Do you want to make music, but you’re tired of failing? Are you feeling frustrated because your tunes simply aren’t cutting it? The ability to mix is a skill you must acquire. And you don’t require a professional studio for the same.
You only need a pair of headphones and a comfortable space to learn how to mix.
And upon finishing this guide, you will be well-equipped to begin mixing music on your own.
Some people’s mental image of a mixing console is something at least 12 feet long, with more knobs and faders than they know what to do with. High-end professional studios can still use them. However, most home studios now use digital programs like Pro Tools, Logic, Steinberg Cubase, or even Apple’s GarageBand for mixing. That’s because you’re essentially doing the same functions that a trained audio engineer would.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can mix music the right way! So, without further ado, let’s go!
What Is Music Mixing?
The process of “mixing” music is assembling various sounds into one continuous track.
While there are undoubtedly technical considerations involved in the mixing process, the activity serves more of an art rather than a scientific goal.
The term “mixing” may also refer to removing unwanted or unnecessary tones from an audio clip.
For example, a solo guitar performance would sound fantastic on its own. However, when combined with the bass and drum recording, the song loses its identity and becomes difficult to understand.
A mix engineer will attempt many methods to correct this problem, such as reducing the guitar’s low end, so it doesn’t compete with the bass. You can also try panning the guitar to the side so the sounds don’t blend.
What Is the Difference Between Mixing and Mastering Music?
Mixing can be done at the beginning of post-production. In mixing, a mixing artist adjusts and balances the different tracks in a recording to sound complete when played together, sometimes with the assistance of a client or reference track.
With the use of equalization, compression, panning, and reverb, mixing experts even out the volume and tone of each instrument, tighten up the song’s rhythm, and highlight the track’s most crucial parts.
Mastering happens at the end of post-production. Mastering experts often listen to the whole composition in stereo mixdown form. They consider the final result and whether or not they need to make any adjustments to the audio quality.
It’s important to fine-tune the mix and adjust things like volume and tone for the best playback across all platforms. Mastering experts not only attempt to enhance each track when a project has many tracks but also try to provide a consistent listening experience throughout an entire album.
Equipment Required to Mix Music
Mixing experts typically use Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) on computers for tracking, organizing, and mixing the tracks. DAWs are one of the most important music product equipment. They also use audio plugins built into a DAW to add to, improve, or analyze the audio already present in the project.
Electronic music production relies heavily on Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controllers. And mixing experts use it to increase productivity and accomplish tasks like kick drum sequencing, sound triggering, and playing virtual instruments. Moreover, you need a good set of headphones, studio monitors, and an ideal room arrangement to help you create a fantastic-sounding mix.
How to Mix Music?
So, how exactly do we mix the songs together?
Since mixing is an art, it includes the presence of subjective elements.
You require a quantitative approach to data crunching and a surgical approach with plugins for mixing. However, mix engineers accomplish the overall sound using intuition and implied knowledge.
In this section, we will simplify the procedure and provide rules for mixing songs that you or others have created.
The more practice you put into it, like any other talent in life, the better you will become at it!
Different genres demand different techniques. For example, we use plugins and tools for mixing.
The most effective way to improve one’s mixing skills is to familiarize oneself with the many tools used during the procedure.
The following are examples of these plugins and tools:
- Delay and reverb effects
- Distortion and saturation
There are other kinds of tools as well. But you can mix the vast majority of the music if you have a solid grasp of the plugins.
Equalization is the process of correcting problems in a recorded audio clip that are dependent on frequency. This plugin can add or remove frequencies most effectively feasible.
We frequently abbreviate the equalizer as EQ in certain circles. You can download this plugin for free on any DAW platform (Fruity Loops, Logic X, Pro Tools, Reaper, Cubase, etc.).
As mastering this tool will enable you to correct the bulk of problems in a recorded track, it is necessary to acquire this knowledge.
High Cut EQ is an equalization setting that, as its name indicates, cuts out frequencies higher than the user-defined threshold.
For example, if you set the -3dB High Cut EQ to 2000 Hz, the amount of sound produced by frequencies above 2000 Hz will get reduced by 3dB.
One use of this concept might be helpful if you want a sound to be felt like it is coming from the background. High Cut EQ allows you to eliminate the high frequencies, giving the impression that the music is coming from a greater distance.
