Tips for mixing in Ableton Live

We show you some tips for creative mixing in Ableton Live

Here at Touch Loops, mixing is put into one of two categories: Creative and technical. This blog explores some tips for both! We are focusing on Ableton Live, but most (if not all) these tips can apply to your own DAW.

Stereo Width

Up top is stereo width. It's easy to think of a track in terms of balancing energy up and down (we've all sat turning the same hi-hat up and down by 3Db) but so much energy and come from left and right.

Want to give a drop more impact? Try using Ableton 'Utility' to automate the width inwards towards mono beforehand. Similar to how you might cut the low frequencies or take out the drums altogether.

Having a hard time hearing your snare in a mix? Try adding 'Stereo Widening' to make it pop out the sides more. 

Maybe a pad sound doesn't need to be louder, but 'Auto Pan' could have it move from speaker to speaker? 

Cut lows

A classic tip but always worth repeating! If the energy of a sound isn't in the low frequencies, pop an EQ on a double check there isn't sound in those frequencies. A graphic EQ can show you immediately if there's sound in those frequencies. This will subtly help give your low end (kicks, bass etc.) more space to shine and not be muddied up and masked by unwanted noise! 

ps. Following on from this cutting unwanted high frequencies in pads and synth for example, can free up space for your percussion and vocals to take focus. Try adding a high cut EQ to a sound and start lowering it until you hear a noticeable difference. You'd be surprised how hard to can push it.

Gain Gain Gain

Gain staging sounds like the most boring thing in the world. And it is a bit. But it's such a simple and effective way of keeping you mix in order when you approach the end.

Popping a Utility effect on each channel or bus, and setting to -10Bd, will keep your whole session at a manageable volume, with your master channel ideally sitting at around -6Bd. This gives plenty of headroom to push certain sounds harder, and lots of space for mastering FX. Basically, you're not fighting the limit of you master output!

ps. Popping a -10Bd utility at the start and end of your channel can help control more intense plugins or aggressive EQ boosts.


Reference Mix

Much like when writing, it can really help to listen to other producers work for inspiration and guidance. This also applies to the technical aspects of your mix. The energy of the mix across frequencies, frequency masking, compression, maximiser settings and so on.

A few excellent options could be the 'Ozone Suite', or 'Mastering The Mix Reference 2', that allow you to drop in wavs of your favourite tracks and will 'match' your track to the it's qualities.

Within Ableton though, using 'Spectrum' to see the 'shape' of your mix against the shape of a reference track is also super useful. 

Hovering over the spectrum, a read out in the bottom left will tell you the exact frequency and even pitch! Super useful for tuning a kick or other percussion, for example.

Reverb Management

Reverb can add crucial depth and texture to your mix, but it also can take up so much energy and space at the same time. If your reverb is on a bus or send, consider taking some time to EQ it and apply some compression and other effects like it were it's own instrument. 


Multi-band Listening 

Let's say you're a few hours into a mix and your ears are starting to get tired. At this point (short of taking multiple breaks) introducing a multi-band EQ can help isolate different frequencies to get a clearer idea of where the energy in your mix is, as well as any possible masking of frequencies etc.

Ableton's 'Multiband Dynamics' is a nice quick three band compressor that can quickly re-shape the energy of a mix. 


It's never to late to change your kick

Or any other sound, for that matter. The kick, snare, or bass sound that sounds great at the start of the track might not hold up the same way by the end, so swap it out a few times to see if it helps the mix. Or maybe even inspires a new idea! 


Turn around & walk away.

Time and time again, there are no shortcut for closing the session down and walking away, even just for 10 minutes. Fresh ears and mind can go a lot further than any plugin can!