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My journey as a struggling mixing engineer. I need advice badly.
Old 25th November 2020
  #1
Here for the gear
 
My journey as a struggling mixing engineer. I need advice badly.

Hello, I've been learning how to mix and make music for about 4 years now. And I still can't figure out how to mix well. It is driving me crazy. Every time I think I learn, or understand something, it just goes in a 180 and I'm back to square one again.

I've been using FL Studio for my DAW, and have slowly been upgrading gear. I started mixing with Apple Headphones. It is just what I had around at the time and it worked well because I listened to so much music with them. My first projects sounded well. Or I just didn't know well sounded like yet... Anyway, so about a year later I started wanting to make my mixes to start sounding professionally produced and radio ready.

(There also isn't a particular style that I want to mix. I myself incorporate every genre into my music. I don't stick with one genre. So I am not limited to hip-hop engineers, or EDM artists. I kind of want to just do it all and have fun, and be able to whip up a good mix in any genre. My friend who is a singer songwriter wants me to start mixing for him. This is the main reason I'm writing this, is because I want his mixes to sound amazing, but I feel like I'm struggling.)

I bought some mixing headphones. A pair of Beyerdynamic DT770. And the day that I got them was the downfall of my entire mixing career. Everything sounded like it was from a tin can and all the music I listened to with them hurt my ears with high end and there was barely any bass or low end.

I searched around online to why this was and found out that studio headphones have a "flat" frequency response, and I just had to get used to them or "learn" them. for the first few months of using those headphones my mixes were the worst they ever were. All my mixes sounded like they were being played on a flip phone. This is the first time I got discouraged. But that didn't stop me because I was so set on making my music sound "commercial".

I still wasn't getting the mixes I was looking for, so I got a second opinion and got some studio monitors. KRK Rokit 5's. I saw these everywhere on YouTube and assumed they were the "Beats" of studio monitors.

They sounded good when I got them. At least I thought. Listening to music sounded fine (I guessed) so I started working on my mixes again.

Still, to no avail, my mixes still sounded horrible. I would play them on any other system, and it would sound like the next generation of the previous flip phone like quality. It was a little better, but still sucked.

Over time I slowly got more used to my headphones because I didn't really use my speakers that much. After a while I decided to actually do some research on acoustics because I didn't really understand it.

My speakers were on a desk in the corner of the room. ****. This is apparently really bad I'm finding out. So I moved my whole setup to the center of the room in the middle. That didn't really work either. I thought it did. I got some pretty okay mixes with it there. But it still didn't meet up to the professionals. I was missing something. When I would test it on other systems, there would be mud, or too much bass. The kick was blasting out the speakers. Sometimes they were just thin or bad quality.

After a while I stopped using my speakers because there had been this weird audio driver problem in my computer and was just using my headphones and my laptop. I used these headphones for a while. Commercial mixes sounded amazing. Movies sounded incredible. I got used to having "studio" headphones.

But, my mixes still lacked. I thought for sure that my hearing was bad or something, but I can tell what I good mix sounds like. I can hear frequencies. But my mixes just never really sounded like anything professional. One time I thought for sure that I understood what I was doing. The mix sounded awesome in my headphones. I knew what I good mix sounded like, so I thought mine must be good now. I went to the car and the bass was still blasting and there was a lot of mud and high frequencies playing.

After I built a new computer I could use my speakers again, and learned that they needed to be in a equilateral triangle. Once I did this, everything sounded really good. The panning in music were really spacious. And I could hear all the frequencies clearly. Or so I thought.

With my new "equal length" speakers, I decided to start trying to mix one of my friends songs I had recorded for him. I made him a beat and he recorded a verse. I mixed the song with my speakers and thought it sounded awesome. So I checked it in the car... Bass still too loud. High frequencies are a mess. I am discouraged yet again.

That's when I really decide to start researching room acoustics and how to set up studio monitor speakers correctly. I learned about early reflections, and room modes, and how to sit in the 38% of the room so there's no dips in frequencies from modes. I put my speakers in specific dimensions that I measured out. I got speakers stands so the speakers weren't rumbling my desk.

