We all know limiters, these handy little plugins that are used at the end of the mastering chain (not only though...) but what other limiters do we encounter in our audio journey?
The actual gear/plugins can also limit you!
Yes, having a lot of flashy plugins doesn't mean that it opens up endless possibilities. It can also work totally opposite.
Are you adding a plugin to try and solve a problem? It may solve a problem and introduce another one, so you then add another plugin to solve that freshly introduced issue and before you know it, it’s a spiraling effect. Then having too many tools to solve the problem can also be problematic. We all know ear fatigue, but not many are aware of a syndrome called choice fatigue. Basically having too many choices may kill your creativity, kill the 'moment' and introduce a fatigue especially over the time.In stead of focusing on the problem we spend too much time and our brain resources on going through all the plugins trying to pick the one.Remember that back in the day (and most iconic music was mixed that way) we only had a channel strips on each channel with EQ and compressor. And it was all the tools we had (well apart from some external effects but for the colour that fixing problems). Did Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' need dozens of plugins to be one of the best sounding albums of all time? No... and what's more it was entirely mixed on Auratone C5A little monitors. So it's better to have fewer tools but to know them inside out rather.
Another thing worth mentioning that might limit you is actually spending too much time on a particular mix. Don’t get too caught up in tweaking, make decisions you want to be done and execute them. Mixing in context can help bring similarity to overall sound or help frequencies stay out of similar ranges. Plus it will reduce this constant tweaking and tweaking which often limit your creativity and lead to choice fatigue..When it comes to gear it can also limit you. Apart from the reasons stated above (it also applies to the hardware units).Remember... The more vibe the audio gear has, the narrower the use cases. So you either accept that your new analogue piece won't work for everything, or buy cleaner gear if you're going to expand your chain to cover more ground. So maybe this ultra vintage sounding valve drive piece of gear that costs nearly as much as the whole house isn't the right tool for the job? And simple EQ plugin would be a better tool?Minimizing the setup down to its core, utilizing the bare essentials to get the job done efficiently and as quickly as possible A professional mix doesn't come down to stacking a whole bunch of professional tools on every single channel. Not at all. In fact, the core of mixing is a whole lot simpler than that: it's about getting all the layers of a song to fit together nicely Everything must have a purpose The other thing that might limit the potential greatness of the song and your audio engineering skills is your mix ...Your final master will be only as good as your mix is. The end. There is no such a thing as fixing things in mastering. Mastering is like magnifying glass, it will reveal all potential problems. So don't try to fix things in the mastering process when you have access to the mix itself. You'll be running in circles. Nothing should be going through mastering until the mixing process is completed and met a high quality level and stratification between the Artist and Producer.So that's another thing that can limit you (in mastering stage)... Problems in the mix.
Lack of musicality of the mix can also be a problem. The whole "give each instrument/layer its own surgically carved out frequency space" stuff has become really overblown. You'll end up with thin, hollowed out mixes. I've seen crazy screenshots where people imprison instruments to a range of like 300 hz because they were told they have to do this. We all talk about separation here, separation there. But how much separation do you want? Really, too much separation especially in the low end makes it sound unglued, doesn't sound musical. It's about experience and right ear to judge where the line is. How can arrangement limit your creativeness and audio engineering skills?
Great ingredients lead to a great mix. Humans can only process up to three melody lines/arrangement elements at the same time. So having too much is also a bad idea which will work as limiter when it comes to bringing out the magic bits out of the track.Having focus points (either one or changing from one to the other depending on the arrangement) throughout entire song is another story though In my workflow when dealing with many layers of synths/pianos ect. I like prioritising them with volume/ EQs/compression/reverb and mono/stereo format.
I always treat the mix like a 3D box, it has height (volume), width (panning) but also depth (EQ bright-dark contrast, compression-moving things back or upfront of the mix and reverbs as they naturally out things further back in the mix).I think with many layers of any elements and sounds you can quickly have frequency build up as well as no contrast across the tracks. And then when we have multiple layers of vocals on the top... Well... You can already imagine the result. Maybe try to prioritize some more important synths and layers keeping them upfront and move less significant ones further back in depth or/and make them lower height wise by adjusting volume. Yes! Volume fader and volume automation are probably the most powerful tools everyone has ...When everything is upfront then nothing is upfront. Same with loudness if everything is loud, then nothing is loud. That will avoid quick build ups and will give you more headroom and more importantly will increase perceived loudness (crest factor is another important aspect but I'll talk about it next time)That will eliminate the factors that might stop and limit you to bring out the potential from the song Lastly apart from prioritising synths/pianos/guitars with keeping this 3D box context in mind I also like to keep more important tracks (if needed) in stereo and collapsing less significant ones to mono and spreading them across the panorama.Too much stereo = one big mess mono and will also decrease the potential perceived loudness and will create more contrast and separation between elements.A great mix really takes advantage of contrast, so this might mean leaving some things wet with reverb and others bone dry. The way the verses close and the chorus is spread open is another example. Take advantage of this especially when it comes to panning and stereo/mono formats of important and less important tracks. As you can see there's a lot of complex aspects that can limit your creativity and engineering skills. Most of them are about the workflow as well as mindset, so you don't need to spend any money to overcome them and become a better mixing/mastering engineer.