As a mastering engineer, I hear a lot of different styles of music from all over the world from people who found me on google searching for “online audio mastering” or something like that. Some of these people send me great mixes, others, not so much. For every mix I’ve ever heard though, each falls into one of 3 categories.
1. Bad Mix:
Most people think that if your audio has too much bass or too much high frequency content, you’ve got a bad mix. False. What kills a song is when elements in a mix don’t sound right in relationship to each other. When one element, let’s say a vocal in this case, has too much high frequency energy, and other elements like the cymbals and guitars doesn’t have quite enough, it can create some real problems when the audio is sent to mastering. If the audio mastering engineer brought the highs up on the overall mix, the guitars and cymbals would start to sound better, but the vocal would start to sound really really bad, because it would now have way too much energy in the higher frequencies.
I’m stuck in this position a lot where I’m trying to EQ an audio mix to sound right, but one element in a mix keeps it from working. The same is true with the relationship between a bass guitar or synth and a kick drum. If the kick has too much low energy going on below 90 Mhz, and the bass guitar doesn’t have enough, if you eq the song to have less energy below 90 hz to fix the kick, you’ll ruin the bass guitar, if you EQ the frequencies below 90 Hz up to fix the bass guitar, you’ll ruin the kick. Bad mixes don’t stand up well to having their master eq adjusted, and they don’t stand up well to compression either for this same reason. When a song is played on the radio, it’s usually compressed like crazy, and a good audio will maintain good balance while a bad mix will usually fall apart.
2. Bad, But Proportionately Good Mixes:
Everything in the mix is lacking, or has too much of, a certain frequency range, but each element in the mix relates well to every other element, it’s just too dark, too bright or too something else. This is usually caused by a less than ideal mixing room, monitors or just bad hearing. Not a big deal though, this is actually a “good mix,” as it can be fixed in mastering and the relationships between the elements in a mix will stay about the same if the mix is EQ’d in mastering.
3. Good Mix:
Kind of self explanatory. Everything is balanced well with other elements in the mix, and the overall sound of the mix is well balanced too. Instruments aren’t too loud or too quiet, nothing get’s too loud and jumps out in front of the mix at any point. Everything “feels” musical.
Most people put way to much emphasis on finding monitors with a “flat frequency response” to mix on. Almost no rooms have a perfectly flat response, and this negates that perfectly tuned monitor. Even if you have a perfectly tuned room, and perfectly tuned monitors, the eq of the whole system will change depending on the type of clothes you wear, how recently you’ve had your hair cut, the amount of humidity in the air, and so forth! It’s a battle that will never really be won unless you have NASA backing your studio.
Many of the top mix engineers have been using Yamaha NS-10s to mix with for years now, and anyone that’s ever heard of a pair of these can tell you right away that they are anything but flat sounding. How have so many hits been mixed on these speakers? A large part of it has to do with the fact that great mix engineers know that the relationship between elements in a mix is way more important than if the individual elements are EQ’d just right. When you’re mixing your audio, focus on the forest, not the trees!