Mike's Mixing Axioms: #3--Less is More

Image courtesy of theilr

Image courtesy of theilr

Well, we’re back talking about mixing again. In this series, I’m sharing with you some of the guiding principles by which I build my mixes. Like all things, these are not hard and fast rules, but more often than not, I’m doing these things each time I mix. It doesn’t matter what or where I’m mixing, this is where I start. We’ve already talked about keeping it simple, and getting the basics dialed in first. Today, we’re on to the next topic: 

Axiom #3: Less is More

You’ve heard this expression many times in the past, I’m sure. It may be hard to figure out how it applies to mixing, however. Here’s what I mean: I tend to do less to the mix, and it turns out sounding a lot better. By less I mean less EQ, less compression and less in the way obvious effects. 

If you follow any of the church sound groups on Facebook, you’ve seen the popular posts, “Guess this EQ.” Usually it’s a picture showing pretty much every band cut to -18 dB. You will probably never see that on any board I’m mixing on. In fact, if I’m boosting or cutting by more than 4 dB, it’s an odd day. And it usually means there was a problem I couldn’t solve with mic choice or placement (I don’t always get to choose the mic locker). 

You’ll also almost never see narrow cuts or boosts. I tend to use 2 octave or wider filters because I find them to be more musical—mainly because they do less damage to phase. My EQ is subtle and minimal. Less is more.

The same goes for compression. While I might use compression on most of my channels, I don’t use much of it most of the time. This is especially true for drums. My drum compression technique is to use just enough compression to smooth out minor variations in how hard the drummer hits each time. I don’t try to make every hit in the whole set the same—I want the player to be able to deliver dynamics. However, I try to smooth it out just a little so the occasional hard hit doesn’t stand out. 

Similarly, I use parallel compression on vocals so I don’t have to crush them so they stand out in the mix. If you look at my compressors, you’ll see they’re taking 2-3 dB off at most. I’m smoothing, not smashing. One of the biggest offenses I hear in mixing today is a lifeless mix that is neither hot nor cold, loud nor quiet, just blah. This is typically the result of too much compression. Just because you have compressors on each channel doesn’t mean you should turn them all on to max.

Finally, I keep the sound of my effects minimal by timing them to the song. I did an entire post on this a while back. With this technique, I can add in a lot more reverb without it sounding like the mix is swimming in it. This keeps the anti-reverb people happy, while still adding a nice sense of lush to the mix. 

How do you start with this? As I said in a previous post, start by flattening out the EQ, turn off the compressors and just mix. As you find you need to, do a little EQ here and there. Do the least amount of compression you can. Start with simple effects and work up. Let the music speak for itself, and it will almost alway sound better.

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