26 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Mixing & Mastering

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

What things do I wish I knew before I started Mixing and Mastering?

My name is Andrew Aurora and I help artists and producers bring their creative vision to life through Mixing and Mastering

And today I wanna talk about
26 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Mixing & Mastering

Let's jump right in

26 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Mixing & Mastering

1.) How To Build Templates

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

Templates are absolutely one of the most powerful things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering that would have completely changed my career sooner

I wasted SO MUCH TIME not using templates and rebuilding every single session from the ground up, and that was a huge mistake

For whichever DAW you're using, learn how to save templates and use them RELIGIOUSLY

Even if you are brand new and haven't really established a workflow yet, just have some tracks set up that you know you are going to need

For example, if you mix songs with a typical band set up then have drum tracks, some lead and backup vocal tracks, instrument tracks, etc. saved in your template ready to go

By doing this, all you will need to do is drag your imported tracks right onto the saved tracks in your template

They don't even have to have any plugins saved on them or be routed to any busses if you aren't sure what you're doing yet.

Just have everything created already (that you know for a fact you are going to need) so you don't waste time creating them later

Once you start to establish a workflow you will learn how you like things routed, what plugins you always reach for, and so forth

You can then save your favorite plugins on the tracks you always use them on

For example, I know 100% of the time I am going to reach for a clipper on my kick, snare and toms.

Instead of wasting time going through my plugin list every time to put that clipper on those tracks, I just have it on every drum track

Those 10 seconds it takes to grab that same plugin every time adds up over the course of days, weeks, months, and years

You will waste hundreds of hours doing it in the long run, so just save them in your template

2.) The Importance Of Speed

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip, but templates aren't the only way to speed up your workflow

Speed is absolutely everything if you are wanting to make a career out of this

When I started it would take me weeks to mix and master a song.

Now, the quickest I have ever mixed and mastered a song was 45 minutes, and there are people out there faster than that

You see, the faster you can mix and master a song, the more songs you can finish, the happier the clients will be, and the more money you can make

Also, the longer you take on a song, the more likely it is that your ears will start playing tricks on you and cause you to start making bad choices

The quicker you can hear something and identify what needs to be done to make it sound awesome, the quicker you can make decisions and get work done

I'll never understand people that say they take a week to master a song. It should never take that long

So how do you get fast? There are plenty of things you can do.

I mentioned templates before, but the most important things are practice and experience

There are also other things you can do like:

• Saving your favorite plugin presets

• Organize your plugins so all your favorites are quickly accessible

• Saving plugin chains

• Learning and making key commands

• And so forth

If you are slow right now, don't be hard on yourself.

Everyone starts slow, but start asking yourself what you can do to speed up your processes

3.) If It Isn't In 3 Places It Doesn't Exist

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

So admittedly, I did know this before I started, but that's only because my college professor hammered it into our brains

If your files aren't saved in 3 places they don't exist.

He shared a story with us about back in the day when everything was recorded to tape

The story went that there was this producer or engineer who had been working on some big artists' recording project (I don't remember all the details, but bare with me)

This producer had about a years worth of work on tape that he had with him in his bag that he was taking from one destination to another

He got on a subway car and set his bag down by his feet, not thinking anything of it.

Well, the subway car had a magnetic railing on the outside of the subway car - right by where he set his bag - and this magnetic railing damaged the tape in his bag.

A year's worth of work was completely lost, and because it was only in one place, it was gone forever

I'm sure you can imagine the nightmare that must have been for everyone involved

Moral of the story is: Don't have everything saved in one place

This also goes for having all your saves in one place.

For example, if you have 3 saves, and one is on your computer, one is on a hard drive, and the other on another hard drive, and they are all in your bag and your bag gets stolen, then your screwed

I recommend having at least one of your 3 locations be on a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive

4.) College Is A Waste Of Time and Money

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

I mentioned in the last tip I went to college.

I only went to college because I was blessed with a GI bill from the military, but had I not been then it would have been a mistake

There are so many subscription services, free information on Youtube, credible influencers that offer cheap courses, and so many other resources out there that there is no sense in putting yourself 10's of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree that will never help you

On top of that, you won't waste a bunch of time doing other garbage that college wastes your time with just so you can learn audio

The education you'll get in college won't even compare to what you will get online for a few hundred dollars, so just don't waste your time and money.

