Cover/ Thumbnail Photo Credit : Drew Ressler /Rukes www.rukes.com
After mastering thousands of tracks( thanks to all my awesome clients, you guys rock ) you start to see some patterns.
No, not the latest sound trend (modern talking/ wood knocks/Pryda Snares/ etc etc) .
I am talking about trends in the mix itself.
I've noticed for the last year or so that 90% of producers have the same mix problems. In fact, I had all these problems as well for the longest time.
How did I fix them?
Eventually my ears had developed enough to be able to hear the issue and correct it.
In fact, producing is pretty much just training your ears to be able to hear what a good mix sounds like.
After you learn the basic's, there's not a ton of "super secret" advanced tricks.
Look at videos of the pro's, what do they do? Pretty much the same as you, they have just developed their ears to an elite level, this allows them to get clean mixes while picking ideal sounds that work together.
So, how can this help your track today?
Well, after working on thousands of masters I can safely say that the majority of you will have one of the below issues at some point.
I had them all, every single one.
While these issues can be adjusted to some extent in the mastering stage, if your can hammer these issue out in the mix down, your master will shine that much better.
A lot of these may sound really simple. It's usually the simple things that have the biggest impact.
As I am sure many of you know , producing is a funny beast. It will take awhile for your ears to even be able to hear these issues in the first place.
I can safely say I produced for years, before I even realized I had these problems.
Hopefully, for you however, you can jump on these problems today and avoid many months/ years of trail and error.
1. ISSUE : SUB END BOOM
Genre : Electro House, Progressive ,Trance etc
Common Complaints: Track sounds boomy, track doesn't have punch ( just rumble ) , track isn't loud ( sub end eating headroom). Bottom end has no groove.
Quick Fix : You need faster release times on the sub end of the drum or the bassline (or both). Your drums " tail" needs to be cut or shortened. Your not using an ideal key.
Main Causes: This issue is a common one as most producers when starting out aren't on studio monitors or hi fi gear. Personally, I find it very hard to judge sub end on any headphones as well.
Usually the issue is caused by having too long of a tail on your drum that's interacting with your sub bass. A super general rule of thumb is either have your kick drum with a long tail ( sub) or have your bass carry the weight of the track ( while having a shorter tail on the drum). To adjust this simply use automation on your kick drum to lessen its sub tail if needed. You can also cut off the end of the drum etc.
If your bass still isn't hitting the way you want, check the key of your favorite track. There are certain keys that sound better in the sub bass range. This is why a lot of stuff on Beatport is in one of a few different keys.
2. Issue : Lack of elements from 1khz-4khz.
Common Complaints: Track sounds hollow, track has no "power", track sounds thin and doesn't have any density in the sides of the stereo field.
Quick Fix: You need to have more volume in the 1khz to 4khz range. Make sure your synth is actually hitting in this range and its not just carry over from a lower range.
Main Causes: I noticed the first few years I was into production, everything I touched was weak and thin sounding. Why? Mainly, I focused on the bass ranges and the high ranges and forgot the middle.
This is common due to the human ear having a hard time to hear whats going on deep in the middle of the mix. It can hear the highs, it can hear the lows, but the middle takes awhile to develop that level of awareness. At least it did for me.
Due to this, I often had left over sounds only floating around from 500hz to 5khz, and didn't focus on making sure this area was solid.
Before you jump on the " this will cause mud" band wagon, realize that you need SOME volume in this range to have a thick track, if you focus on having an ideal sound in here (compared to say left over bass that's not cut off) your track will need less mastering magic and will sound cleaner in the end.
Next time you work on a track, make sure you address this range. Problem Solved.
3. Issue: Holy Compression Captain !
Genre : All
Common Complaints: Mix sounds muddy, mix doesn't hit hard. master doesn't sound loud, master has no punch.
Quick Fix : Turn down the compression ! Use WAY less gain reduction. You don't want to have a brick of a track prior to mastering. ( or of course after mastering as well)
Main Causes: You have layers of compression on everything. There is truly no point for this and it's killing your clarity. This is one of the most common things I hear when people send me tracks, compression, tons of it.
I did it for years too for the simple reason I couldn't hear the damage it was doing. When you are new, please do not think compression is a magic pill. It WILL NOT fix your mix if the mix is poorly designed. You are much better off using next to no compression, then either mastering it (or paying someone to master it for you)
Some things that people tend to do ( I did for awhile, no judgement) : Have a bass preset with, a sausage fattener, soundgoodizer, compressor and a limiter. It's common for people to have 3-4 layers of compression for one synth.
