The 10 Biggest DAW Mixing Mistakes

Just playing your instrument isn’t enough anymore. Musicians these days have to wear a lot of hats – player, promoter, webmaster, mixing engineer – the list goes on.

If you’re lucky enough to be recording in a big downtown studio, someone else will handle the delicate mixing decisions. But many of us have to do our own mixing on a computer in a garage or basement studio. When the mix goes wrong, a brilliantly performed and flawlessly recorded song can end up a mess. So let’s take a look at a few of the pitfalls you can tumble into while mixing, and explore ways to avoid them.

DAW Mixing

Fig. 1a

DAW Mixing

Fig. 1b

1.Thinking, “I’ll Fix That In The Mix.”

Using modern computer software, you can fix a wide variety of problems that may have marred the tracking session. Fluffed notes can be chopped out and replaced, the singer’s loose intonation can be tightened up, and so on. But the more time and energy you devote to these details, the less you’ll have left over to concentrate on producing a polished mix.

Some problems, such as bad microphone placement, background noise, and digital clipping caused by a too-high recording level, can’t be fixed easily. Even when those issues have been dealt with before you start tracking, you’ll still find it easier to mix when the track has a great composition and arrangement and sparkling performances. If you bring all of the faders up and find yourself thinking, “Uh-oh, this is gonna take some work,” it may already be too late.

2. Using The Wrong Kind Of Monitoring

In the old days, the standard advice was, “Don’t mix using headphones.” Headphones create an artificially clear stereo image, and can also promote ear fatigue. But these days, many of your listeners may be hearing your mix on earbuds, streamed via mp3 at the rather degraded rate of 128kbps. Today, you should check your mix using the same monitoring setup that your listeners will. After crafting the basic mix using a good pair of near-field monitors with a flat frequency response, export the audio to mp3 and check it with earbuds. Did the bass or the detailed highs disappear? If you can’t find a compromise mix that works on speakers and also on mp3, consider doing a separate mix specifically for mp3 streaming.

If you’re mixing for a dance club, you may want a subwoofer in your mixing environment, but the subwoofer can steer you wrong in either of two opposite directions. If it’s too aggressive, you may cut back too far on the bass. In that case, the mix that sounds full in your studio may sound weak in the club. Conversely, if your subwoofer is weak, you may crank the bass up too far and end up with a roaring, booming mess that won’t work in the club.

A solid, practical way to check your mix is to choose a few professionally recorded tracks by other artists that are in a style similar to what you’re aiming for. Put one of these tracks up and listen to it through your monitor system. Listen carefully to the blend and balance of instruments and frequencies. Then compare it to your own mix. Do they sound similar, or does yours need to be dialed in?

DAW Mixing

Fig. 2

When slicing audio, zoom in far enough to see exactly what’s going on in the waveform, and switch off the mouse tool’s “snap to grid” option. With a stereo recording, it may be impossible to find a spot where both the left and right channels are at zero-crossings. In this case, check to see if your software provides a tool for doing a quick fade-out at the end of an audio clip. A fade-out or fade-in that’s only a few milliseconds long (see fig. 2) won’t be audible, but it will prevent clicks.

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