My recommendation is URM Academy. This is a subscription-based service that provides you everything you could ever need to know about mixing and recording, especially if you are into rock and metal.

5.) Simple Upgrades Can Make All The Difference

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

This is easily one of the biggest things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering.

Everyone is obsessed with fancy plugins and nice gear when they start out

However, there other things that are much more important and much cheaper that you need to think about first

When I started, I was on a Macbook pro like many other people who are starting out

That Mac did me good for awhile, but it certainly wasn't the powerhouse I needed it to be

That said, some small upgrades drastically improved my workflow, and they will improve yours too if you are confined to a laptop

Buy a cheap mouse, invest in a larger display, buy a USB bank, and thank me later

Having more screen real-estate and getting off that crappy track pad will completely change your life and speed up your workflow

I waited to do this, but once I did I could never go back.

Not only that, but a gaming chair, a nice table, blue light protective glasses, and a keyboard tray also changed my life

You are going to spend hundreds of hours sitting, and if you have a lousy chair you are going to pay for it.

I know I did...

I suffered from pain in my upper spine for awhile that made it impossible for me to work

I finally invested in a $120 gaming chair, and it changed my life

Also, having a big enough table to set my speakers where I needed them was a necessity

Another thing to think about is that you are going to be spending most of your career staring at a screen, and your eyes are going to pay for it if you don't protect them

I recommend that you buy some blue light protective glasses.

I was getting to a point where I couldn't stand looking at a screen anymore, so invested in some cheap $15 blue light protective glasses on Amazon and they made a huge difference.

I'm not sure if they were as good as Gunnar glasses, but they helped me out a lot, and they were cheap

Lastly, depending on your table and setup, a keyboard tray may be a huge help

For me, my table is a little too high, and my wrists were starting to kill me being on my computer all the time.

Getting a keyboard tray made a huge difference, and allowed me to lean back into my chair and position my wrists in a safer way, ultimately saving my back and preventing wrist problems

You may not be thinking about this stuff now, but you need to before it starts becoming a problem

6.) Key Commands

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

Learning and creating your own key commands will be a game changer for you, and is one of the things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering

I know I am hammering on the speed thing, but that's only because of how important it is, and how important it has been for me

You can set up or learn all sorts of key commands that speed up your workflow for things you do all the time, such as saving or importing files

Instead of hitting "File + Save" every time, just do "command or CTRL + S" and you will save so much time

Also, learn how to set up Macros in your DAW.

These are like doing multiple key commands at once with one key command

One macro I use regularly is when I export my finished sessions.

I have multiple key commands within this macro and it saves me a lot of time

Another macro I use is to humanize midi when I'm producing. I have a video where I talk about that HERE on my Youtube channel 

Point is, key commands are very powerful, and time is money, remember that

7.) Lots Of Compression Is Not Evil

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

So when starting out, many beginners are afraid of over-compression

Though it is important to be conscious of over-compressing things, it's not always a bad thing, especially on certain compressors

For example, when I use the CLA 76 compressor, I almost always hit this thing with roughly 7db of compression.

To me this is where this compressor seems to sound the best

Same goes for the JST Bus Glue Vocals. This thing sounds great when you slam it in my opinion

In fact, vocals as a whole for me tend to have a lot of compression

I tend to layer 3 compressors on my current vocal chain, and between the 3 of them there is usually over 10db of compression going on, and it consistently sounds great to me

Same thing goes for rooms. If you have room tracks, squashing them sometimes sounds great.

Parallel compression also sounds great when squashed most of the time

Just experiment with different compressors on different things, but don't be afraid of compression

8.) Don't Be Afraid To Push Plugins

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

This is one of the things I wish I knew when I started mixing and mastering  that held me back until I got over the fear

At the end of the day, the goal is to make something sound good, and being afraid to compress more than 3db or boost more than 3db on an EQ is going to hold you back

We have all been there where we were afraid to push something too far because we felt like it would be wrong, but some plugins are meant to be pushed

For example, the SSL E Channel EQ to me sounds great when you boost nearly 10db of top end on it or 10db of 200hz on a snare drum

If it sounds good, it is good, that simple

9.) Compression Can Be Used To Create Movement

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

Depending on how you use a compressor and what compressor you are using, you can create movement with it

