Those who primarily use software to create their music often lack valuable perspective when it comes to composition, and this can have a detrimental effect on the resulting mixes. I count myself in this group, and I only recently (within the last 2 years) became aware of what I was doing. To get right to the point, many of us started out writing music with software like Reason and Ableton Live, never having mixed music which consists entirely of traditional instruments such as guitars and acoustic drums. The value in understanding how to mix with these instruments is that the relationship between a good composition and good mix becomes apparent earlier in one’s learning process as a natural result of having fewer sounds to deal with. This is helped along by the fact that instruments with more history come with lots of standard mixing practices to guide the way.
Instead, many of us started off with the relatively infinite power of multiple plugin instances, trying to stuff as many bleeps, bloops, and huge synth stabs as possible into our compositions. This ease of loading up many new sounds (which are often presets that contain far too much harmonic content in the first place) can lead to mixes that are choked with lots of frequencies at high volumes. It’s easy to take all of this power for granted, choosing to load up yet another instrument rather than improve the ones that are already present. With the addition of each new significant element, the final mix becomes harder to lock down after the composition is completed. If you’re having to do lots of dramatic cuts and boosts to fit each new sound into the overall mix, there may be too much happening at once.
Sticking with a small, yet expressive set of instruments will allow these few sounds to fill up the frequency space and tell the story through a well thought out composition. Next time you add a new sound to a piece, question whether it is truly necessary. Will it add something significant, or is it being thrown into the song simply because it’s easy to do so? I’ll end this by saying that I wrote this post as much for myself as anyone else who may benefit. If you have more advice to add to this, please do so in the comments section!Keep Your Mix Clean by Nick Maxwell