Before we start
So, you want to learn how to mix techno like a pro? The easiest way would be to get a time machine, travel back in time to find your young self and teach them everything there is to know about mixing. But until those are invented, you’ll have to learn the old-fashioned way. The good news is, by learning some tricks from the pros, you’ll get your mixes sounding closer and closer to the real deal.
One of the biggest misconceptions about mixing is waiting until after finishing your track. That is, after your sound design is tight and your track is arranged to perfection. The best mixing, though, happens before you even start mixing! We’ll get more into that later.
If you apply these tips while recording and designing sounds, you’ll save a ton of time and headache mixing later.
Why do I need to learn how to mix?
Saving time mixing means you’ll avoid listening to your project over and over until you wear your ears out. Your ears get tired and you lose the ability to listen critically to your track. That means, you won’t be making the best choices when mixing. You also run the risk of getting sick of your track and throwing it away before you finish.
Let’s get into how to mix techno like a pro!
What is mixing?
Mixing is the process of blending individual tracks in your project using tools like volume, EQ, compression, and effects to create a coherent and balanced sound. The rendered version of your song is called a mixdown, and the mixing engineer’s goal is to make the track sound as good as good as possible before handing it to a mastering engineer.
Mixing is about creating balance and harmony between the elements in your track. Balance is the contrast between the loudness of instruments in a track and the elements in the groove—what sounds are in your face and which are in the background. It’s also the balance of high and low frequencies to shape the tone and overall feel of a track.
Having a balanced distribution of frequencies in your track is what gives your track that professional character. You want something resembling the Nike “swoosh” mixing techno to sound like the pros. Another key part of professional mixing is fixing any harsh and unpleasant frequencies and making sure every instrument has space of its own in the frequency spectrum.
Before and after mixing
Example 1 – Harder Techno
Let’s listen to this example before and after using all tips from this article.
Use headphones or a studio monitor to hear the difference between the two versions.
Track: PLEASURES – Overconfidence
What can we hear in the “BEFORE” mixing version
- The sound is already pretty decent, but there can be some improvements.
- The kick needs more presence (other elements are masking it)
- The kick and bass need to be tighter
- The track could be more dynamic, with more space and clarity
What can we hear in the “AFTER” mixing version
- The kick is changed – There is a cut around 200Hz, so it does not sound so boxy
- The kick and bass are tight
- There is more clarity – each sound has more space
- The track is more dynamic
Have you noticed something else? Leave us a comment at the end of this post.
Check your references
Painters often use photos and objects as references to get their proportions right and not miss any details they want to include in their paintings. Referencing in techno music works the same way. Every professional producer and engineer uses them.
Without a reference track, you’re making mixing decisions blindly when you don’t have a baseline to compare your mix to. Try drawing a person’s face from your imagination. Pretty hard, right?
Unless you’re a gifted artist, it probably looks like Mr. Potato Head, and that’s normal. You probably don’t want a Mr. Potato Head mix, so use references! Use your favourite tracks as references.
Anytime you listen to a techno track and notice it has a banging low-end or you love how the hi-hats sit on top of the mix, add it to your collection. You’ve got to listen to a lot of techno tracks made by pros to learn how to mix techno like them.
By checking your mix with a reference, you’ll be able to answer questions like:
- How loud should my kick be?
- Why does my low-end sound boomy?
- Why aren’t my hi-hats punching through?
Put it into practice
Try this on your next project.
Drop an audio file into your project as your reference track (use a high-quality lossless format like .wav or .flac if possible!). Then adjust the volume so it’s playing at the same level as your mix.
Remember: matching your track’s volume with your reference is crucial!
Open up a frequency analyzer and check if your sounds are playing around the same volume as those in your reference song.
Say you really like how the drums groove in your reference track. Now, look at the levels and frequencies where your kick, snare and hats are hitting and adjust them to match your reference. Switch between listening to your track and your reference by soloing each to hear the differences and make changes.
Tune your sounds
Tuning your sounds when producing can save you a ton of time when mixing. When you tune your sounds, your mix naturally plays tighter, because you’re making sure sounds are sitting on top of one another which creates a feeling of wholeness, instead of a clash of sounds fighting one another.
This is why using your DAW’s tuner and checking frequencies in a spectrum analyzer is so key. Transient sounds like kicks, snares, percussions and hats often don’t have a clear pitch, so if a tuner doesn’t work, you can try an EQ with a spectrum analyzer to look for the biggest frequency peaks.
Then, check for clashing frequencies between sounds and pitch one of the sounds up or down to give each their own space. For example, say your kick is peaking at around 55Hz—your bass will complement the kick if it’s an octave or two above, at 110Hz and 220Hz.
Like every rule in producing music, this one can be broken. Some producers don’t tune their instruments at all. Instead, they listen for frequency masking—when one sound covers another in the same frequencies and your ear can’t make out which sound is playing. It’s a great skill to have, so we recommend you listen for masking to train your ear while also using tuners and spectrum analyzers to be sure.
