Why Don’t Your Logic Pro Mixes Sound Like the Pros?
Here’s 10 reasons why and what you should be doing to about it!
It’s a common problem for new to Logic and inexperienced semi-pros finding their mixes don’t match up to what’s commercially on the radio or web. The mix lacks the depth, balance, loudness and punch of your favourite artists leaving you feeling your music’s good but listeners just won’t hear like it you did when mixing it. If this is something you’ve experienced then read on as I’ll show you some common mix mistakes you might be making and how to solve them!
The first time I heard my music on TV after I had secured my first TV commission was more than a disappointment. I’d secured my first job, been paid handsomely, attended the wrap party and saw a bright future in writing music to picture! I rode that crest of the wave very high and felt very good about my future career until it all came crashing down when I heard how my music sounded when it was broadcast. Small, weedy, quiet and lacking in anything close to power.
I saw my whole career flash by me in that moment and new I needed to do something about it. I had to work out why my mix sucked and what I needed to do about it. Fortunately I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing artists, composers and producers over the years so have learnt my craft slowly but surely picking up key skills along the way ensuring I understand how to create a mix that is more than my first weedy step into music composition.
In this post I can’t cover everything but let’s take a look at 10 things I got wrong and what you can do avoid making the same mistakes as me.
1: Is your timing up to scratch?
At the recording stage this is one of the biggest mix errors of the novice Logic Pro producer. Listen to any record out there and you’ll find the music is as tight as a duck’s a*se. Good timing not only ensures everything works rhythmically it also ensure the mix will be tight and punchy as all the parts work together making a stronger impact on the beat.
I’m a guitar player and consider my timing pretty good but I still line parts up in the music even if I’m creating something which is supposed to be lose in it’s feel; I’ll still check everything is sitting together tightly to ensure the mix holds together.
You might argue that making sure the timing is tight and edited together will kill the emotion and feel of the music but that would be missing the point. I’m not talking about turning your music into a static quantised performance I’m talking about lining elements up across a beat so everything sits neatly.
For example we often write drum parts which are programmed and record a live bass as another layer the live bass is the part that will naturally drift off of the beat. So it’s essential the bass part is edited (if needs be) to sit closer to the drum parts that are likely quantised. You don’t have to place the bass perfectly on the division just close enough so the drums and bass sit perfectly together especially with the kick drum.
Eyes and ears! When editing don’t rely on your eyes looking at the DAW use your ears after you’ve edited and asked yourself does this sound better? Is it now too tight? Or not tight enough? Critically listening to how all the layers are moving together in time is critical to the foundations of a great mix.
Editing can be a tedious task so my advise would be to take breaks when you are in the throws of sorting out your audio files and periodically listen to the whole track so that you can gauge how well the edits are and if the music sounds tighter and closer together.
2: Does your music tonally match the style you’re going for?
Of course it obvious to say that your music like any music from start to end should include good tonal balance in the Bass, Mids and Highs but I’ve hard many songs from home producers or inexperienced mix engineers publishing on line music that isn’t tonally balanced all that well.
It’s so easy to decide you want more air, hear the effect love it and add a bit more and before you know it your ears have got used to the sound, you think it sounds bright and punchy, post it online to listeners who quickly switch off because it’s too piercing and lacks any depth or warmth.
Ok I might be over exaggerating here but trust me I’ve heard mixes that bad online and if you want to avoid getting the balance wrong consider the following.
Make sure you listen to plenty of music in your style and emulate the tracks you’re listening to. You could even import a number of songs into a Logic Pro X session and use them as reference tracks to compare how yours sounds to the commercial music? This will help you to shape and balanced a mix that is full of tonal flavour correct to your style.
Another tip would be to load Logic’s Multimeter and look at the frequency response of the reference music and check this against your productions. When it comes to the tonal balance you’re not looking to make a carbon copy just enough to be in the same ballpark.
The Multimeter is a fantastic aid to looking at how your music compares to others and when I started out professionally I would
use it all the time to see what the balance of the music was like. It really helped me to shape my music and ensure that I had the frequency spectrum covered evenly.
Remember though it’s an aid not a replacement for your ears.
One reason why it’s so important to get the tonal balance right from the start is so that when you get to the mastering stage you’ll have less EQ work to do because the balance is already just about there!