Cut back to one if you don't 100% know what you are doing. If the sound lacks volume, use the volume knob. If someone sends me a "clean/ low volume" track to master, 95% of the time it will end up cleaner then the track that has stacks of compressors on it.
Also, I'm not a fan of mixing into limiters on the master channel (some people do it) but usually, keep the master bus clean on your mix down, esp if your not aware of the effects the compressor has on your track.
4. Issue : Reverb City !
Common Complaints: Track doesn't sound clean. Track has a muddy mid range. Track doesn't sound "spaced" aka everything isn't in its own pocket in the mix. All the elements glued together, in a bad way.
Quick Fix: Cut back on the reverb by 50% or more. The amount of reverb on most tracks is simply to high to have a clean mix. Listen to your favorite producers mixes, really really listen just for the reverb. Notice how little is needed to get the perfect mix.
Main Causes: I'm not going to jump into the best way to use reverb, because again it all depends on the mix/track/element and of course using your ears to adjust it is always the way to go. However, if your ears aren't trained enough to hear whats going on simply use less reverb.
I can safely say, that 75% of the tracks I've ever mastered could be a bit cleaner with less reverb.
In fact, I've never been sent a track that was " too dry".
The main reason I feel this happens to people is that when your newish, reverb makes everything sound better. I don't know why its this way, but I can remember my early years slapping reverb on everything as I thought it helped. Looking back, I was creating a mud mess and with the insane amounts of compression I was using, it's no wonder the track sounded weak and muddy.
5. Issue: Poor "noise" above 12khz.
Genre : Electro House, Trance, Big Room, Dubstep
Common Complainants : Track sounds harsh and has a hiss to it. Track can't be cranked because the highs over ride the rest of the tune.
Quick Fix: You need to carefully monitor your sound from 12khz and above. For many producers, the sound in this range get's very noisey and hissy. This leads to an less than ideal mix.
Main Causes : This issue took me a long while to pinpoint, I didn't even know I had it for years. Long story short there is a proper way to have "noise" / sound above 12khz and a bad way. For some reason, my ears couldn't pick up that I was using poor sound selection choices on elements above this range.
It wasn't so much drums, more so the synths had this hiss/ noise above 12khz. I feel this was caused by picking poor presets and having too many sounds high in the mix.
Often times, I would have 2 or 3 synths above 5khz, all of the highs of the synths seemed to not make mud, but this awful hiss sound.
The problem with this one is, it legit took me many years to be able to even notice the problem. Assuming you haven't already addressed this, make sure you are using ideal cut off's, EQing and are very careful by the type of noise you add to your synths.
Sadly, this issue isn't easy to advice on other than simply (use sounds that work well together). That doesn't help anyone, so my best advice is to limit the amount of synths you have in the highs and remember more often than not, the less elements the better.
6. Issue : Sound Design/ Preset Errors
Common Complaints: This can account for any number of mix down issues, pretty much everything that's been previously talked about above.
Quick Fix: Often times, people seem to put presets an octave too high. Mainly an issue in the 1khz to 5khz range (see that section above) . Try lowering the osc's in your synth. For example, in massive if you have Osc 1 at 0, Osc 2 at 12 and Osc 3 at 0. Try lowering Osc 1 by -12. If you still need more thickness, lower another.
Main causes: This issues has a lot to do with things we have previously talked about but I have found often times simply lowering an octave on the synth patch can help a ton.
I did this for years, and can confirm most others seem to do this as well. Producers tend to put presets a bit higher in the range then they should be.
Again, this has to do with not being able to hear the middle of the track cleanly when you are newer.
If your track is lacking density, try lowering the presets a bit, this often times can make a world of difference.
There you have it, after mastering 1,000's of tracks these are the issues that I hear over and over again. I had them as well, so its safe to say most producers will face these in their life time.
Next time you go to master your track, or send your tune over keep these in mind. In the end, the cleaner you can get the mix down the better the master will be.
[ Personal Note: If you have been wondering why I haven't posted in the last few months do not fear, I am back with a ton of new content over the next month ! I appreciate the hundreds of emails I have been getting asking where the hell I have been, it truly means a lot that you guys are taking the time to write me. Now that my month long travel/ other music work is done, I am back in full force.
You guys truly rock !]