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Secrets of mixing music



I used to take the view that a good enough mixing engineer can make a good mix out of any source material, and that anything could be 'fixed in the mix'. With ever-evolving audio editing software, it's certainly possible to turn almost any recording into a professional sounding track. 

Increasingly, however, I'm appreciating the limitations of this approach. Yes, drums can be quantised and replaced with samples, vocals can be tuned, guitars can be re-amped etc. It might not matter if the recorded performance is a bit out of time or sloppy. But what DOES matter is that:

  1. the intention behind the performance is clear, and;

  2. that the sound source is sufficiently well captured and faithfully reproduced to convey this.

In other words, the better quality the ingredients that go into the mix, the tastier the meal that will come out at the other end (if prepared and cooked correctly of course!).

To stretch the food analogy a little further (sorry), notice I make no mention of the need for using the most sophisticated, expensive blending machine or automated pressure cooker. Experience has borne out time and time again that it's not about the gear you use, it's how you use it. 

So before you think about splashing out on that state-of-the-art interface, think about whether you're really getting the best out of your existing gear.

Of course it's important that all your recording gear is setup and used correctly. But a good quality recording is of no use if all you've recorded is garbage. For example, for vocalists, it's especially important that a degree of conviction and emotion is conveyed, regardless of the pitching or timing. And for guitarists, even the most advanced pitch correction software will struggle if you're using tired, old strings that have not been tuned or intonated properly!

It goes without saying that it's a big help if everyone has had time to learn and nail their parts during the recording process, but sometimes circumstances get in the way. If so, it needn't be the end of the world, as long as a few golden rules (or guidelines) are followed.


For a more in-depth look at the necessary approaches and gear required for getting the best out of your home recordings, please check the RECORDING section of this site.


Often what really separates a killer song from a mediocre one is simply the thought that has gone into the arrangement. It's one thing to have a strong melody, a decent progression and structure, and a propulsive rhythm. But without the elements of dynamic contrast, harmonic development, varying rhythmic density etc, it may still end up sounding bland and unexciting, no matter how clear or powerful the mix is. 

Frequently bands compensate for this by recording hundreds of layers of harmonies and sound FX etc. If done judiciously, this can really elevate the excitement of a track. But more often, the arrangements end up dense, murky and cluttered. The track sags under the weight of all the extra layers. And no amount of mix trickery will help. 

So definitely consider whether your arrangements require any additional details to add interest. But sometimes, less is more!

Studio recording


Chances are, you probably have an idea in your head of how you want the end product to sound. There might be particular records that you want to emulate, or production styles that you like. 

If you want your finished production to end up with a certain 'vibe', it's usually enough just to refer a producer to some relevant recordings that display that aesthetic. That will provide a concrete reference point for figuring out an appropriate approach for the production.

But this also feeds back into the previous two points - the recording/ performance quality, and the arrangement. Many records sound the way they do not just because of how they have been mixed, but because of the thought that has gone into the arrangements and the recording process.

So if you're aiming to make a recording that sounds a certain style, think about what might be required from the VERY START of the production process to get the output that you desire.  

If you're at the beginning of a project, I am more than happy to advise in these matters. 

But don't worry if you're reading this having already finished your recordings. Put simply, if it sounds good to you so far, it probably is. And if not, maybe there's still some work to be done!  :-)

Either way, I can help! So feel free to get in touch through the contact button below to discuss your project, whatever stage it's in. 

Tom MacLean
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