Mixing breakthrough last night

I have struggled to produce a decent mix for years.  Like most my struggle has been with tonal balance across the frequency spectrum.  I have been like a dog on a bone with my latest recording.  Determined to get it right.  Given the limitations of my listening environment, skill and mixing talent, I may have found a new way to diagnose my mixes that certainly worked for me this time.

First I set the levels and got to a comparable place with my reference track.  Next eq, compression, panning, automation, all that stuff.

But I could still hear issues.  The mix was muddy with competing frequencies and not wide open as it should be.  So I set an eq on the master bus with a lo pass filter at 250Hz.  So I could hear only low end.  In my reference recording, in order of loudness, it was bass and kick equal followed by vocals, snare and then guitars.  In my recording the vocals were second to the bass.  So I created a shelf under 250hz on the vocals and lowered it till it was placed correctly.  Next I raised the kick within this band till it was placed right versus the bass and I could feel the thump.

Next I moved to 250hz-400hz.  A delicate region where I usually get things wrong.  Versus my reference, the bass was too loud and the guitar wasn't the driving force.  Similar tweaks.  You get the idea.  One very revealing region was 2k-8k.  Versus, my reference the cymbals and high hats were too loud.  They dominated the region and were masking the guitars and vocals.  I created a lo shelf on the cymbals and hi-hats and suddenly the clouds parted.  My mid range was much more defined.

What I found with this way of diagnosing my mix was that when you are working on an eq band like this, only use eq and not the track fader to lower and raise stuff.  You cannot use the track fader because it affects the entire mix which you cannot hear.

Anyway long night and I am satisfied.  Here is the mix.  It isn't perfect.  For a few reasons (muting a bunch of tracks that were panned across the spectrum), the panning is lop sided.  The kick may need some more oomph too.  But it translates in my car which is a very unforgiving environment.  One day I'll get to the panning but for now I am going to go and celebrate Canada Day!


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This is a great thing to try, using band pass filters to check various bits of a mix gives a lot of insight, and remembering to use eq to make tweaks is key, of course!

You can learn a lot by doing this with commercial mixes, too. You'll notice that the balance isn't perfect across every bit of the spectrum, in most cases, but that many instruments exist in quite tight regions, and that in the key regions from maybe 250 hz to 3.5k, the balance is very clear, and you can hear every instrument. This means that bass instruments have to have enough mids to be clearly heard, and things like shakers and hats can't be overly focused up high. You want some high end shimmer, for those with nicer stereos, but the elements need to be there, even on a clock radio with limited range.