Why Your Mixes (probably) Don’t Sound Good

Why Your Mixes (probably) Don't Sound Good

Spoiler alert: The purpose of this post is not to give you the solutions to why your mixes don't sound good, but to help you define the problem.

Reflecting on my own personal experience and journey as an audio engineer based in Brooklyn, NY for the last 8 years, this approach to explaining the problem is not what you want to hear but need to consider. This is the sobering truth:

You have not mixed enough of your songs

Assuming you are looking to mix your own music, this premise is simple. You haven't done it enough, so you arent good enough. Mixing music is a skill that involves an understanding of technical principals and offers little shortcuts that consistently work in a variety of scenarios. The goalposts are not fixed - For example, I have an internal threshold for something that sounds professional but I feel that anything within that threshold can be considered subjective to the artist. Do you know what your threshold is? Do you know what your tolerance is withing the bounds of what "sounds good" to you? While increasing your "at bats" is something you can do to get better, this is only a quantitative and not a qualitative measure.

Qualitatively, your "at bats" fall within a very narrow experience - Your mic, your voice, your arrangemnets... your music...

You have not mixed enough of other people’s music

Working on your own music means you are inherently limiting your exposure to sonic variation and new problems. The wider your rolodex of audio engineering problems, the wiser you can become in the field of audio engineering. Your depth and breadth of knowledge makes you more efficient and confident in your mixing choices. If you're not willing to mix other people's voices, microphones, room reflections, arrangements, genres, and translating their unique feedback into technical or artistic mix revisions, how are you supposed to gauge if you know what you're doing when it comes to your own music? An even more philisophical quesiton might be, if you are willing to go this far to learn and test your skills, might you be detracting from the energy you need to be putting in to becoming a more talented and well known artist?

Songs I have mixed

As someone who has been mixing other people's music independently for around 7 years, I can tell you that this is a critical aspect of learning and developing the ear. Check out the songs I've mixed here. Feel free to sort in reverse chromilogical order and see how much better my mixes got for other people over that time. At the time of this posting, the playlist is over 7 and a half hours long - Considering how long I listening to each song as I'm mixing, you can image that amounts to a lot of critical listening time and mixing. This is just the songs I worked on that ended up making the cut and getting released by artists... but that's a whole different discussion.

Let's assume you've decided the mix engineering path is right for you! You've mixed other's music and your own, but things still aren't quite right...

You have not studied enough with or worked under a mentor

There is too much information on the internet. Do you know who to trust? The best thing to do would be to narrow the field as to who you are consuming information from. Do you know the names of the top engineers in the field? Do you know the names of who has worked on your favorite records? Have you consumed every piece of information they have to offer on the internet before moving on to the social media influencers with hooky TikToks?

The first photo of me engineering, Crazze House in Lynn, Ma
Vally at Crazze House in Lynn, MA. 2011/12

This still isn't enough - There's nothing that can replace working with peers, mentors, and legends in a real studio. You will pick-up more about working in the industry in these institutions than you ever could on the internet. My personal time at a pro recording studio in Manhattan was limited, but what I learned was invaluble. I got to be in the room while the guy that mixed "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira ran a session. I had some staff engineers show me the ropes of how they run sessions and keep Pro Tools organized. I was humbled, and scrubbed toilets for 2 months before getting to do any of that.

Even if you can't move to a city like LA, NYC, Nashville, Atlanta, etc to learn within a studio, you might have someone right around the corner in your hometown that needs an intern. A local studio spot took a chance on me back in the day, Crazze House in Lynn, MA, when I was 23 years old and had no prior experience in studios, with Pro Tools, or anything. I learned so much there - Shout out to Mark G.!

Getting time with engineers that are experienced in the real world is critical to developing the technical skills required, and the intuition, to make your music sound good.

On the subject of intuition...

You do not have a sonic vision, and/or do not understand what mixing decisions will bring you closer to that vision

When I mix, I have a sonic destination in mind. In my head, I can hear (roughly) how the song sounds as the final product. I'm able to boil that down into specific technical tactics, prioritize the order in which I go about tackling every stage of the mix, test out different techniques quickly, and judge wether or not those techniques are getting me closer to my sonic vision.

Luke skywalker trying to visualize his final mix

Ever tried mixing you music and mixed around in circles for weeks or months, without ever arriving at a point where the music is "done"? Ever mixed a song for hours on end and found yourself no closer to the end when you started? Ever mixed a song one day, and listened the next day only for it to sound completely different for you? These outcomes are all symptoms of the underlying issue - You don't have a sonic vision and don't understand tactically how to get there.

Feeling discouraged? No worries, that's normal!

It can take so much time to become great at mixing that if what you actually want to be is an artist, producer, songwriter, or creative you should ask yourself… honestly… Do you even want to even bother? Would that time spent studying mixing be better spent writing, producing, networking, touring, taking vocoal lessions, creating a more exciting unique live experience... What do you think?

As for what's up like, 'RIGHT NOW' right now?

picture of my N.Y. Port Authority "Three Thousand Miles from Home" Promo copy vinyl

I'm digging in to my vinyl collection again. For a stretch of about 2 years I was growing my collection of secondhand/used vinyl, tagging the locations I bought them, logging the conditions on discogs, etc. You can check out my collection on Discogs here and explore previews of each record/my thoughts and reviews here.

Today, we are checking out a promo copy of the New York Port Authority's album, "Three Thousand Miles from Home". I got this at an antiques shop in Kingston, NY about a year ago. Forgot the name of the store, can't find it on Google Maps, and it was one of those big old buildings with multiple vendors so I couldn't tell you who I bought it from.

If you want to work with us or just shoot the sh*t, hit our socials, send us an email, use our contact us form, whatever works for you!

Ciao ciao.