The High Cut EQ works very well with background voices to give the impression that they are behind the primary vocalist. Another use of this effect is to give the impression that music comes from outside a club.
This equalizer is the opposite of the High Cut EQ. This equalizer will make it possible to get rid of frequencies that are lower than a specified frequency.
For instance, if you set the Low Cut EQ to 500 Hz, frequencies below 500 Hz will have their volume decreased by the dB level you selected.
Using this EQ to clean up the bottom end of your mix and bring back the clarity is one of the more practical uses of the tool.
You can improve the space created for the bass and kick to provide sonic impact by removing the low frequencies from all of the tracks except for the bass and kick tracks.
It is common practice to eliminate low frequencies from the lead vocals to generate clarity and isolate the main vocals from the background music.
The purpose of this kind of equalization is to address problems that occur at certain frequencies within a recording.
As the output of this procedure appears as a ‘bell,’ it is referred to as the Bell EQ.
The value of ‘Q’ refers to the breadth of the bell.
This Q value determines the amount of frequency that you wish to boost or decrease.
Let’s say we’re working on an electronic dance music tune, and our bass and kick sound quite close. This indicates that when played alone, each sounds nice, but when played together, they suppress each other, resulting in a congested and muddy bottom end.
In this case, the Bell EQ will be able to assist in the separation of the sounds. For example, we can cut between 3 and 5 dB from the kick or bass frequencies between 50 and 100 Hz while simultaneously raising the volume of the same part on the other track.
After you’ve brought the frequencies into equilibrium, the next step is to apply compression.
We apply compression in various contexts. Nevertheless, the most significant advantage of using this plugin is that it helps balance the dynamics of each recording.
For instance, if we were to record a singing performance, there would always be certain sections that were either louder or quieter than others. This feature is because of the composition and choices that went into making a track.
However, for a listener, this continuous change in dynamic might distract them from the core of the music they are trying to focus on. We can achieve a balance of these dynamics using compression.
Compressors are perhaps the most baffling of all the plugins and tools used in mixing. Even though it has three to four buttons, combining all the many settings can be quite confusing to mix engineers who are just starting.
After cleaning up the recording and achieving a balance between the frequencies and the dynamics, we can go on to the ‘effects.’
Due to the advances in digital technology, various plugins have various effects. However, reverb and delay are the two effects used most often.
The next stage is the panning stage. We hope your mix sounds satisfactory and well-balanced at this point!
If that’s not the case, you should revisit the Equalization and Compression sections since they will determine how successful the mix is.
Creating space in the mix is what panning is all about. You should generally attempt panning objects slightly from the center to the left or right. You do this so that the vocals can serve as the song’s focal point and the primary point of interest for the listener.
We often place drums and bass in the center of the track, which allows the “groove” of the song to be centered there. The remaining melodies might drift to the track’s left and right.
In modern times, there is a mixing technique known as binaural panning, a whole other area.
We highly recommend studying the topic since it intrigues anybody interested in virtual reality and three-dimensional sound.
Distortion and Saturation
Now comes the exciting part.
Experiment with the Distortion and Saturation plugins to see what you can come up with. These can provide your music with a distinct personality while enhancing its volume.
Nevertheless, take it with a grain of salt. If there is too much distortion in the mix, it will sound muddy and unbalanced.
The most effective strategy would be to apply it in the form of a “send” effect. Send either voice or drums to that sound, then turn the slider just a little to create a thin layer of saturation below the primary audio.
You won’t even notice a difference in the overall sound of your mix thanks to this one simple change!
A Limiter is quite similar to a Compressor in its functionality.
It maintains the audio at a certain level, and the volume of the audio cannot exceed the limiter’s predetermined maximum.
Working with low-level audio will be the ideal strategy to take if you want the mix to remain under 0 dB and not clip (-12dB target).
However, suppose after additional procedures, the sound gets over 0 dB. In that case, you need to use a limiter to ensure that the sound does not exceed 0 dB. Or on any other level that you choose!
Step-by-Step Guide to Mixing Music
Now that you better understand the plugins and tools used, let’s start the actual mixing!
