals panned L/R, a few hi hat hits can go in there, a light violin or synth pad might work.
I get songs in where the guitars are nice stereo, then when they go off, its a mono song 12 inches wide. As long as something is playing on the outside of the stereo field, you'll have a nice wide sound in the car. So make sure there's always something coming in and out.
NOTE - I almost always go L80 - R80 and higher. Why? A LOT of people use headphones and you have to be careful when you pan full hard L or R. Especially when it's just one side where the track really stands out. You can blow someones ear out if it's too loud. If you do pan hard L or R, realize you might be able to make the volume of the track(s) lower than normal because of this. Listen closely to your mix and just make sure these hard panned tracks aren't too loud.
#7 Mix Sounds Too Harsh, Very Bright Mix Or Tinny Mix
Roughly 25% of the mixes I get in, the client cranks up the high-end EQ or overuses a spectral enhancer, thinking they're getting that clear professional radio quality sound. This mix will never make a great master because it's already much brighter than it needs to be.
I'm not saying you shouldn't EQ your mixes at all, just remember a slightly dull mix can be turned into a great master, but an overly bright one can't.
When I have to cut a lot of high-end EQ, the song loses its sparkle and clarity. It also prevents me from using frequency phase correcting tools. I'm not saying you shouldn't EQ your mixes at all, just remember a slightly dull mix can be turned into a great master, but an overly bright one can't.
Listen to your mix. If you think your mix is too bright, it probably is.
#8 Boomy Vocals In Mix
Problem - The vocals are too boomy and interfere with the kick and bass clarity.
Solution - Roll off the bass in your vocals. Use a high pass filter on your vocal track anywhere from 150hz-300hz. Move around in that range to see what sounds best. Unless you're singing like Barry White, you don't need that low frequency in your vocal track.
#9 Vocals Not Loud Enough In Mix
I would say 50% of the rock songs I get in, the vocal volume is just too low. Maybe 25% when it comes to hip hop.
This is a common technique in rock music since many times the singer is poor and tries to hide his vocals under the music. If I can't understand HALF of what you are singing, this is a WRONG mixing technique!
You don't know how many times I've pointed out this error to a client, telling them I honestly can't understand HALF the vocals in the song. I couldn't even guess them. And the reply, "Oh, that's ok. We want the listener to have figure out some of the vocals?" REALLY? I can see a few words, but how many songs on the radio have you heard where half the vocals are impossible to understand? The answer is NEVER! This isn't a word puzzle, it's a song!
Probably the worst song I've ever heard on the radio, maybe 10% of the words were tough to understand. And many times that was because of a phrasing irregularity, not the vocal volume level being -5dbs too low.
#10 Vocals With Sharp Ssss Sound
If the Sss sounds in your vocals is the least bit sharp before mastering, it will be unbearable after mastering. Crank up you mix loud and apply a De-esser to your vocal track if needed.
Note - The good thing about a de-esser is it's pretty much non-destructive. If you were to use it moderately on a vocal track and really didn't need it, it won't affect it much because there's no Ssss problem for it to fix.
#11 Tracks Not Ready For Mixing
Tracks not synced, fades, which effects to use, how much compression, etc. is covered on this page -
I had to throw this in here. Ha! Too many people, for whatever reason, choose a mixing or mastering engineer that is either inexperienced, is pretty much workingin a corporate straight up cash scam (which is, you're a nobody and we nickel and dime you every penny we can). Not to mention deliver poor results. Who cares, we got your money!
Go with an engineer that has worked with over 7,500 clients, treats your music like it's his own, and delivers fast amazing results. ME!! Thanks for checking out my low rates! I'll do an amazing job for you!
#13 Mixes Not Checked At High Volume Levels
During audio mastering, most (if not all) songs are going to be volume boosted to some extent. This magnifies whatever is in your mix.
Many times a client sends me a song mix that's very low level, maybe -8dbs to -12dbs headroom. If it's a decent mix, the audio mastering results will be very good. But what usually happens is when I crank up the volume real loud, the song mix is super bright. Way brighter than a commercial industry standard song. Sometimes the song is a trainwreck when cranked up loud.
