How To Improve Your Sound
Before I start explaining my perspective on this situation, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the truth is that there’s no easy way to explain how to EQ a good mix. Some people spend thousands of dollars on high-quality equipment that boosts their potential for producing great mixes, while others spend virtually nothing in comparison, yet they’re able to produce music that sounds just as good or even better. The tips, tools and techniques you can apply in order to get good results are all gauged by subjectivity, so no single opinion is going to ensure your success. The best thing you can do is absorb as much information about mixing as possible, from many different sources, and come to your own conclusions about what works best for you.
There’s plenty of great hardware and software out there that will help you get the job done, but the most important tool that any producer can use to their advantage is their own brain, and the many long hours of practice that serve to hone their mixing abilities. You can buy the most expensive gadgets and programs on the market, but that’s still not going to guarantee that your mixing skills will improve, because what really counts is the time you dedicate to experimenting and tinkering with audio until you start getting things to sound the way you really want them to.
I’m going to give you a general overview that will get you on the right track, and then it will be up to you to apply these tips to your own music and further your knowledge through extra resources. Hopefully this will be sufficient in helping you get started.
1.Fully compose your song
To some people this might seem a little silly, but there are a lot of producers out there who seem to seek the best sound quality right off the bat, without being more concerned about what really matters: making good music. Don’t fall into this trap.
Before you even think about mixing, you need to make sure that the song you’ve made is as good as it can be. There are lots of producers who have crystal-clear mixes, but their music is less than stellar, and you want to be certain that you’re not making that mistake by losing sight of what really matters. Work on your song until you have something you’re really proud of. If you’re comfortable with it, send your rough draft to close friends and fellow producers, and ask them what they think. Their feedback could be really constructive for you, and if they like it as much as you do, then you know you probably have a solid track to work with.
2. Find a benchmark
When you get into EQing it would be a good idea to find an album or a song with a mix that sounds great to you. You can use this to compare your own work, to make sure your work is up to par with how you really want it to end up sounding. Don’t worry about making your mix sound exactly like the one you’ve chosen as inspiration, however; the point is to have a standard that helps you understand how you want your overall track to sound once it’s completed.
You don’t need to select a track that has absolutely pristine production. In fact, it’s probably better for now that you don’t, because you’re likely to get frustrated that way. Instead of aiming to get a mix that’s on par with music from people like Skrillex or Tiesto right away, try to find something a bit less polished – maybe an amateur producer on Soundcloud that you respect a lot, for example. That way you can aim to reach a high standard without expecting to go from nothing to professional-class in one mixing session.
3. Understand your spectrum
This is the most important and complicated step of all. You need to understand the range of audio you’re working with, and where certain instruments belong within that range, and where they don’t belong. I’ll give you some examples.
First, you have the high – or treble – range. This is where the crispy, tinny sounds go; stuff like hi-hats and other cymbals, soaring synth leads, and anything else you want to keep bright and clear in the mix. These sounds tend to stay in the high-to-mid range, and don’t need to have much low end, or any at all. This range will keep your mix sounding clean and clear, but make sure you don’t overdo it, because too much treble can make it harsh on the ears.
Next is your mid-range. The mid is the core of the mix, and this is where it gets tricky, because you have lots of different sounds competing for attention within this limited space. The mid is reserved for sounds like rhythm synth riffs, guitar melodies, some bass (depending on the sample or instrument you’re using), vocals, and snares and toms. It’s easy to make this range sound somewhat cluttered, and the key is to slide each sound more towards the higher or lower ends of the spectrum, depending on what they need. Are you using female vocals that are high-pitched? Those can be placed in the mid to high end. Is your snare chunky and thick? It would probably benefit from being in the mid to low. Over time, you’ll get a feel for what sounds belong where, and how to EQ it to where no range is distorted.
Lastly, there’s the low-range. Sounds that go here almost always include the bassline and the kick drum, and you really want to make sure that those are among very few (if not the only) things in this range so that they have maximum impact. If your hi-hats and other sounds are jangly and skitter nicely through the high end, you can balance this out by having a deep, thumping low end. This is the real heart and soul of your song; a heavy kick is the necessary basis of any danceable beat, and a rockin’ bassline will pump life into your melodies with its rhythmic pulse.
To make things much easier, start out working with a song that doesn’t have too many tracks active at once. If your song has kick, snare, hats, a synth, a bassline and some extra sounds that come in and out, then you’re good to go. If it’s more complex, try working with a stripped-down version of the song at first, and then experiment with working in other sounds after you’ve made some headway.
4. Listen through multiple mediums
Once you’ve made a mix that you feel comfortable with, you need to make sure it sounds just as good on every sound system available to you. Listen through your headphones, your monitors, laptop speakers, your friend’s headphones, your friend’s computer, and your car stereo, and pay attention to how it sounds on each of them. Does the kick sound distorted on some systems, or not throbbing enough? Could your synths be turned up or down a little, or would they benefit from less mid and more treble? Could that snare be a bit punchier? Take notes on what you hear, what you think should be changed, and bring this back to your work space when you’re ready to polish your mix.
Now would be another great time to send your new draft to friends and fellow producers. Once you’re more or less satisfied with what you have, you can ask them what they think of the mix, and see if they have any comments or suggestions you might not have considered before. It always helps to have a handful of friends you can count on to give you constructive feedback about your music. If you don’t have any yet, that’s okay; get on sites like Soundcloud and start networking with other producers.
The discussion on EQing a good mix is practically endless, but when it comes to tips and tricks on specific aspects of mixing, sites like YouTube are excellent resources. You have tons of channels that offer plenty of free tutorials and advice, and you should tune in and see what different producers and teachers have to say. When you get into things like compressors, spectrum analyzers, and all the other mixing tools your DAW is supplied with, listening to seasoned enthusiasts explain the complexities and capabilities of each tool will help you take important strides towards creating professional-grade mixes.
Hopefully this has given you enough of a basis to get an idea of how to start. But remember, talk is cheap; the most important thing you can do is to get in there and start experimenting.