Utilizing the attack and release times of a compressor can allow you to control the push and pull of a sound, even making it sound like it has an entirely different groove, or further pronounce the groove it has

It takes time and practice to hear this, but it's a powerful trick once you learn it

10.) Learning Your Tools Is More Powerful Than More Tools

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

Like I said before, many of us get caught up in the trap of chasing more and more gear or plugins, thinking we need them

Don't get me wrong, many of my favorite plugins I have purchased, but now that I have picked up most of my favorites, I rarely buy plugins anymore

That is, unless I genuinely feel like it solves a problem for me or will make my life easier

At the end of the day, an EQ is an EQ and a compressor is a compressor, so how many do you really need?

Some are better than others, and some provide a certain kind of character or sound, but you really don't need like 20 or 30 EQ's and compressors to pick from

In fact, I think I typically only use 3 different EQ's: Pro Q3, SSL E Channel, and the channel strip EQ that comes with Cubase

Pro Q3 is usually for cuts, SSL is usually to add color, and Cubase EQ is just convenient and sounds good for cutting or boosting

They all get the job done, so I don't feel like I need more. Same goes for compressors

Learn the tools you have, and invest in tools that you really feel like will make your life easier

11.) Understand Phase

This is a huge one, and easily one of the most important things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering

Phase can literally destroy your entire mix if you screw it up

I know it's not as glamorous as plugins and gear, but you need to understand phase

I'm not going to give you a nerdy explanation because I like to keep things simple

Basically, if something is in phase, that's good, and if something is out of phase, that is generally bad, unless you are manipulating phase for creative reasons

But for the sake of this post let's just go with out-of-phase is bad

If two recordings are in phase, that means their waveforms move up together and down together

If they are out of phase, this means one waveform will move up while the other one moves down, ultimately cancelling each other out.

One of the most common places you will run into phase issues is with naturally recorded drums

More specifically, with a snare top and bottom, or a snare in the overheads

(Refer to the "phase" section in the video for an example of in phase and out of phase)

This is one simple example, but phase can be an issue with more than naturally recorded drums.

It can also be an issue with parallel processing or by EQ-ing aggressively without being in linear phase mode on your mix bus, and so forth

This isn't a post to completely break down phase, but just know that phase is something you need to understand

12.) How To Get The Most Out Of Your CPU

This really isn't a huge issue for me now that I have a powerful computer, but when I had a weak laptop, it was a huge issue

Learning how you can get the most out of your CPU will be a huge help.

Things you can do if your CPU starts hitting it's limits are:

• Cut out empty space in your tracks so your computer doesn't have to process that information

• Increase buffer size on your interface

• Freeze tracks

• Print tracks with the processing on them that you know you are happy with so your computer doesn't have process the plugins on them

These are a few tricks I learned over the years. If you know of any others share them in the comments to help someone else

13.) How To Do Business The Right Way

This is absolutely one of the most important things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering


Make sure you have a contract in place before doing business.

Neither you nor them want to get screwed, so learn how to type up a professional mixing and mastering contract.

It's really not that complicated, and you can find lot's of different options if you search "mixing and mastering contracts" on google

Half up front:

Don't do any work until you have been paid half up front.

As shitty as it is, people will try to rip you off.

Do not budge on this, and demand they pay you the second-half before delivering the final .wav track

To go along with this, I started putting a watermark in every song I did.

I just recorded my self saying "Andrewauroraproduction.com" and insert that into every session

I then tell them it will be removed when they are happy and I am payed in full

Otherwise, some stupid artist may take the mp3 format you send them and run off with that before getting the .wav file and not pay you.

I highly recommend doing this to guarantee you get paid

Mix requirements:

Have a list available for your client to read that breaks down exactly what you need before you can do your job properly.

This saves you a lot of trouble

Pricing guidelines:

This also helps clear up exactly what and how much you will charge for things like extra revisions, stems, adding production elements after the fact, etc.

14.) Midrange Matters

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

This is hands down one of the main things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering, because once I did it changed my mix game

This is a big one because so many of us focus on that nice top end sheen, or that nice fat low end

However, all your clarity and fullness exists in the mid range.

Sometimes what you need to get those guitars or vocals to pop is to focus more on the mid range

Your highs and lows can be great, but if your midrange is lacking your mix will sound scooped, and this is definitely a sign of a rookie mixer

I'm not saying you should focus on midrange for everything.