Top Tip: One option to consider before the mastering stage is adding a EQ to the master buss, which will allow you to shape you mix further before you bounce the stereo mix file ready for mastering.
3: Don’t slip up on the Phase
If you record with multiple mics phase can be one of the biggest mix mistakes that can be made; phase can even creep into a mix if you record with a DI and mic so it’s well worth checking your mix for phase problems. Phase can cause comb filtering issues as well making a mix sound smaller and less than its competition. The rub is it’s such an easy fix and very easy to avoid!
First question is do you listen to your mix in mono? If not you might be missing the phase issues that are to be found in your music. If you do find phase issues in the mix try using the Gain plugin where you can invert the phase on the offending track(s). Even editing audio parts and slightly changing the alighnment of parts can help eradicate phase problems.
Other things to consider are the low end, if you are layering lots of low end parts basses and subs you can sometimes end up with phase issues so it’s worth checking the low end in mono to check for phase.
If there is phase problems it could make the lows sound smaller because frequencies are being cancelled out. Consider reducing the number of parts or even adding some overdrive to change the tonal character of the sound, which might help to reduce the phase.
4: Song dynamics
It might be another obvious point but song dynamics are extremely important to any music composition no matter the style. The biggest club floor fillers often have the biggest music drops, which gradually build to a thumping climax. Even if there’s only one drop the very nature of getting smaller makes the loud parts that much bigger. Pop songs take advantage of this also, a verse might have less parts than the chorus so the chorus feels that much bigger. It’s a common function of good song writing and anyone wanting to produce better mixes better make sure the music has dynamics throughout the piece.
Here are some thoughts on creating better arrangements in Logic Pro X.
Add new music elements throughout the music. For example if verse one has three instruments and a vocal, verse two could have four instruments and a vocal. The additional instrument could be as simple as another musical sound playing the same notes as one of the other parts or it could be a counter melody coming in every now and then.
Adding a busier rhythm parts to the chorus perhaps a 16th note tambourine is the classic that works every time. It will guarantee the music lifts and feels slightly bigger.
Double tracking multiple vocals for the chorus is another way to make the music feel bigger without adding anything new. Simply duplicating a vocal multiple times naturally adds dynamics to your music.
5: My mix is way to busy
This is something I took a long time to learn but when I did boy did it improve the sound of my mixes! I spent a long time writing multiple parts and lines that just didn’t fit, although I thought they did they just made my music too busy and lacking in direction.
If you listen to film or orchestral music on the surface it sounds very complicated, lots of instruments all fighting for space playing lots of parts, but when you break it down there’s ever only a few lines working together at a time with other instruments accompanying the main lines. This is what makes the music sound so huge. Often a few simply lines with supporting parts.
In your music ask yourself the question how many parts are there? Are all parts needed? Are they fighting for space or competing to be heard as the ‘lead line? If the answer is yes there’s too many parts, no not all parts are needed and yes tracks are fighting for space I’d say you should thin down the parts.
Our ears can really only focus on a maximum of 3 lines at any one time any more than that and things start to sound messy.
Listen to the best music in your style and ask yourself how many parts are playing at the same time? What’s the lead? and what’s the accompanying parts? Once you answer these questions you can refocus your music to be in line with the best of the music in your style.
Aside good recording levels mixing levels are just as important. I’m not talking about mastering or broadcast levels that’s a whole other issue!
I’m talking about the mix levels you need to stick to in order to make your music sound better and have more life at the mixing stage.
The architecture of digital audio workstations mean you can mix tracks close to but not above 0dBFS. This is sometimes easier said than done as the affect of adding more and more tracks as you mix can add more and more volume pushing up the final mix level.
One thing that took me a long time to learn is to keep slider levels on audio and instrument tracks very low, which will help to keep levels under control. It’s the easiest thing in the world in Logic Pro X to go overboard with the level so loading the Level Meter at the end of your mix chain is a really good way to keep things under control.
You could even set the Target Bar to -6 Peak effectively lowering your target level, which means you’ll focus on that rather than 0. The minute you focus on 0dBFS as the highest you can go that’s the moment your mix will start to creep towards it and then as is often the case go over it and clip when you decide the bass needs a bit more volume or the vocals need more mid range for example.
Having a lower level to focus on is a great way to ensure your mix stays well under 0 and has more chance of sounding better!
7: Did you use the right reverb?
