I'm pretty sure that you were already in a situation where you've had a killer bass-line and you've just added a monster drum groove but they just sounded awful together. Well, this is most likely an everyday situation with most producers out there. Creating a perfectly balanced mix is a never-ending battle between decisions and compromises. It's incredible how sometimes you don't even need much processing and the track sounds super sweet while in other occasions, you could spend multiple hours and even days cleaning your mix with different EQ's, filters, compressors, ... but the mix keeps getting more and more messier. There isn't a written rule which would guarantee you a perfect mix, but there are numerous techniques and methods that will help you improve it.
Mixing with pink noise
I haven't really used this technique before but I know quite a lot of producers that have tried it at some point and apparently it works. For those who don't know, pink noise is supposed to sound even across all frequencies, and therefore best approximates the average spectral distribution of music. So how this works? First off, you take a pink noise sample and you load it into your DAW. Then you have to solo every element (kick, bass, snare, ...) together with noise and listen to them both. When you can barely hear the element you should leave the volume there and move onto the next one. It's not the fastest method there but at the end, you should get a great result. Watch this video for an even better explanation, try it out and let us know how it works.
Select your main elements of the track
One of the most important parts of creating music is to recognise which elements will be the main ones in your track. This can vary from genre to genre and it's also a matter of personal taste. If you're creating electronic music beats then kick & bass will be definitely in the front line, while for instance pop music will be more focused on vocals or melodics. I've heard numerous electronic music tracks with incredible leads but they were masked by other elements which prevented the track to really stand out. So you should always ask yourself what will be the main part of your tune. This will also help you to create your own unique sound. Also be aware of the fact, that our brains aren't capable of hearing too many elements at the same time.
Remove the unnecessary frequencies
When you're pretty much satisfied with the idea of your track, then is the time to focus on mixing it properly. The first tool that you'll need to grab is EQ. Back in the days where mixing was purely analogue based there was a lot of noise around. It was (and still is) called the “signal-to-noise ratio” and it meant that in every recording you had a base level of noise, or hiss called the noise floor. So you needed to be extra careful because, with every boost, you'd also increase a level of noise. So now, when noise isn't the main problem anymore, using additive EQ is a rather popular choice as well. The main idea of EQ-ing your track is to locate the unwanted frequencies and cut them out. This will create extra headroom for the main frequencies which you can boost your wish. Of course, as for many other things, less is more also when it comes to mixing.
Another extremely important stage of mixing is taking care of your stereo image. Electronic music, which is dominating the music scene in the last couple of years, is in most cases heavy on the low end. So you'll probably have your bass, kick or low toms set to mono. On the other side, the creative use of the full stereo field can, in a lot of cases, be the thing that separates a decent sounding demo from a proper 'pro' tune. Not only will it improve the experience for your listener but can help add clarity and space to your productions. However, making something sound 'wide' isn't always a simple as a bit of left and right panning. Bx_Solo & Flux stereo tool are two of my favourite ones and they're both free!
Use your ears
This was said million times already and it will be said once more. Your ears are the most important tool when it comes to producing music. The beauty of music is that there are no fixed rules and if it sounds good, then why would you want to change it. So it is essential to trust your ears and use all the tools available to help achieve the best result as you can. Don't get to upset with all the numbers and visuals graphs, it can easily take away the focus of hearing things. If you have an analogue mixing desk, why not turning off your screen and mix entirely with your ears. So train your ears and let them guide you to the best mix you'll ever produce.
These are some of techniques and methods on how you can achieve better results when mixing your tracks. Every producer has its own preferable way of mixing and dealing with mix-down issues but it's important to challenge yourself in order to get better. You'll never create the perfect mix but you'll eventually stop worrying about it.
Tips & Tutorials column is curated by producer Alex Ranerro. The articles are created with a simple aim to share his experiences and knowledge with SolvdMag readers. If you would like to contribute or you have any other questions, please write Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.