Music Mixing Tips for EDM
25 Audio Mixing Tips for EDM Producers.
This Guide Updated Regularly.
Learn How to Mix EDM
As you may know, Mixing EDM is a difficult and sometimes overwhelming task for beginners and even established producers. The Mix-Down stage of EDM Production is one of the most crucial and time-consuming parts of creating music.
That’s exactly why we’ve put together this list of tips to help you learn how to mix EDM and improve your overall production process.
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List of Tips for Mixing EDM Music
Last Updated: January 30th, 2017
The samples you use and how you design your synths are the most important thing to achieving a full and professional mix down. The saying “you can’t polish s***” firmly applies here, because if you do not start with pristine quality sounds, how can you expect the finished product to be polished. You can also think of producing like a simple mathematical function, your output is equal to the sum value of the inputs (which in this case the output is quality)
2. Less Is More
Have you ever heard the expression “keep it simple stupid” when mixing music this definitely holds true. By focusing on fewer elements, you can make sure that these elements are truly engaging, and mixed to perfection. As a learning producer it is essential to not spread yourself too thin by over layering, and overcomplicating. This also has some practical advantages as well. By keeping things simple you use fewer channels and effects, which saves you serious cpu power, and also allows you to have a mix that is less cluttered which makes balancing all of the individual sounds a breeze.
3. The Car Test
This is one of the simplest ways to ensure that your mixdown is solid. Listen to your mix on as many set-ups as possible, and ensure that it is balanced and will sound good no matter what it is played on. Almost everyone has a variety of audio devices available in their own homes from studio monitors, laptop speakers, home theaters, car stereos, ect… Making sure your mix sounds good on anything is a true test of your ability as a producer and an engineer. Listen on high fidelity and low fidelity set-ups, cheap and expensive set-ups, and mono and stereo set-ups. Pay careful attention to how it sounds on phone and laptop speakers because chances are the majority of casual listeners will listen via these devices.
4. What doesn’t feel right?
Getting feedback on your track is essential to ensuring that you don’t overlook anything during the production process. It will also help you to ensure that you don’t miss the mark creatively. Try getting 510 friends to listen to your production and after they listen ask them “What didn’t you like” and you can almost always guarantee some solid feedback, not just a quickly messaged “that was sick.” It is important to have other people listen to your work before it is released because it helps you pause and take some time to listen and think about your work objectively, and from a fan or expert perspective. By doing this you can ensure you are only truly releasing your best work.
5. Clean up Reverb and Delay Tails
Long and spacious reverb can be an excellent way to add depth and air to ones track. But since the delay can be very long, and collect and build, it can take up a surprising amount of space in the mix. Start by reducing the reverb decay to be long enough to achieve the desired effect, but also have a definite ending point to mitigate the buildup of reverberations. To further clean up your reverb, try cutting the low end before the instance of reverb on the send to avoid the buildup of lows which can ruin the articulation of the bassline, as well as bring your bass out of phase.
6. Gain Stage
Maintaining the appropriate amount of headroom is essential to achieving a proper mix down and a professional sounding product. To ensure the elements of your track are not too loud and squashing your mix from the get go, add a utility set to -8 db first in your signal chain on each channel to reduce the volume of the track. As you compress, and manipulate the sound further, this will ensure that your track stays at the appropriate level.
7. Don’t High Pass Everything
This is a tip written out of necessity. For some reason, many producers hi-pass everything other than their kick and sub by default. Yes it is essential to take measures to prevent the buildup of low end, but you are better off designing your sounds and choosing samples that naturally don’t have much, rather than drastically removing it from the samples. By cutting out the low end of your sounds, if it is present, you may find your source now sounds weak and very dry. Don’t forget as well that low end is important. For example, you may want a snare drum with some thump, or you may want a lead with some buzz, having subtle amount of low end is necessary. Just make sure it doesn’t compete with your kick and bass! At the end of the day, just make sure you are strategic, and trust your ears.
8. Take Breaks
If you are mixing like you are supposed to, it will take a significant amount of time. Respect the process, and understand that mixing requires a meticulous attention to detail and a serious commitment. Take breaks every hour, and in times of stress and frustration even more frequently. This will allow you to stay positive, along with prevent ear fatigue, which is a very real concern for long sessions.
9. If it sounds good, COMMIT
It is often hard to commit especially early in the production process, but sometimes, you can do too much and actually impact the song negatively. If it sounds good, don’t mess with it to try and make it sound better, just roll with it because it will strengthen your production and end up sounding great!
10. Take Notes
This is extremely important due to the fact that a mix down has many steps. When you are not mixing, listen to your song and write down everything that you think you should change, or think doesn’t sound right according to the feedback you have received from your peers. This is now your project list. Next time you are in the studio, use this to guide your mix-down; by the time all of the issues you have written on the list are crossed off, chances are your track will be sounding hot! Also many DAWs have a section for notes, or comments. Feel free to use this feature to mark up your track!
11. Don’t mix as you go
Separate the stages of production. By arranging first, mixing down second, and mastering third, you can ensure that you don’t accidentally halt your creativity by getting involved in an engineering side project. Also how can you mix and balance your elements if they are not all there? This one is personal preference.
12. Mix in Key
Just like when you Dj, make sure all of your elements are in key, or at least complimentary. Start with your kick. Make sure that it is in key with your bass. Tune your percussion or choose sounds that are naturally in key with your song. You will be surprised at how well all of the elements fit together
13. Be Happy With Everything Else First
A secret tip to ensuring a solid mix down, is to make sure everything sounds good before the mixdown stage! By choosing good samples, and tastefully effecting and sound designing, ideally your song should already sound very good, and very close to being done before the mix down even begins.
14. Group Similar Tracks
Grouping similar tracks allows you to achieve a more unified sound. For example you can group your percussion, or leads, and affect them together since they compliment each other sonically. This allows for a more organized production, which is affected more appropriately, which helps with the cohesiveness of the overall song, and saves on cpu usage.
15. Use reference tracks
Reference your song with tracks by your favorite artists in order to see where your work stands in the running. You can emulate elements of your favorite mixes by comparing and enhancing things like the stereo image or panning of your elements based on that of your favorite artists and engineers.
16. Mix at a low volume
This reduces ear fatigue, reduces harsh room reflection, and helps you better identify the sounds that need adjusting. At a low volume it becomes very clear what elements stand out, and what elements may be to quiet, so you can then balance them to fit right.
17. Master Your Tools
One common pitfall for beginning producers is the idea that when mixing and mastering, a one-size fits all approach is appropriate. An example of how this is manifesting in the industry is how there are now more than ever plug and play mastering and mixing chains that you can download and put on your track to instantly make it “very much way more louder.” Producers even when they meet their favorite artists will ask things like, “what limiter do you use,” or “what compressor ratio is your favorite” these questions are often met with furtive glances because once you dive in to the discipline fully you realize there is no one size fits all approach to effecting, mixing, and mastering, and instead you need to carefully apply whichever plug in is necessary to achieve the desired effect, and it is essentially all objective! Because of this, to appropriately choose which tool fits the job, you need to know exactly what each of your tools do in terms of how they affect the audio, and how it will help you achieve the desired results. NGHTMRE has some excellent advice on this topic. In his two-hour video seminar he touches upon the fact that knowing your tools is essential. He recommends reading through the entire Ableton manual, because it literally explains how to use each feature, and what it should be used for. This is extremely helpful because it will help you understand from the get go which effect is recommended to be used on what, and why!
18. Don’t Copy Blindly
– Just because one artist chooses to saturate their snare in a certain way doesn’t mean that it will work out for your production, considering the fact that you are using different samples, or maybe even a different DAW or plugin. What is important is understanding the concept behind why they are using the technique, and when you can apply it to your own work.
19. Don’t Just Sidechain to Your Kick
Sidechaining to your kick is an essential way to help your kick punch through the mix appropriately. Many producers stop there, and don’t consider the other potential creative and practical applications for side chain compression. For example, you can achieve cool effects by side chaining melodic or percussive elements to a feature of the song with a unique rhythm. This will cause whatever element is side chained to duck in sync with the selected unique rhythm causing the rhythm to be more prominent in the mix. This almost can create a sort of push / pull effect which can be truly effective for not only mixdown applications such as promoting balance, but it can create some truly unique feels within your production which can create interest and keep the listener engaged. When producing electronic music that is sequenced virtually, there is almost a predisposition to having things feel almost robotic, and digitized. It is essential to have unique and organic elements that subtly engage the listener through emulating how a real recorded band, or acoustic performance would. You need to make up for the lack of a human element through using subtle tricks like this.
20. Don’t Over-Use Compression
Compression is the savior, but also the enemy of many mix downs. First, understand what compression does, and when and why you should use it. If you are unfamiliar with compression, learn more here. If you have a grasp on what compression does, and secondly understand how the compressors in your collection work, you should then strategically proceed to compress certain elements of your track. Don’t automatically compress an element of your track just because you think it will sound better. The only elements, which generally almost always rely on compression, are the vocals, and maybe the kick. A general rule of thumb on when you should compress, is don’t compress unless you have a deliberate goal in mind, or in other words, don’t arbitrarily compress. For example, I almost always know that I will need to compress my vocals because since they were recorded live by a human being, they are very dynamic, which causes inconsistencies in the level when listened alongside the song. I would then pull down the threshold on a compressor to reduce the dynamic level of the vocals, which will allow them to playback evenly throughout the mix.
Automation is time consuming and requires creativity and focus. Many producers avoid going in to depth with their automations, but it is something that allows your track to evolve and engage the listener. Try automating your hi hats to filter slightly over 16 bars, try automating your lead to emphasize certain phrases. The possibilities are endless!
22. Breathe, Take Your Time
mixdowns take patience. Divide up your sessions. Don’t mix on the same day you arrange. Don’t master on the same day you mix. You will be surprised how much focus mixing will take, and it will also take a serious commitment of time. If you try and arrange and mix in the same day, chances are you will rush one phase of the process.
23. Keep your low end in mono
In the club, and on set-ups where there is a subwoofer, the sub will almost always be in mono, and if your track isn’t, it may suffer serious phase issues, and may loose much of its punch and energy. Use a utility, or mid side eq to put your kick and sub in mono, or the low end of your whole track, which will allow them to be articulated properly over larger sound systems.
24. Subtract don’t Boost!
When mixing down your track, equalizing is an extremely important process. It allows you to balance elements in the song by boosting specific frequencies of the sound. An issue that often arises is that oftentimes, producers will boost eq’s on multiple channels, which overall uses up a ton of room in the mix. You have a lot more space to cut, rather than boost if you think about it. Your final mix is supposed to sit at around -8 to – 12 db before mastering. Your channel peaks at +6 db, but you can cut all the way to -60 db. This means you have a lot more room to reduce, rather than boost. Instead of boosting the frequency band you want to bring out, rather cut the frequencies you don’t want to be present, which will help that element to sit nicely in the mix, without eating up your valuable headroom.
25. Use Returns for Effects
This has numerous benefits but mainly it allows you to add a cohesive spaciousness to your tracks. By having all of the elements routed to a send with reverb, it can make it sound as though your song has depth, almost in the way that a band recorded live in a nice room would sound. This is advantageous to putting multiple instances of reverb on multiple channel strips, because it will save cpu power, as well as reduce confusion by not having multiple reverb’s with different decay times confusing the mix. Also since return tracks duplicate the signal and sum it in to the master mix, your song will play unaffected, with a subtle reverb now in the background.
The Three Stages of Music Production
Generally speaking, there are three (3) stages to the production of an EDM song.
The Arrangement Phase
Where you are creatively flowing, and quickly laying down the building blocks for your track. This is the phase of the creative process where you select your sounds; record your melodic elements, record vocals, and do any tasks related to building the piece of music.
This phase is imperative for the integrity of your production because you must lay down a solid foundation that will make up your track overall. If you want to achieve a clean master you need to have a clean mix down. You cannot have a clean mix down unless you arrange your sounds effectively. As you can see there is an intimate relationship between these three basic phases of the production process, and they directly impact one another.
The Mixing Phase
In the mixing phase you work very carefully to adjust the elements of your song in order to achieve a balanced and full sounding piece of music. This phase also takes place in the original project file. In this phase you will use tools like compressors and equalizers in order to shape and refine your sounds in order to achieve a mix that sounds cohesive, balanced and clean. Although you will process your sounds with plugins, always remember that The majority of your mix sits in your faders. In other words, the individual volumes of the tracks are what will make the difference in terms the tracks balance, and weather or not essentially it will sound good in the club.
Also take in to account that you should focus primarily on adjusting your tracks levels before you begin compressing and cutting because these techniques are traditionally for evening out levels, and reducing dynamic differences between tracks. You will find you need many less instances of compressors and equalizers which will keep your mix down transparent, and full. As a final function of the mixing phase, you will also prepare your track for mastering.
The final stage in almost all instances for EDM means referencing and mastering. In this phase, you or a dedicated engineer will take the track that you arranged and mixed and listen extremely critically. You or the engineer will then enhance the elements in the song that may need changing to correct any sonic issues that may have not been resolved in the mixing phase. In this phase you will also use a combination of plugins such as multiband compressors and a limiter to make the track “hot,” or loud, and full enough to be competitive and stand out against professionally mixed and mastered tracks while not blowing the club or car setup.
Although this is a tutorial on mixing EDM, understanding the distinction between the processes of arrangement, mixing, and mastering, is one of the only true ways to begin to optimize your creative flow.
For example, many young producers have a hard time understanding the distinction between mixing and mastering. At the root of this misconception is the fact that many young producers think the mastering is what will make their track full, loud, and polished when in fact the majority of that work is done in the mixing phase, and the arrangement phase, rather than in the mastering phase.
We have put together this comprehensive list of tips to help you optimize your creative process, in order to help you achieve a proper, and professional sounding mix.
This leads us to our first tip.
Whether you are attempting to balance and layer your leads, or trying to get your kick to sit nicely with your baseline, there are dozens of time tested, and proven techniques which can be used to achieve sonic clarity and a professional sounding product.
Mixing is such an essential process that every producer must give it the respect it deserves. Take your time and stay patient, because with the careful application of learning and practice, anyone can learn how to mix their own music!
There is truly nothing more rewarding than listening as your track comes together, as you slowly adjust the faders. There is nothing more satisfying than beginning to see the whole of your creative vision, manifesting itself in your DAW.
We wish you luck, and happy mixing!