Once I did this my ears opened, for real. Commercial mixing and songs sounded like I've never heard them. It was like seeing with glasses for the first time. I could hear everything panned, and all the frequencies perfectly. So this is it, I thought. For the first time I will be able to mix with confidence because I can hear everything and the frequency response if flat and there's no "comb-filtering" or too much low end or high end.

Long story short I'm still struggling. I started trying to mix my songs, and they sounded pretty good. I even used reference tracks and they sounded similar. So I thought for sure that I finally understood it. But when I went to test them on other systems, like apple headphones (I know apple headphones are bass boosted, etc.) there was so much mud and and just unwanted low end. I've also been trying to mix my friend's songs as practice. But with BOTH, my speakers and my headphones I leveled it, and mixed it. EQ'd out the unwanted frequencies I could hear, and it sounded really good. It was starting to sound more commercial. But I listened again on my apple headphones. And there was that horrible mud and low end. I could barely even hear any mud or low end on my speakers and headphones.

So you're gonna say that my acoustics might still be bad. But I checked commercially mixed songs with BOTH my speakers and headphones and they sound almost identical. I also tested them with sin wave frequency sweeps and there was no boosted or dipped frequencies. They [I]should[I] sound commercial. But I'm still not getting mixes that translate at all. My room acoustic set up is pretty janky, but in theory it should work. There should be no modes or reflections. I am using thin acoustic paneling in squares. But I feel like if it was the room, it would sound different on my headphones. But they sound exactly the same. Unless both of my speakers and headphones aren't that good.

I'm just starting to feel hopeless. From what started as a fun way of making my music sound commercial, turned into a relentless battle on myself because nothing ever made sense. It seemed like the farther I got, the more confusing and impossible everything seemed to get.

I feel like I have learned all the basic fundamentals. I knew how to do everything on paper. And now, it seems like I should know how to do everything in practice. But it just all falls apart. I still feel like a noob, and I've even thought about just quitting multiple times.

I've thought about reaching out to recording studios and asking for help, and or to sit in and watch someone mix. I really don't know what direction to go in. That's why I'm here. I need advice in what direction to go with this. It seems like I've already learned how to do everything. I learned how to level, EQ, room acoustics, speakers, headphones, early reflections, room modes, comb filtering, "learning" your system, etc. It just seems like it doesn't make any sense that my mixes are [I]still[I] not right and don't translate at all.

If there is anyone that has some insight or has experience this journey, please help. I feel like there is not much more I can do. Or there's something or several things I'm missing. Thank you.

Hear is a google drive folder with my most recent mixes:
https://drive.google.com/drive/u/1/f...bkQs7qDNhB9jjL

-Lucas Feola (grendelsjourney)
Old 25th November 2020
  #2
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BT64's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by grendelsjourney View Post
....
If there is anyone that has some insight or has experience this journey, please help. I feel like there is not much more I can do. Or there's something or several things I'm missing. Thank you.
....
All of us who are creative do this because we know what is beautiful.
But there is a gap.

In the beginning we make things but they just aren't right.
We try to be good, the potential is there, but it is not good.
Your image of what is beautiful is the reason why you started it, and there is nothing wrong with that.
This image ensures that you are disappointed in your work.
We know our work doesn't have that special something we are looking for.

Many people never get past this stage, they stop.

If you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you should know that this is normal.
Only by practicing a lot can you close that gap.
Only then can your work become as good as your ambitions.
Old 25th November 2020 | Show parent
  #3
Here for the gear
 
I was just coming on here to add in if I should just practice more. This is a really inspiring way to look at it, and I feel like I lost that. Thank you.
Old 25th November 2020 | Show parent
  #4
Gear Maniac
 
Pretty good mixes actually. Nice mid-forward, clear and good separation. You are on a good path, don't despair.

You are on a plateau right now, feeling it's not going up anymore. Thats normal with almost all learning, it moves from plateau to plateau: languages, math, crafts.

But don't forget it's you who build this plateau and its the basis for climbing further. The groundwork is laid and if you stick to it it will only get better from now.

Watch a few YouTube videos on mixing, there are some good multi-video tutorials. No need to sign up to any program or something. Lots of free offerings, also free MOOCs available. Pick one of these and stick with it, even if you already know some of the stuff being taught.

If you can find a mixer or a studio willing to take you as an intern you'd probably catch on fast.

You learned how import getting the basics right is: decent headphones, decent monitors, some basic room acoustics. Gearwise you are good, only thing you might want to change at this point is probably better monitors, the Rokits are ok, but it's more good YouTube marketing than anything else :D

What audio-interface are you using?
Old 26th November 2020
  #5
Quote:
My journey as a struggling mixing engineer. I need advice badly.
Tune your room and train your ears.
If you cannot hear the actual true sounds of what you are recording and mixing. Then its really really hard to mix it to the way you really want it to sound like.

Do not do nothing else, before tuning your room.
Quote:
If you can find a mixer or a studio willing to take you as an intern you'd probably catch on fast.
This intern thing is pretty much non-existent. Do not even waste your time driving to studios and inquiring about being an intern.
Old 26th November 2020
  #6
Lives for gear
 
Owen L T's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
After listening to a few of these, my thought was: a good chunk of what you may be thinking of as a "mixing" issue is likely a writing/attanging/performing/producing issue. If you're doing the production/arranging, it may be worth focussing some more efforts in that department as well - and bearing in mind that, when comparing your mixes with professional tracks, the arrangement and performance of those tracks both play a huge role in making them sound better than the stuff we self-produce and mix. Personally, I find it all too easy to cut straight to the part where I'm focussing on plugins and technical stuff, rather than ensuring that the more foundational elements of the track are truly as strong as they can be. To me, it's those elements which sound most "demo-y" about these tracks - a basic rhythm guitar strum that doesn't vary, other than to speed up a bit; an absence of strong musical statements above and beyond the vocal melody. Don't get me wrong: all a very good start; but to me it's the musical statements that would really take these up a notch, and way more than any EQ moves or other straight-up mixing intervention.
Old 26th November 2020
  #7
Gear Guru
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by grendelsjourney View Post
. I thought it did. I got some pretty okay mixes with it there. But it still didn't meet up to the professionals.
So?

If you had been playing tennis for 4 years, how do you think you would compare vs professional tennis players? Think you could take even one game from Rafael Nadal?


Quote:
. But I listened again on my apple headphones. And there was that horrible mud and low end. I could barely even hear any mud or low end on my speakers and headphones.
So use it!

I have a pair of phones like that, they somehow reveal a range in the low mids, where, if there is a problem, they will show it, even though other systems do not. But when I fix that range on these headphones, it still sounds fine on the other systems.

Just keep checking on multiple systems and keep fixing until it sounds good on all of them.
Old 26th November 2020
  #8
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by grendelsjourney View Post
Hello, I've been learning how to mix and make music for about 4 years now.
4 years???? Another 6 to go at least.

Your definitely other thinking it, there usually a team to what you are doing alone.

I'm not going to lie to you, it took me 12 years to finally get to that professional and guess what? I'm still learning lol there no way around it.

If you want it, change your attitude towards need it, to earn it!!!

Personal Tip: Stop trying to mix the full spectrum, break it apart, first two hours focus on the bass, take an half hour break, then

focus on the midrange for two more hours, take a hour break out side the room,

focus on the Highs for an hour, take an 20min break, continue focusing on the High for another Hour, take an half hour break,

Now bring all together and listen to it as a whole song.

Do's and Don't;
Do read, practise & understand Recording & Mixing
Do learn your tools and seek the highest quality you can afford
Do treat your room
Do try to start off with the best audio possible
Do bounce MIDI
Do all the technical stuff first then creative after balance is set
Do balance first no matter what, if you dont your wasting your time
Do take regular breaks
Do make others hear your in process mixes
Do build templates or presets to speed up workflow
Do listen outside of your room and stop thinking like an engineer but more like a consumer
Do enjoy what your doing
Do ask for help

Don't get discouraged
Don't record & mix at the same time (for now)
Don't waste time ( your ears will get tired, you will no longer hear correctly
Don't fight to make something work, swap it out move on
Don't listen on any one speaker
Don't waste time
Don't do any automation until your at your mixing stage
Don't have any distractions in your way, cellphone, wife, maybe cat
Don't bother when your tired
Don't waste time
Don't buy every new tool that comes out, learn what you have
Don't cheap out on Audio Interface, Studio Monitors, Room Treatment
Don't do drugs or alcohol, without inviting me over.
Finally Dont waste time ( I can't stress this enough)

Last edited by Mr.vybz; 27th November 2020 at 12:04 AM.. Reason: Spelling
Old 4th December 2020
  #9
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
My guess is that your desire and drive to improve will skills will inevitably get you there if you keep going. There is plenty of good advice here. Here is my short list:

- Until you are completely confident in what you do use reference tracks. Refer to them regularly. Create a simple system in your mix template to switch over to references, or find a plugin that allows you to do this. I use metric AB (got it on sale for $29, best money I have spent in a long time). This plug allows you to reference frequency ranges (you can achieve this using creative free methods also) and it is amazing how your perspective can change listening only to a section such as low mids then switching back to the full track. However you get there, use references to train your ears.

- Choose reference tracks that are considered to be well mixed by the community at large, not because it's a song you like. The love a lot of records that actually sound like @ss when I listen to them critically.

- You take your mixes out of your room and find problems. So do I, all the time. When you come back to your room can you still identify the problems? 95% of the time I can immediately hear the issues I heard somewhere else. The change in perspective allowed to me hear the problem, not a monitoring issue. The other 5% of the time I find I have a problem in my monitoring that is causing me to miss things. That happened today, a 1 db boominess in the low mids that showed up in the car but not in my monitors when I got home. That's rare for me, but that's why we check on other systems.

- The advice above about musicality and arrangement is really important. The best mixing skills in the world cannot turn a sub par performance into something pro. We can do a lot but the result is never what we hope for. (Some day I'm going to start a YouTube channel devoted to turd polishing, as that seems to be mostly what I do these days)

- Consider this next bit of advice to be very subjective: For me the biggest mixing problem has always been getting the upper mids and high end (1K to 10K) to "sound like a record". Bright, shiny and clear, without being harsh. In a home recording environment I find that tracks simply do not ever show up sounding that like that, you have to push them like crazy. The answer for me, for now, is a specific mix bus chain that I mix into from the start. It's a set of plugins that each do just a little to add depth, top end, and width. The end result of going through several processes is that I don't have to push the tracks so hard and get a more natural top end that can complete with references. My chain consists of a mix buss simulator, a tape sim, a buss comp, an EQ, and a limiter. The specific plugs I use may not be meaningful for you. It's a combination I came up over a few years of trial and error, and suits my style (classic rock and acoustic music). If you have choices of some saturation and different flavours of compressors see if you can find something that brings mixes to life. For me the key was finding a combination where each process is gentle and subtle but all add up to make a real difference, and then mixing into it from the start. Adding this stuff to a mix at the end rarely works, in my experience.


Keep at it, and practice as much as you can. Get feedback on your mixes. Don't get sucked into buying a bunch of tools that promise to fix all your issues. Find a reasonable number of plugins that give you the tools you need and have a work flow that makes sense for you, and really learn to get the best out of them.

Last edited by Chip Booth; 4th December 2020 at 07:13 PM..
Old 4th December 2020
  #10
Lives for gear
 
Chevron's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by grendelsjourney View Post
Hello, I've been learning how to mix and make music for about 4 years now. And I still can't figure out how to mix well. It is driving me crazy. Every time I think I learn, or understand something, it just goes in a 180 and I'm back to square one again.
It is tough, it just takes a lot of practice. The good thing is you know you need to improve, this is huge as a lot of people are in denial.

Follow these simple steps.

1. Don't overthink your setup. Experienced Engineers can mix almost anywhere - it is better to put your energy in to improving.

2. Find an amazing sounding reference track for the mix you are working on. Level match and A/B the **** out of it and try to copy the individual sounds and overall feel. Chase it till drives you a little nuts, but not too nuts. Then move on. You learn more by 'finishing' a mix and going on to the next mix rather than flogging the same one over and over.

Mastering The Mix Reference Plugin is great for A/B ing and level matching. Build up a library.

I use Tidal HD, and 'record' from there at high resolution using Audio Hijack to get my reference tracks.

My favourite studio saying, a mix is never finished it is just abandoned

3. Lighten up and don't get too frustrated, have fun during the process. Understand it took even the best mix engineers many years to perfect their craft..
Old 4th December 2020 | Show parent
  #11
Gear Guru
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chip Booth View Post

- You take your mixes out of your room and find problems. So do I, all the time. When you come back to your room can you still identify the problems? 95% of the time I can immediately hear the issues I heard somewhere else. The change in perspective allowed to me hear the problem, not a monitoring issue.
great points, but this one especially. I recently had the same kind of experience with a certain pair of headphones. The low end seemed to sound fine on literally everything else I owned. But these showed a problem, which then I could zero in on. When I took down the offending frequency, it did not unbalance my mix on the other monitors and cans.

I have the philosophy that each monitoring device is a window into your mix. i.e. that your mix "exists" in the abstract somewhere just outside of Plato's Cave, and that each set of speakers or headphones are just showing you one particular view of it.
Old 4th December 2020 | Show parent
  #12
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I have the philosophy that each monitoring device is a window into your mix. i.e. that your mix "exists" in the abstract somewhere just outside of Plato's Cave, and that each set of speakers or headphones are just showing you one particular view of it.
I think that's both a wonderful metaphor and technically accurate!
Old 4th December 2020 | Show parent
  #13
Gear Maniac
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chevron View Post

I use Tidal HD, and 'record' from there at high resolution using Audio Hijack to get my reference tracks.
Slightly OT but Tidal is not high resolution. The MQA format they are using for their "studio masters" uses lossy compression and euphonic filters. It has 13-15 bits and hence less dynamic range than redbook CD with 16 bits.

For the full monty on this format have a look here:

https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/revie...cautions-r701/
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #14
Lives for gear
 
Chevron's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcgilroy View Post
Slightly OT but Tidal is not high resolution. The MQA format they are using for their "studio masters" uses lossy compression and euphonic filters. It has 13-15 bits and hence less dynamic range than redbook CD with 16 bits.

For the full monty on this format have a look here:

https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/revie...cautions-r701/
Yes, but I was talking about their Hi-Fi playback setting. Which is lossless PCM - don't confuse Tidal HiFi with Masters.

On the subject of Tidal 'Master' playback, whatever the technical aspects are to be able to stream 24/96. It sounds great, and the results extremely transparent and of very high quality.

Bob Katz is quoted as often saying MQA is “perceptually lossless”.
Old 14th December 2020 | Show parent
  #15
Lives for gear
 
BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
I have the philosophy that each monitoring device is a window into your mix, and that each set of speakers or headphones are just showing you one particular view of it.
read this twice people. well said joeq.

multiple sets of monitoring helps a good mix.

Buddha
Old 15th December 2020
  #16
Gear Maniac
 
zukan's Avatar
 
The room is the environment you work in and if it isn't 'right' then nor will your mixes be. If you're only using headphones then that negates the environment issue and a reason why so many mix on headphones nowadays.

Don't get hung up on poor results, it happens to all of us both amateurs and pros.

If you feel you need some 1-2-1 guidance then spending a day with an engineer and watching him/her mix can be really helpful, or book a few hours 1-2-1 with a good tutor and it will make a huge difference. I teach a lot of students and quite often I find that some basic changes to environment, approaches to mixing and a rudimentary understanding of gain staging and signal flow can go a long way. If they have the time then a strong grounding in processing principles takes them that one step further.

Don't get disheartened. You're not alone, trust me.
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