Why Your Mix Hurts Your Ears (Learn What You’re Doing Wrong!)

Mixing records is a very delicate art and takes some time to get good at.

It requires a lot of practice and dedication to get to a level where your mixes start to sound good on numerous sound systems.

I’ve been producing music for over a decade and I can say that mixing is a mountain to climb and a lot of mixing engineers will tell you the same.

One question that I got from a newbie music producer apprentice of mine was “why does my mix hurt my ears?”

There are a number of things that cause this and I’ll discuss them in this post so you get a better sense of what to avoid and some good overall measures you can employ to ensure that your mixes are more friendly on the ear.

Why your mix hurts your ears

Below are the various reasons why your mix is unfriendly on your ears.

A bad mix

A generally bad mix won’t be a pleasure to listen to. Which is why one of the first things you check for when you notice that a mix is not too easy on the ears is your overall mix and it’s elements.

Go back and check the processing you applied and pay attention to see its overall effect on the mix.

Turn off all effects that you’ve applied and start turning them back on one by one (or solo play them) so you exactly know what each effect in the chain is doing.

A bad master

Bad mastering is just as bad as bad mixing, perharps even worse.

Applying mastering effects to a bad mix will just make the mix sound worser.

You may notice this once you’re done applying your mastering effects.

Therefore get the mix right first and then go ahead and start mastering.

It pays to have patience in music production and mixing is certainly not an easy process, so take your time to get everything right before you proceed to mastering.

Over Saturation

Saturation has the ability to bring in additional harmonic content which is just a subtle form of Distortion.

If you use to much Saturation on your mix, you’ll most likely end up with a bad sounding mix.

So you might want to check how much Saturation you’ve applied.

Wrong use of a limiter

Limiters are useful in audio production because they help us get as much volume out of a mix as possible while ensuring that our overall mix doesn’t clip.

However, if a limiter is applied with bad settings or parameters, the result will be a brick-walled mix that doesn’t clip but isn’t easy on the ears.

You’ll notice that your mix elements will sound too aggressively pushed which is not easy to listen to.

Leaving a de-esser out

A De-esser is an important tool in audio production because it allows us to tame much of the sibilance in vocals.

Which is why every mix will have a de-esser applied to it in order to tone down some of that high end.

A vocal mix will sound bad if it has sibilance present in it and it will not be a pleasure to listen to.

Bad EQ

Equalisation is good for just exactly that, Equalisation.

If you don’t pay specific attention to your mix in the Equalisation stage to ensure that you get rid of bad frequency peaks, you’ll end up with a bad sounding mix.

Unmixed beats

Sometimes recording on beats that are not properly mixed may leave you with a bad sounding mix.

You may do your best to get the vocals sounding the way they should but an unmixed  beat will stand out and hurt the entire mix.

This may lead to your mix sounding unpleasant especially if you try to master for loudness as well as limit your mix to get in some volume.

How to make your mix ear friendly

Now that we’ve discussed the various problems that may lead to your mix sounding harsh, let’s get into good mixing practices that will make sure that your mix is ear friendly.

Mix your beat first

Before you even get to mixing vocals you might want to start with the beat.

Atleast get it to a state that you can work with and then finish off the final mix after the vocals are recorded and processed.

You can skip this step but it’s best to get your beat to a workable state so that you avoid having to come back to mix  certain elements because they’re getting in the way of your vocals.

Record and edit your vocals

The best way to have a good quality mix is to have good quality vocals.

Which is why, you have to ensure that you get the recording right.

This means ensuring that the Vocal performer does a great job of recording.

You also have to ensure that you capture the recording in the best way possible.

Therefore ensure that you have everything in order.

Use the right microphone to get accurate recordings

Also ensure that your recording in the proper acoustically treated environment.

Furthermore, carry out your editing in a good manner, ensure that vocals are properly recorded and discard any that don’t sound good.

Also avoid the performer recording too close to the microphone because the proximity effect can lead to harsh vocals.

Frequency Sweep

Carry out a frequency Sweep in each and every vocal so that you can catch those harsh frequencies that need to be toned down before you go on with further processing.

You want to avoid processing a vocal that has bad frequency elements that could end up hurting the overall mix.

Apply EQ

After carrying out a good frequency sweep, you can go ahead and apply EQ to the vocals.

Apply a high pass filter to get rid of any unnecessary low end and EQ various frequencies that you sense could use a boost or a cut.

Compress

Use a good compressor to control the dynamic range in the vocals.

A compressor has successfully worked if the volume through out a vocal is the same and there aren’t any parts that sound louder than others.

The attack parameter is simply how fast you want to compression to start.

The release is how quickly you want the compressor to stop compressing.

The ratio as well the threshold will help you control the intensity of the Vocal.

De-ess

After applying some good quality compression you can then apply a De-esser that will tame sibilance.

Leave headroom

Ensure that you also leave enough headroom when mixing so you can master properly and allow your mix to get amped with some volume.

Play mix on different systems

Another good practice is playing your final mix on different systems to get a sense of how it sounds.

You’ll want your mix to sound good on all systems.

So play the record on your phone, your car speakers, home system, monitor speakers, headphones and anywhere else you can play on.

Master when mix sounds good

Another good practice is only starting the mastering process when you know your mix sounds good.

Don’t be mistaken, mastering won’t fix a bad mix. All it will do is enhance the bad mix.