Reverb is essential to nearly all mixes you hear on the radio and can be vital in glueing a mix together, providing space and depth and even give notes a sense of sustain and decay but get it wrong and you’ve entered one of the biggest mix mistake many home producers make.
Common problems are too many reverbs being used cluttering a mix, settings are too long making it sound distant or too short making it sound too dry or that you recorded the music in a small bathroom!
Avoiding this things however is pretty easy.
First off many top pros set up a minimum of two reverbs that sit on a bus, one long, one short. This allows you to then use the two verbs across multiple instruments, the affect being that the mix will gel much better as everything is running through the same reverbs.
Speaking of blending sounds reverbs such as plates and springs often work best when multiple instruments are blended together giving a cohesive and pleasant sound.
Instruments that are bright will be much more noticeable when going through reverbs so be aware that sometimes you might want to place a high cut filter on your reverb to soften the harshness produced by bright sounds.
It’s a good idea to bypass the reverbs from time to time to see whether the effect you are adding is making the music better or worse. This will allow you to easily judge whether there’s too much and if you need to tweak the reverb further to ensure it sits perfectly in the mix.
8: What’s going on in mono and stereo
Stereo and mono compatibility is very, very important and will go a long way to giving your music the edge and advantage it deserves. Carefully placing a few sounds centre stage with carefully placed pads, guitars, backing vocals, SFX across the stereo field will go a long way to making your mixes not just sound balanced but better too.
It’s amazing how affective it can be to move sounds out of the centre to free up the middle leaving a more focused punchy mix. Listen to your favourite records and ask yourself what’s in the middle, how many parts are in the middle and what’s panned to the sides?
Once you do this try emulating the same thing and you’ll find your mixes will improve beyond measure!.
9: Sort out those upper mids!
Have you ever experienced the affect of raising the mix with an EQ around 2-5kHz and noticed the entire mix seems to come forward and get brighter? Well it’s essentially because out ears are most sensitive to these ranges and will react to them accordingly. It’s essential a mix has enough lift in this area to ensure it sounds good wherever it’s played but too much and you can make a BIG mix mistake!
Here’s what to do to avoid any big issues.
Do any EQ lifts in this area with the whole mix, don’t solo adjust and then unsolo because most of the time you’ll get it wrong because you’re not listening to the part in context with the whole song. Adjusting the part with the whole mix gives you the chance to hear how it sounds with all the other parts so you can judge if it’s peaking through enough without sounding harsh.
Top Tip: If you have an electric guitar or synth part that sounds harsh in this area try using Logic’s Clip Distortion Plugin. You can apply a high cut filter as well as enhance harmonic overtones in a specific frequency area by adjusting the Tone and Clip Filter sliders. For example you could set the LP filter to around 7kHZ and Tone and Filter sliders to focus the frequency just below 1k, set the amount of gain and you have a part that is clear of the 2-5k region and enhances the mids filling out the track without being too harsh in the mix.
10: Should I go nuts with the mix bus?
Creating a mix bus chain is a great way to glue and enhance your mix and it’s something I do probably 99% of the time but add too much mix bus processing to your LogicPro X mix and you could end up with a very nasty sounding squashed mix!
Follow these few tips and you should be on your way to mix heaven 🙂
Try to get the balance of the mix right before you start to apply EQ or compression to the entire track. It’s sometimes a good approach to load a chain that you like but don’t apply any settings until the mix is starting to come together. This way you’ll apply less processing than you would if you add EQ or compression right from the start.
Keep the chain simple. The best advice I would give is keep the mix bus chain simple perhaps just EQ and compression from your favourite plugins. I would avoid multiband compression too as you could end up with a very squashed mix if you’re not careful ultimately ruining the balance you worked hard to achieve. It’s fine to leave that to the mastering stage but be careful if you’re thinking of doing it during the mix stage.
If you’re not sure what you’re doing or not sure what the affect should be at the end of the mix bus chain I’d say leave the master output well alone. If you’re not sure what you’re doing you might end up making the track sound much worse!
You can learn about mix bus compression and discover all the tricks by studying with me on my miL course. It covers everything you need to know about applying mix bus compression to your mixes to glue the mix ready for mastering.
Well I hope you have found this article helpful and it has given you a few ideas about how to enhance your mixes and ensure you don’t make the same mix mistakes I made at the start of my career!
Happy mixing and mastering 🙂