It's quite common to cut out mids on drum shells, for example, and it sounds great to scoop those toms and that kick a lot of the time.

However, don't go cutting all your mids from your instruments or vocals if they don't need it, and don't ignore your mids on your mix bus

15.) Listen On Multiple Sources

Every source sounds different, especially depending on what room you are in.

My whole career I have mixed and mastered in terrible environments - from bedrooms to walk in closets, to corners in a garage.

Yet time and time again I consistently put out high quality work.

Because of my less-than-ideal setup it is crucial that I check my mix on multiple systems

For me I tend to check on headphones, earbuds, and my car

Every source sounds different, and every environment sounds different

Most listeners aren't going to be listening on high quality studio monitors, they will be listening in cars or on earbuds

If your mix sounds good on earbuds then there is a good chance it will sound good in most places, so remember that

16.) Reference Tracks

Using reference tracks is huge for knowing how your mix stacks up next to your favorite mixes

Reference tracks will help you identify if your mix is competitive or not, and where it might be lacking

Earlier I mentioned how some plugins are worth buying because they will make your life easier, and this a perfect example.

My favorite referencing plugin is Metric AB

This thing has loads of features I haven't even used yet, but it is the perfect plugin for setting up multiple reference tracks for you to check quickly and seamlessly

I highly recommend picking this plugin up you if need a plugin for referencing tracks

17.) Good Speakers Or Headphones

Gear may not be the most important thing in the world, but a good pair of headphones or speakers is crucial

If you are going to go buy expensive gear, start where it really matters: your listening tools

You don't need to spend thousands on good speakers, but definitely save up a few hundred dollars for something good

I have the HS7's from Yamaha and I love them. You can pick these up for about $600-$700 for a pair

There are plenty of other good options out there, but let speakers be your first really expensive purchase

18.) Top-Down Mixing

This is something I do now all the time and have done for years to save time and get more consistent mixes

The mentality behind this is that you start with the end in mind

You mix into a mastering chain or do changes on your busses that save you from having to do multiple moves on each individual track

For example, if I hear a lot of 4k in my mix as soon as I put it in my template, instead of cutting 4k out of everything, I cut out some 4k on the Mix bus

This will keep me from having to cut 4k out of 10 different tracks, because I already cut it on the master.

Same goes for compression.

If I mix into a compressor, I'll get to hear all my tracks glued together, and may find that I need to do less compression on the individual channels

This can also go for bus processing.

If I cut out the low end on all the vocals, then I won't have to cut out the low end on each individual vocal.

This will save me time and possibly CPU power because I may not have to use as many plugins

Quick disclaimer though: I consider this a somewhat advanced mixing technique, and if you are new then doing this can cause you to fight yourself a lot

For example, If you're compressing too much on a bus or on your master, you may be doing a bunch of stuff trying to get your mix to sound right, just to realize it was never gonna sound right anyway because you were squashing your whole mix

Same with EQ.

If you cut out too much mids on your drum bus, you may wonder why you can't get your overheads to sound right and spend forever trying to fix them, just to find out the problem was the EQ move you did on the drum bus

I recommend not doing too many big moves on your busses or master bus until you are a little more experienced

19.) Don't Worry About How The Mix Sounds In Mono

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

This isn't something I have ever done, but I know a lot of people do

Some people swear by this, but I believe it was Chris Lord Algae that said "if someone is listening in solo they don't really care what it sounds like anyways"

I personally operate on this way of thinking

Most platforms the listener will listen on will be stereo, like headphones and car speakers

Even phones these days are coming with stereo speakers

So besides Bluetooth speakers, old cell phones, or budget sound set ups in clubs, it's not very likely your listener will ever hear it in mono.

