This thread contains some straight forward tips to help during the mixing process. As I think of more (hopefully) useful things to add, I’ll update this post.
Learn Your Speakers
A great way to learn how your speakers sound is to listen to as much professionally mixed music as you can on the same system that you mix your music on. Rip a few songs some from some professionally mixed CD's onto your computer and load them into your recording program onto separate tracks. This way you can quickly compare your mixes to professional mixes as you are mixing. Pay special attention to the way the professional music sounds on your speakers and you can get an idea of how your songs should also sound on the same speakers.
NOTE: Professional mixes will likely be mixed a lot louder than your mixes, so you will want to bring the volume level down on the professional mixes to the same volume as yours. This is because as you increase the volume your ears hear more bass and it sounds fuller, which makes the music sound better than at low volumes. For an accurate comparison the mixes should be at the same volume.
Listen On Different Monitoring Systems
Test your mixes on different stereo systems (studio monitors, home stereo, headphones, car stereo, computer speakers, etc…) The more you listen the better idea you’ll have of what needs to be changed in order to make your music sound its best on any type of system your audience may be listening on. Compromises may have to be made to strike a nice balance so that it doesn’t sound terrible on any one type of system. For example, if your speakers don’t have very good bass response, you will be forced to boost the bass to make it sound good on your speakers. But if you take that mix and go to a system with a good bass response, then the bass will be way too loud on that system. Here is where the compromise comes in, you will have to turn the bass down and strike a balance so that it sounds ok on both systems.
It’s also a good idea to test professional music on each of these systems as well so you’ll have an idea of how much compromise you should make with your music. Try to make your mixes sound as close as you can to the professional mixes on each system.
If you want to have your music played on local radio stations, I’ve even heard about someone who had a small FM transmitter and sent their music to a radio in their garage so they could hear how the radio compression was going to affect their music.
Compare and Contrast
As you progress through the mix it is a good idea to frequently compare your changes with the original un-mixed tracks (or a previous mix you did before). This way you can make sure that the changes you are making are for the better and not for the worse. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in tweaking and not realize that the sound is not getting any better than what is was before... In fact it’s getting worse.
Take a Breather
It is very easy to get ear fatigue from too much critical listening and before long you are incapable of making any good mixing decisions. So take breaks often and come back to the mix with a fresh set of ears. You will more often than not hear new things that you didn’t notice before.
Spectrum analyzers can be very helpful visualization tools. It allows you see the amplitude of each frequency in your mix. By comparing your mixes to professional mixes using the spectrum analyzer it will let you visually see if your mix has a similar frequency range professional mixes.
Does the frequency response’s slope of your mix match (approximately) the slope of the professional mix?
Does your mix have any large holes or peaks at certain frequencies?
Spectrum analyzers are great for additional input on your mix, but in the end it is important to let your ears make the final decisions, not the displays. In other words, even if it “looks better" visually, it may not necessarily “sound better". In the end it’s the sound that matters, so trust your ears to make the final call.
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