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It’s easy to get lost in granular aspects of mixing (especially here at iZotope, where we might spend hours going down a wormhole of linear phase mid/side EQ on the master bus). But Spire reminds us that there are always lessons to be gleaned, even at the simplest of levels.
The mixing interface in the Spire app is revolutionary in its simplicity: each track is represented by a node that can be positioned on the screen to adjust volume (up and down) and panning (left and right). This allows you to get a sense of the entire mix, both as a whole and as individual tracks relative to one other, in seconds. Despite being pared down to the most basic, fundamental elements, there are still complexities and nuances that arise. Here are eight tips to help you hone in on a great mix.
If you double a part and hard-pan two tracks, try switching which is on the left and which is on the right. A simple move, but it can make a surprising difference. They’re doubled, but they’re not the same thing.
Don’t forget the button that toggles each track from mono mode to “stereo” mode. Keep in mind, this “stereo” mode is an imager effect. It will add depth and brightness to the track, but you might prefer to turn it off in some cases, especially where you have multiple tracks with similar frequencies. Or if you’re using an external microphone and don’t want the sound affected at all.
Sometimes your eyes can cloud your judgment. If a node seems too high or too low, too far left or right, or too close in proximity to another track, it can look like it “should be a problem.” All that matters is how it sounds. Trust your ears and not your eyes. Try actually closing your eyes while sliding a node around the mix screen and stop when your ears tell you to. Sometimes the result will be different.
If you’re mixing on low quality earbuds or bass-heavy over-ear headphones, the mix will sound drastically different. This can especially affect how you mix bass parts. Try switching headphones or playing the song on larger speakers and in different rooms. Listen in your car. That bass might not be as overpowering as your first thought. Replicate the different environments people will be listening in.
You can hear more sonic information with the volume cranked up, but it can be useful to turn the volume way down as well. Listen to how certain parts sit in the mix at low volumes and you may be surprised. Particularly with vocals.
If you’re struggling with a mix, try pulling all the nodes to the bottom and start with complete silence. Then slide each up one by one. If you start with something too loud, everything else will be accordingly problematic.
If you have subsets of arrangements within the song (e.g. three guitars, a group of harmonies, multiple percussion parts, etc.) try muting everything else and mixing them by themselves. Once you have them sitting in a good place in relation to each other, bring everything else back into the mix.
It’s easy to get into mixing habits. Especially with your own music. You might find yourself automatically putting the bass and drums right in the center, with the vocal just above, keeping the guitars hard panned and low, etc. Try doing something you usually never would: put the vocal all the way on the left, put the guitars right on top of each other, remove the bass completely, etc. If you’re open minded about it, you might surprise yourself and stumble upon an idea you normally wouldn’t have thought of.