Create a groove that makes you want to move
A groovy track is a dynamic track. Listen to the best techno tracks—the track’s energy goes up then falls down, toward the inside, then the outside. There’s contrast between sections and individual sounds giving you a feeling of movement and progression, not just relentless pounding from your speakers throughout the track.
How do we add dynamics to a techno track?
An easy way to add dynamics is by changing the volume of instruments over time. You can’t have a loud part if every part is the same loudness, so try lowering the volume on tracks once in a while. Another way to make your sound organic is by changing the velocity of notes in your midi tracks. Also, go easy on compression because too much can kill your track’s dynamics.
A good place to start is by applying sidechain compression to your tracks.
Sidechaining can create a pumping effect and give them some bounce. What sidechain compression does is lower the volume of a sound, but only when another sound is playing. Sidechain compression is a great technique to control the loudness of instruments playing at the same time.
In techno music, since the kick is the most important to the track, it’s usually the main sidechain input. However, you should try out different sidechain inputs like a synth lead into a pad, a vocal into a lead, and so on. By sidechaining the lead to the kick, every time the kick hits the compressor activates, lowering the volume of your lead. As always, have fun with it and try different sidechain inputs to see how they can add dynamics to your track.
Place every instrument in its own space in the frequency spectrum
Every sound should have its own spot in the frequency spectrum. The idea here is to create a good tonal balance between sounds by spreading energy equally along the frequency spectrum. Decide what frequencies are most important for a sound and carve away unnecessary frequencies, so there’s no clashing between sounds.
For example, you can freely cut low frequencies (<500Hz) from your high-hats, or cut high frequencies (>3000Hz) from your bass. They might not sound as rich on their own but listen to how they retain their character in the mix while allowing other instruments to cut through the mix. Cutting unnecessary frequencies from your sound you can’t hear anyway will make your mix sound clearer.
It’s up to you if you want to cut specific frequencies or lower the volume of the instrument, or both. Try each out and hear what works better. Reference tracks come in really handy here – use a reference to compare its frequency distribution to your mix.
Cut resonant frequencies
A resonant frequency is a troublesome, harsh sounding frequency. When boosted with an EQ, these sound especially grating. You’ll want to cut those frequencies to stop your track from clipping or distorting in the mastering phase when the engineer pumps up the gain using limiters and other mastering tools.
It’s worth spending time to look for all those frequencies. Some of them you won’t even hear while listening to your track because other sounds are masking them. That’s why you should always check for resonant frequencies in each track while soloed.
Where to look?
Every mix is different, so there aren’t any specific frequencies that will always be problematic, but we can give you some general guidelines. For the low end, 200-800Hz is a good place to check because many melodic elements will have their fundamental frequencies in this range and too much buildup here can create a muddy mix. Another too look out for is 1-5kHz as the human ear is most sensitive here. Hi-hats and cymbals, especially the 909 kits often have resonances in the 6-9kHz range.
While a professional mastering engineer can partly fix these problems, sometimes they can’t fix them completely. Getting rid of resonances in the mixing phase can save you time and money in the mastering phase.
Place every sound in its own space in the stereo field
A lot of mixing advice will tell you to keep the kick, bass, snare and vocals in mono panned in the center of your stereo field and to pan instruments around them. For mixing techno this is sound advice.
Making your main elements mono makes sure they’ll be reproduced faithfully on any sound system—especially on large club systems. A mono track sounds the same through one or two speakers. A stereo track will be summed together into mono when played through a single speaker.
What makes a track sound wide is phase differences between the left and right channel, but when you sum them together, frequencies can cancel out which takes away the power of a track.
To make a sound wider, you can duplicate it and pan each left and right respectively. You can also use a stereo imager plugin or delay plugin set with a delay time below 30ms for the Haas effect which creates a wider stereo image too.
- Make your track brighter and make space. Boost higher frequency sounds with a high-shelf EQ. Remember, even dark techno and metal sounds open and bright when mixed and mastered. Listen to a reference track but don’t overdo it.
- Check again and again for harsh resonant frequencies that wear your ear out
- Steer clear of mud. To add more definition to your mix, clear up frequencies around 200-300hz. Too much content in this range can cause muddiness. Pay extra attention to this area and cut out everything you don’t need. Keep in mind, that you can sometimes leave content here to keep the character of sounds in your mix. Try to find a balance between cutting problematic frequencies and keeping the sound authentic.
- Another problematic area is around 3000 Hz. Experiment with cutting frequencies here too.
These tips will help you even if you mix your music on the cheapest headphones or monitors.
Learn to mix techno like a pro
We covered a few techniques producers use to make professional sounding techno tracks. By applying these principles to your mix, you’ll be on your way to producing more polished, professional sounding tracks. While it’s a long journey to learn how to mix techno like a pro, keeping these concepts in mind when you mix will give you a head start.
Sometimes you don’t know what’s missing from your mix. That’s where a trained set of ears can save you a lot of time and headache in figuring out how to fix it. You can reach out to producers and engineers you know, post on Reddit or Discord feedback threads or book a session with a professional mixing engineer to get tailored feedback (first one is free!).
If you think we should cover a topic you want to know more about, f0llow us and send a DM on Instagram.
[insert newsletter signup]