One of the toughest tasks in music production is deciding when a mix is finished. There’s no quantifiable way to make that assessment: It’s mainly an artistic judgment.
If you’re working under a deadline, of course, you are forced to finish at a given time—for better or worse. But without that kind of time pressure, it can be hard to know when you’ve gotten a mix as good as you’re going to get it.
In this article, I’ll share 11 ways to evaluate a mix as its nearing completion and get the information you need to move the project over the finish line.
1. Solo All Tracks to Check for Glitches. When all of your tracks are playing, it’s easy to miss sonic artifacts on individual tracks, such as singers breathing loudly between song sections, buzzes and hums, or pops caused by edits without crossfades, just to name a few. Solo and listen to each track all the way through to make sure that no extraneous noise sneaks into the final mix.
2. Make Sure All Tracks Are Ending Together. Especially if your song ends on a note that rings out, check where all the instruments are cutting off. If, say, the bass guitar stops while the guitar is still sustaining, it can sound jarring. In this case, try cutting all the notes at the last possible point where they’re all still sustaining. You’ll have to add fades to each track at the point of the edit, so that they don’t sound like they’re cutting off abruptly. You’ll probably have to experiment a little to get the best results.
3. Filter out Unnecessary Low End. Tracks that live mainly in the mid-and high-frequency range often have unnecessary low-end information. Removing extraneous bass frequencies will help with the overall clarity of the mix. A highpass (low-cut) filter from an EQ plug-in is all you need. Use your ears to decide how high to set the cutoff frequency. With the track playing, keep raising the frequency setting until you start to hear the sound of the track thin out. Then back it off to just before that point.
|Fig. 1. After playback, the clip lights are lit on several tracks. In this case, it’s most likely the vocal track (REV LD VOC) that’s causing the VOC SUB and Master tracks to overload.
4. Check for Clipping. Take a careful look at the clipping indicators on all of your tracks, subs, and on the master (see Figure 1). Are the lights on indicating a clip during playback? If so, you need to adjust the offending track (or tracks) to get rid of the clips. You should do this even if you don’t hear any distortion. If a track is frequently clipping, you will have to lower its level entirely. If this is only happening in a couple of places, you can probably use automation to lower the points where it goes over, without disturbing the overall mix balance. Otherwise, you will need to lower everything proportionately.