To make your mix sound good, it is crucial to find the right balance between all the instrument and sound levels. But what if you’re a bit lost on how you should mix different instruments in relation to each other? One good tip is to take a decently produced commercial (or non-commercial) song from the same genre as your music and use it as a reference to check how different instruments and sounds are mixed and then try to achieve a similar balance.
But how do you exactly use this method in practice?
Lets assume you’re in a middle of mix session in your DAW. First thing to do is to pick a roughly similar song from the same genre (check Beatport top 10 in your genre for example) and import it into your DAW. This is the reference song. Next, “calibrate” the volume levels between your mix and the reference song (this is important so you can compare them one-one-on): drop the reference song volume approximately to a same level as the overall volume of your mix. You need to use your ears for this and I suggest that you focus on listening the kick drum: tweak the volume until the reference song kick drum volume roughly matches with the level of your kick drum.
Now, start comparing: solo your reference song and listen a short clip. It might be a good idea to use the drop -part of the reference song and compare it to your drop OR any other ‘busy’ part that has all the essential instruments playing together (kick, claps, hihats, bass, synths). Focus on listening the kick drum and listen how loud all the other drum sounds are mixed in relation to the kick: claps, hihats & percussion sounds. Then quickly flip back to your own mix (mute the reference song) and listen the balance of your drum sounds and try to achieve similar balance by adjusting the volume levels and EQ if necessary. Also, try to pay attention in what frequency area each drum sound is working on.
Do the same for the bassline and synths. Listen how they’re mixed in relation to kick, flip back to your mix and compare. And so on.
Here’s another tip: try mixing your song after the reference song, just like the DJ’s do (crossfade). Imagine that DJ is playing your music in a live set: how does your song sound compared to the reference song? How well would it work in a set? Is it TOO abnormal compared to the reference song if you listen the balance between the instruments? Hihats too quiet perhaps…? Claps too loud…? And on and on.
The idea is to find the kind of balance that is “common” (if such thing can be said) for the type of music you’re making. However, do not try to reach the EXACT sonic character of your reference song as you’re most likely using different set of sounds/instruments and that (and your own taste) defines how you should mix them. Instead, use the reference song like a rough guideline to get a hang of what instruments or sounds stand out in the mix in relation to each other and try to apply it to your mix and to the sounds you are using.
How to use this method in FL Studio?
One way is to first drop the reference song to an empty clip track on the Playlist. Then, find the drop -part (or any other “busy” part) from the reference song and align it approximately with the drop of your own song. OR, use the Slice tool to cut 8 or 16 bar selection starting from the drop, delete all the rest and then align the slice where your drop starts):
Then, assign the clip to a free mixer track and calibrate the volume level (flip between the reference song and your own song using mixer track solo/mute button):
Now, in the Playlist, use track mute button to quickly flip between your mix and the reference song, compare the instrument balances and if necessary adjust the levels of your sounds/instruments:
That’s about it.
So in a nutshell: listen other producers songs to get the idea of how to balance instruments inside your mix.