Learn to stop worrying and love your mixes with our 10‑point checklist!
The hardest thing about mixing is stopping mixing. No matter how many songs you work on, you never lose the fear that comes with pressing Send. Have you missed something obvious? Will the client or the mastering engineer throw up their hands in horror? Does your mix contain some deadly flaw that will make it unlistenable on phones or over the radio?
It’s easy to worry too much, and at the same time, you can’t anticipate what other people will think of your mix. But if peace of mind is what you’re after, there are a few simple checks that can help you pick up on common problems while there’s still time to fix them!
There are still plenty of mono or near‑mono playback devices around, but even if you don’t care about how your music sounds on phones or cheap radios, auditioning the mix in mono will give you another window on your mix balance, especially if you A/B your own mix against your references. Most decent monitor controllers and many audio interfaces have a dedicated mono button, and if not, it’s easy to use a plug‑in in your DAW’s master channel. If at all possible, I strongly recommend using a single speaker to do your mono checks.
On a related point, it’s also worth looking at your mixes through the prism of a phase correlation meter. A consistent negative reading may indicate problems that aren’t obvious even on a quick mono check. For example, in a mix I did recently, the same guitar track was hard panned left and right with different amp simulator settings, but I’d failed to spot that one of them was inverting the polarity of the signal. So much for my lovely wide guitars...
Some engineers like to do the bulk of their mixing on small, bandwidth‑limited speakers such as NS10s or Auratones. Others prefer to use the best monitors available. Either way, though, it’s a confident engineer who allows their mixes to go to mastering without having listened to them on some sort of consumer playback system, whether that’s a boombox, a car stereo, or a modern device such as a smart speaker or digital radio. But what are you listening for?
The point of doing this is to check what’s often called translation: that the mix balance doesn’t change too much from system to system, and that all the important mix elements can still be heard. So, for example, in most genres you’d probably want the bass instrument and the kick drum still to be audible even on small speakers, but you don’t want to achieve this by piling on 50Hz until the speaker can’t cope any more and starts to distort! Small speaker listening is also very useful in implementing several of the other checks I’ll be describing in this article.
One reason why some engineers work on small speakers is because they find it easier to get the vocal level right that way. Mono listening can also be a great way to confirm that the vocal is sitting at the Goldilocks point in your mix. Either way, what’s vital is to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve with the vocal.
In general, it’s desirable that the words be intelligible and that the voice sits at a consistent level in the mix. But that can be achieved in many different ways. In a sparse piano ballad, you’ll probably want to keep the vocal very forward, the vocal sound full‑range and hi‑fi, and the effects quite lush. In some rock genres, the aim might be to...