With the rise of more and more home studios and relatively inexpensive mixing software, musicians are more likely to engineer their own recording projects than at any time in the past.
Not only does software such as ProTools, Ableton, and Cubase allow new engineers access to many more processing effects, the Internet has a wealth of information and instruction for people just beginning to explore the techniques needed to engineer a really good mix. There is so much information about mixing available on the web, in fact, that it can be overwhelming for a novice to find appropriate information for a given situation.
To help sort through these for readers, here is my review of a few listicles that offer tips to beginning engineers hoping to get a great mix. These articles are all available at sites that offer further instruction if one is willing to poke around.
Bill Mueller gives some very useful and detailed technical specifications in his article In The Studio: 5 Mistakes Beginning Mix Engineers Make. Mueller mentions the tendency of new engineers to mix too loudly, thereby compromising the quality of the sound. There are both technological and biological reasons studio monitors should not be set at more than 80 dB for mixing. Then, too, many beginning engineers bring the levels of the individual tracks to 0 VU too early in the process. Piling other tracks on top of this results in a final mix louder than 0 VU, which must then be reworked to pull the level back to 0 VU.
Mueller also discusses the importance of the initial organization within a DAW of a project and the tendency to put too much reverb on a track in an effort to fix poor recording quality. What Mueller calls a “political mix” is also described as a basic problem: a mix with elements resulting from the internal drama of a band rather than what sounds good. He gives one technique for dealing with this problem, though this might or might not work in any given studio situation.
In 8 Tips for Becoming a Better Home Studio Engineer, Mark Marshall outlines a few of the most basic ideas someone who is new to engineering should consider while working on a project. The first and last of these are essentially the same and perhaps the most important to remember: a well-engineered project is the result of a good engineering job, not good (or bad) gear. Marshall also mentions twice that it is key that people take the time to learn engineering and be patient with the learning process—it won’t happen overnight. Finally, Marshall gives tips for specific things to work on, from organization to miking techniques. Unfortunately, Marshall gives little specific or technical information about his topics.
A blog post on Studio One Expert titled Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Mixing focuses on the psychology of the engineer more than on specific technical considerations. The post mentions lack of preparation, taking breaks, and confidence as some of the top struggles of a beginning engineer. Also, as many experienced engineers would agree with, using too many effects can kill a mix. The adage “he who EQs least EQs best” holds true for using effects and plugins—the fewer the better.
What sources do you know that offer advice to beginning or small studio engineers?