If you already play music.
In this paper I describe the process that many of us have to go through to make fundamentally good music and a good mix. There are four stages of development. The first is the beginners category. At this stage, the musician knows almost nothing, and even if he or she does learn important mixing tips, the music will still not be perfect. This is clearly due to lack of practice, lack of information and lack of technique. There are many pitfalls to be encountered at this stage. Of course, over the years, progress will reach a next level, which is the intermediate category. At this stage, one makes fewer mistakes, but the songs are still created instinctively, one relies too much on the ear for mixing, but cannot mix consciously because one does not know the context of the sounds. In such cases, either a song mix is good or it is not. The third category is for those who are conscious in some areas but not in others. In the best case, they cover up their deficiencies with strengths. These people are basically already working with good technique and only need to improve in a few areas. The fourth area is blood professionals who make good mixes and know what they are doing and why.
These are the types of mixes I'm not counting on, i.e. where a person theoretically knows everything but simply has no ear or creates in too narrow a style. I think the latter is a mistake. Each style has a different characteristic and it is worth recognising this. Just yesterday I mixed a song where the client created a minimal house type of music. When I sent him the first version of the mix, he was not happy. He said that the mixing was very good, but I had neutered the character of the style. After analysing the situation, I realised he was right. My mix was too pop. However, by telling me the basic problem I was able to react immediately and change the feel of the music. These kinds of changes are easiest to make when you know what changes the feel of the music just by mixing it. And that requires studying several styles.
There is one relatively important thing to remember. I am now contradicting what I wrote in the previous lines. If you are past your intermediate stage, mix consciously, are really confident, but still feel a lack of confidence, then don't take this as a criticism! If you're at that level, you're already in that narrow group of people who know something! Basically, in Hungary and small countries, the composer is a mixing, mastering and God knows what else. This leads to the delusion that you need to know everything to get ahead. It's a good thing, of course, to have a foothold in several areas, but it's pointless to spread our attention in all directions. Abroad, there are some professionals who only focus on singing, others on miking. Nobody expects them to sit down and mix. They still think of themselves as good professionals. So here I'm writing mostly about the psychological factors, how we relate to ourselves and our knowledge. For a long time I was ashamed of not being a good pianist. I am left-handed and by default I would play the solos with my left hand and the harmony with my right. My right hand is not skilful at all. But it begs the question, do I have to be a great pianist to be able to play a song? Obviously not. So, if you mix, you don't need to be good at knowing what algorithm the Linkwitz-Riley filter is working from, but you do need to be good at being able to tell the difference when you need to.
A major weakness in the case of a mistake is that it is perceived as an insult if someone mentions negative things when listening to the finished work. In such cases, there is no need to retaliate, but to appreciate the criticism, because we can learn from it. Criticism can be revised, it is not always necessary to please everyone, but it is a way of analysing the correctness or incorrectness of our own concept.
The difference between instinctive and conscious mixing comes out mostly in the use of effects, or the frequencies we change to achieve a particular musical effect. Some people wind a compressor without knowing what each reel is doing, but by ear they can set the effect they want. In such cases, you can go very wrong. After repeated listens, a winding pot shift makes your ear, or more accurately your brain, hear a change in the winding that doesn't happen. Almost everyone has had the experience of adjusting an EQ and hearing a change when the effect was not actually active. And, of course, when you adjust the volume of a tone without pushing up the potentiometer that's associated with that tone. This is an interesting phenomenon. But that's why, if you don't know which parameter is good for what, your brain can mislead you. So conscious, learning-based mixing can be a very good complement to instinctive mixing, and vice versa. If we can't apply either of the two well, the quality of the mix depends on the luck factor.
Expecting a miracle from a piece of software is mainly a beginner's mistake. My first book has 200 pages on the mastering process. In the second book, I've covered this process in a few pages. The reason is twofold. On the one hand, I didn't want to write the same thing again, and on the other hand, mastering really only deserves a few lines in normal circumstances. Beginners expect a miracle from the Isotope Ozone because it has a lot of features, but for the pros, mastering is nothing more than a maximizer. A well-mixed material doesn't need a space booster, a multiband compressor, at most it needs an EQ and a Maximizer. But to achieve this ideal state, mixing has to be a conscious process. Beginners will quite certainly not know that you can EQ with a multiband exciter. This is obvious to a professional, but to get to this level faster takes learning.
Fortunately, if we know that there is something to learn, the internet can help many people with a technical solution. Unfortunately, one of the shortcomings of relying on the internet is that we only focus on finding the problems where we know for sure the shortcomings exist. In turn, we overlook flaws and solutions that we didn't even know existed. I have to say something about my books, because I have gone into a discussion of precisely those issues that are related to the content of my books. If you are thinking of buying the books, I should warn you in advance that these books are not for professionals. I've tried not to write dry content to help you understand each process and I've tried to include the conscious part of mixing in the clearest way possible, but no book can help you learn how to be better instinctively. It does, however, help you to have the most important topics in one place. If you're a beginner, I'd recommend the mixing book, because although the mastering book has some interesting information, it's less helpful in making the mixing itself better. Either way, as I've said in my previous writings, it's all about learning.