Step 1: Calibrate Your Ears
It is important to calibrate one’s hearing before mixing, just as it is important to calibrate one’s input levels before recording. Therefore, you should hone your listening skills using high-caliber reference material, such as well-performed and mixed music. In addition, you can compare the frequency range of your mix visually to your reference material with tools like iZotope Insight and Tonal Balance Control, which are used later in the mixing process.
Step 2: Hear the Unfinished Mix
To get a feel for your mix, it’s best to play it in its entirety right after opening it. Then, on your second listen-through, focus on analyzing the individual songs in the mix.
You can check your recordings for mic plosives, bass guitar squeaks, and other problems with the help of a plugin like RX and its Repair Assistant tool.
Step 3: Begin Mixing
You only have a few options when you start working on your mix. When mixing, some producers start with the drums, and others with the lead voice. As the ‘singer’ of the tune is the lead voice, naturally, you should hear this part first. Typically, in western music, the song’s other parts are there only to support the singer.
Drums are placed first in a mix since they serve as the song’s base, and mixers construct all other instruments and sounds around them. Most listeners have one of two intentions while playing music: to sing along or to dance. Hence, as a result, the lead voice and the backbeat are the most crucial parts of any mix.
Suppose you’re working on a pop song, for instance. In that case, you should focus on the lead vocal first since pop music is centered on a melody. However, if you’re working on a rock song, which often focuses on a band performance, you may want to focus on the drums first.
Step 4: Focus on Mixing Within the Song Structure
When the structure and form of your mix are complete, you can add motion to the mix to make the arrangement more dynamic. Each segment of a song has a different feel and mood. Have you ever heard how the mood of a song changes dramatically from the verse to the chorus?
You can also pick up on the mix’s symbiotic mix with that changeover. The primary focus should be on developing a forward momentum to enhance and showcase the music. Unlike a painting or a sculpture, a song can evolve through time, making it one of the most valuable tools at our disposal. Our mix should represent the fact that it is dynamic, not static.
Step 5: Use Automation
We employ automation to get the same result as the things above. The goal is to “level out” any shaky performances and highlight vital parts of the mix.
We use automation in a lot of different combinations. For instance, automation on a lead vocal can maintain the voice at the forefront of the mix and highlight certain words and phrases within the song to maximize their emotional effect.
Moreover, you can use automation to highlight a ‘build’ on a single instrument for added drama. Likewise, automation is useful for adjusting the volume of individual tracks within a song. Neutron and similar plugins can handle a wide variety of mix automation tasks.
Believe us when we say there will come a time when you think your mix is complete or almost done! Or you’ve reached a point of complete perspective loss and might benefit from hearing it through fresh ears.
Step 6: Top Off the Mix
There is still significant creative work to be done when the bulk of the mix is complete. First, you must send the rough mix to the client for final approval. Then, make any changes if there are any to be made. Finally, have the great sounding mix sent to the mastering engineer for final touches.
How Long Does It Take to Mix Music?
Mixing a single song typically takes at least four hours and can also take many days. You will need more time if the task is more complex. However, a skilled mix engineer can mix large projects in a day.
Tips for Mixing Music the Right Way
Audio mixing relies a lot on experimentation. The more mixes you make, the more you’ll learn, and the better your outcomes you’ll achieve. With that in mind, here are some tips for dealing with various challenges amateur producers face working from home.
Compress, But Not Too Much
Compression is an excellent method for making your music seem full and rich. However, when used excessively, this effect can dull a mix. Keep in mind that the strongest signal gets reduced while compression before the total level increases.
With this setting, your loud noises will get muted while your soft ones will get amplified. If you compress the audio too much, you will eliminate dynamic range, and the song will sound flat. Use just enough to prevent any gaps in the sound but not so much that the whole thing becomes inaudible.
Reverb Is Cool, But Don’t Go Overboard With It
When recording a voice or instrument with modern digital technology, it is preferable to acquire a dry, reverb-free sound and then add reverb at the mixing stage. For example, you can achieve a magical effect when a small room, such as a closet, is made to sound like a large recording studio or concert hall.
However, like compression, just a small amount of reverb can greatly impact the audio. Particularly true with singing. Don’t bury the singer’s message in search of murky reverb if the singer’s trying to get their point through in the lyrics. