This Is Why You Suck At Mixing House Music

vu meters

I’ve had the honor to review thousands of demos for dozens of record labels (mostly deep house). Every time I receive one from a music producer I notice the same mistakes they do in mixing house music and mastering their tracks. I’ve also covered these problems to death on our new Mixing Electronic Music Course. Below is why I believe most production demos are ultimately failing new producers.

1. Your mix is too muddy.

master eq
Muddy is a term when your low end is all whack! Your kick is flabby and clashing with your bass. Imagine this track in a club system with killer PAs? The club limiters will kick in and squash your entire mix. That’s also another sign that you didn’t select the right kick and bass samples. The 30hz-150hz range needs to be round, tight and punchy, especially if you are doing house music. I always recommend my students to invest in a 10-12′ sub, the Adam Sub10 Mk2 works perfectly for this. A good way to identify problems with your low end is to walk outside of your studio and listen for bass. When you notice the kick and bass are clashing, it’s time to make decision on this duel. One of them has to win.

You can fix this problem in two ways -

  1. Mixing - Depending on the track and mix, I recommend throwing a shelving EQ on the kick and cut about -3dbs at 60hz. Also trying side-chaining the bass to the kick (oldest trick in the book).
  2. Mastering – Insert a linear phase shelving EQ on the master and cut about -2dbs at 80hz

Mind you every track is different and every treatment affects other elements in the mix.

2. Ear fatigue from High-Mid range

This is prevalent with tracks containing two or more bright synths plus vocals. We are talking about the 2kHz – 5kHz range. When played in a club the vocals sound nasaly (for lack of a better term) and synths sound honky, causing ear fatigue. This happens when two synths that sound the same are playing at the same time. Both synths clash for frequency space and leaving no room for the vocal. This is a tough one to fix, especially if everything working great with the arrangement.

Here’s what do to fix these problem

Bring both EQs for the clashing instruments together. Start cutting frequencies on both, they might lose some character, but you have to stop the bleeding at some point. 

eqs

With vocals (Lead or Backup) try cutting frequencies in the 1kHz – 2kHz range.

3. Everything is loud

ssl comp

This is usually the result of too much compression on each instrument and master channel. This is also a sign that you are mixing your tracks with loud levels. I’ve suffered this disease too when I was learning. I had to know the hard way when I played on of my own track in a gig. It was just pure loudness and nothing made sense. It was embarrassing.
You’de be surprised how a simple change in your fader can make all the difference. Just throw away the compressors and just pull that fader down on some the instruments and most of them time that’s the only treatment you’ll need.

If you have the Waves SSL Compressor plugin (it’s worth the investment), use these settings to the right on your master channel to glue:

4. Over limiting

The limiter is the most over-rated plugin in this community. Although it’s tempting to push the dynamic range out of space, the results are sometimes to so harsh that it seems amateurish.

There are two ways to approach limiters
1. Leave it for the experts at mastering
2. Leave it for the experts at mastering.

That’s it! Once you understand dynamic range in a practical and theoretical sense, I suggest you sit with an experienced producer and see how it’s done.

5. The track just sucks

I’m big believer in your best mixes will come from your best productions. When you are working on a track that just gives you a sense of elation, you keep saying to your self “Did you really do that?” From there you start to have what I call vision. You know exactly how you want the track to sound. You start tweaking each individual instrument according to that vision.

There are many reasons why we don’t see a vision with our tracks and that’s because we aren’t feeling them as much. At this point I suggest mix it down to the best of your abilities, even though you know it won’t be the best track you’ve produced. You’ll gain knowledge, experience and patience.

As always, we’re curious as to your thoughts – how do you all mix your tracks and improve your mixing skills? What approaches do you use when you feel the mix isn’t that working or have no vision? Let us know in the article comments!

 

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  • djjordnk

    This is solid info. It’s a shame that A&R/producers keep having this same conversation via threads or tutorials over the internet.

    In keeping my tracks low like Karnal is talking about, I bounce down all my audio at -18db before I go mix ‘n master in Pro Tools. Dynamic range can be lost on new guys. Less is more is always the golden rule in audio. Nobody likes that DJ who’s master out is coming out red.

    Another concept to go along with this when processing your backbone driving percussion is overprocessingittodeathlimitercompressorzomgwtfbbq. This is a model I generally use for my percussion signal flow.

    I hope I can add to the knowledge that Karnal has shared! Kudos Karnal.

    • http://www.gigturn.com/ Mohamed Kamal

      This is great! Sub-group your mixes for better control and organization!

    • Robert Nathan Leslie Collins

      Forgive the ignorance- that flow chart looks really helpful, but I’m not sure if I get what the ‘Drums (Sidechain)’ bus is supposed to be used for? I’m assuming nothing as simple as volume ducking synths, so is it about pumping the percussion?

    • corius

      lololol at ‘omgwtfbbq’

    • Tonja Holma

      Just a little tip. You say that you are lowering the level -18db of your individual sounds and then you record/bounce them down at that level and put them into Pro Tools to mix? If your 24bit kick drum that peaked around -1db is lowered to -18db and then recorded at that level, then when you boost that recording back up to the same level as you had when you started (-1db) then you won’t have a 24bit kick drum anymore, 12 bit at best. Take a photo with a 8 MP camera of a tree with a bird in it. then Zoom way in there until you can only see the bird. Print that out in the same size as the original photo. Does both pictures have the same resolution? no..

    • Tonja Holma

      You are actually doing the same damage as “that DJ who’s master out is coming out red” but the other way around. “The Dj” cuts/limits away all the peaks in the sound and looses dynamics that way. You loose your dynamics by letting your sounds use only a small fraction of the headroom and dynamic range that is there.. Play around with it and you will be amazed by how much better your mixes will sound.

  • Hopewell

    Solid Stuff Thanks.

  • Dave E

    why on earth would you use the SSL at such low release and such high attack rates? makes no sense at all, for no edm related musical material I could imagine. Also for heavenssake dont use the “analog” button, its just gonna add noise and 60 hz+harmonics owing to the emulated transformers. Also: its extremely PROGRAM dependent what settings you use, especially the threshold. Take it from a mastering-engineer: DON’T PUT ANYTHING ON THE MASTER CHANNEL. Leave that to us. Also with the equing.