When I first started mixing, I read the same thing over and over from the self-proclaimed online forum experts:
“NEVER mix through a limiter or compression! Everything will fall apart, your mix will sound like balls, and you’ll get herpes!” (possibly an exaggeration).
I did my best for years to be one of these mixing purists who followed every single rule in some ambiguous magical mixing handbook. I suppose that’s part of the learning process. As time progressed and I started putting hundreds of mixes behind me, I slowly learned that there is one and ONLY ONE thing that matters in mixing: Does it sound good in the end? How you get to that point is completely irrelevant.
I’m not arguing for mixing anarchy here. I’m not going to completely forget about gain structuring, start digitally clipping my tracks, or pan the kick hard left every mix just to be different. I’m just saying that you should always make sure your focus is on the end goal; not the route you took to get there.
When I mix, I spend about the last 60% of the mix mixing through a limiter. And I’ll tell you exactly why:
- It just sounds good.
Adding a limiter to the final mix makes the mix a bit more exciting, a bit more aggressive. As a result, I’m more excited listening to the track and the whole process is just way more fun.
- It’s easier to compare to other songs.
I always mix with reference tracks loaded in to my session. If the mix I’m working on doesn’t have a limiter, it’s not a fair comparison to completed and mastered tracks. I won’t get the most out of these comparisons as my mix will sound dull and lifeless in comparison.
- The client will also be comparing your mix to other mastered tracks.
Your client is used to listening to final, mastered tracks on his stereo. If he pops on your track and it seems far quieter compared to what he is accustomed to, the knee-jerk reaction is to perceive that it doesn’t sound as good. I’ve lost mixing jobs to other mixers who did use a limiter for this reason and frankly, it sucks.
- Mixing into a limiter changes how I mix.
I end up driving the kick and snare a bit harder, letting the limiter bring these back down. This gets me a bit more pump in the mix. And I do love me some pump.
- There aren’t any nasty surprises after the mix comes back from the mastering studio.
There have been a whole lot of times where I tried to be a purist and mixed without a limiter. I started noticing that when the mixes came back from mastering, my snare would be a little too quiet or some other unexpected change. If I mix with the limiter on, I’m driving the limiter the same way the mastering guy will be and I won’t be surprised with what comes back.
Now, am I telling you that you must mix through a limiter? Absolutely not. What I’m suggesting is that you do whatever the hell it is that gets your mix slamming and keeps your clients happy. Learn the “rules” so that you can experiment with breaking them in an effort to find what works the best for your mixing style. And as mentioned above, keep only one thing in mind throughout the process:
Does it sound good?