Why is this so common? Since the song was mixed and monitored at such a low volume level, the sound engineer can't tell what it will sound like when turned up much louder.
Solution - If your songs were mixed at a low level, you must crank up your system volume output loud to hear how it sounds, and then adjust your mix as needed. If it's unbearable bright or has super bass that runs over the entire song, you have to correct this.
And I repeat, If you think your mix is too bright, it probably is.
#14 Noisy Tracks Or Noisy Song Mix
Problem - There's a constant low-end hum or high-end hiss on an instrument track. This track noise eats up space, slightly clouding up the entire song.
Solution - Listen through your entire song for noise. Sometimes the cause is a mic being boosted to loud during recording or an instrument gained or boosted to high. Find your noisy tracks and either eliminate them, or EQ high or low pass filter them. Or use a noise gate.
Noise/hiss is easily noticed at the beginning and sometimes at the end of songs when instrumentation is low (or has ended). It's not as noticeable when the meat of the song is playing, but that noise is always present and is slightly clouding up your entire song.
#15 Kick Drum And Bass Guitar Are On Top Of Each Other In The Same Frequency Range
Problem - Both the bass guitar and kick drum are in the same low-frequency range (50hz-75hz). They're washing (phase canceling) each other out and one or both can't be heard very clearly.
Solution - When you initially arrange your songs, you have to decide which instrument will be in the low-frequency 50-75hz range (usually the kick) and which will be in the mid-low 100hz-250hz (usually the bass). If the kick is low, then the bass needs to be mid-low (and vice versa) not both in the same frequency range. This is just the basics.
Note - This is more of an "arrangement" problem than it is a "mixing" problem. You have to select the right instruments in the correct frequency ranges in the first place.
#16 High/Sharp Instrument Becoming An Annoyance
When mixing, remember that after I master your songs, they'll be a lot louder and clearer. There's no need to make higher frequency instruments (synth, violin, chimes, etc.) real loud. These bright instruments don't compete with too much in the mix, so they have no problem cutting through. Many times the sound engineer doesn't factor this in and mixes them in too loud.
Remember, if these instruments are still too bright after mastering, you can upload a new adjusted mix and I'll swap it out at no extra charge.
Solution - If the Sss sounds in your vocals is the least bit sharp before mastering, it will be unbearable after mastering. Apply a De-esser to your vocal track if needed.
#17 Properly MASTERING Your Song
If you've made it this far, you pretty much know how to MIX your songs properly. Now you need to know how to MASTER your own music properly. It's not all about mixing. EVERY song EVER on the radio has been mastered. Has yours been?
I would say YES, most people can become a great mastering engineer. I say this because most of the mixes I receive from clients are pretty good and I know the audio engineer (the band member with a computer) has only minimal training.He could easily be great if he put a little more study and practice time into it.And if he had this book to teach him what took me over 17 years to learn!Ha!
I had to write a quick note on this, as I was reminded about it while thumbing through a popular mixing book that had a 15 page section on speaker resonance and room sound proofing.I must say, a very exciting 15 pages!Ha!
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Why do songs need to be mastered? I've seen this question on the Internet many times.The answer I always see is "Because all songs on the radio have been professionally mastered, yours should be too."This is a true fact, but not an answer.
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Since the begining of his solo career in 2008, I mastered over 80 songs with the top French recording artist NYLS. Great pop dance music with a lot of remixes. During his entire career (as of now), I mastered most of if not all the song he released. It was a great pleasure working with NYLS and Nico at Icon Records!
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I started my career using the old analog stuff, since that was the only option.I incorporated digital software plugins as soon as they became available, but it took many years before computers were fast enough to run them in realtime.And also before they started making very high quality plugins.
Would you like to know how to master a song or how to master your own music? So many people think just making the volumes the same level for every song is "mastering" their CD. Well, mastering is a lot more than just that!