I don't think it's a bad idea to check it in mono, but I personally don't worry about it, and neither do a lot of other engineer I've talked to

20.) Don't Mix Too Much In Solo

This is one of those things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering  that most of us fall into

Mixing in solo is a very easy trap to fall into, but it's important to understand that you are the only person that will ever here that snare drum in solo

When you solo things, you can hear things that you think are a problem, but in context with the rest of the mix they aren't a problem at all

You can end up spending a lot of time working on something in solo thinking it sounds better, but when you put it in with the rest of the mix it sounds terrible

Don't get me wrong, solo is a great tool to hone in on a problem, but you have to make sure it sounds good next to everything else

21.) Cut Out Frequencies That Aren't Adding To The Mix

Things I Wish I knew When I started mixing

If you have high-end static from an electric guitar you don't like or low end information you can't even hear on a track that isn't the kick or bass, get rid of it

If you feel like those frequencies aren't contributing or adding to the mix, then they should go, because all they do is take up headroom, occupy frequency real estate, and make your mix not sound as good as it could

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying make random cuts everywhere or low cut everything that isn't the kick or bass, but I am saying that you should identify if those frequencies are contributing to your mix or not, and if they aren't, get rid of them

Even if you can't hear those frequencies, they are still taking up frequency real estate and head room, and you don't want that, so just get rid of them

22.) Saturation Is A God-Send

For a long time I didn't understand saturation, so I never used it. Now, I use it all the time

Saturation can add harmonics that fill up a sound and breathe life into it, or it can add a nice distortion that is pleasant to the ear or achieves an effect you want

I especially like saturation on things like keys, vocals, synths, and my mix bus to bring things to life

However, you can overdo saturation, so be careful, but when used correctly, it will transform your sounds

23.) Clippers Are A God-Send

Clippers are a great way to put a mix right in your face without getting the same artifacts that you might get from a limiter

You see, back in the day clipping on Analog gear used to provide a nice saturation effect that was pleasant to the ear

However, in the digital world that's not the case.

Clipping in the digital world usually sounds like crap, but thanks to clipper plugins, we can now enjoy the benefits of analog clipping

Clippers basically chop off the top of a transient as opposed to smashing it down like a limiter, and bring the body closer to the peaks

They usually sound amazing on drums, but can really be used on anything.

I tend to use them on my master actually, usually right before a limiter

My personal favorite one up until this point has been JST clip from Joey Sturgis Tones, but Izotope also have one built into Ozone 10 that I like to use

If I was gonna buy a plugin, I would buy a clipper

24.) Understand Sample Rate

This is one of those things I wish I knew when I started Mixing and Mastering  that still trips me up today from time to time

If your session sample rate doesn't match the sample rate of your tracks, you are in for some headache

Your tracks won't sound the way they should, and you will have to change the session sample rate to the sample rate of the tracks

(IMPORTANT: Be sure to match the session sample rate to the track sample rate, NOT the other way around. It will be destructive to your tracks to change their sample rate to match the session)

Unfortunately, I have accidentally mixed songs before without checking the sample rate, just to find out later that the sample rate was completely wrong and I had to change it later

And of course, this completely changed my mix and undid a lot of my hard work

Be sure to make sure your tracks' sample rate and session sample rate match before you start mixing

25.) Make Sure You Know The BPM Of The Song

This will make it so much easier for you to set up delays and do automation later

When the BPM is correct you can just set your delays to sync with the bpm of the session, making your life so much easier

Automation will also be easier because everything will be on the grid exactly where it should be, so make sure you have the BPM set correctly

26.) Understand The Importance Of Low End

When I started I didn't know much, and low end was always a challenge because I couldn't hear it as well as other frequencies

I also didn't know what it was supposed to sound like, so I just neglected it

Making sure you make space for you kick and bass, as well as clean up low end from other tracks that aren't supposed to live in the low-end space will help you tremendously

If your low end sucks, your mix will suck, plain and simple

Getting good at this will take time, but just know that your kick and bass have to work together, not against each other, and they both need their own space in the mix

I hope you enjoyed this post about The 26 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Mixing & Mastering

BEFORE YOU GO, I wanted to mention my 'Essentials To Become A BEAST At Mixing & Mastering.'

I created this free resource to help new mixers have a clear guide on what they need to focus on to be on the fast track to Mixing & Mastering great records.

When starting out with mixing, it can be really daunting trying to figure out what to focus on and where to put your energy.

I wanted to provide a clear guide AND some of my favorite resources (such as my favorite books and other mixing resources) to help you build a strong foundation to build off of on your Mixing & Mastering journey

To pick this free resource up, click the button below

Andrew Aurora
Andrew Aurora

I hope you enjoyed this post. I share new content weekly here on my blog on how to bring your creative vision to life so you can start creating amazing music. Please share any content ideas you would like for me to create for you!

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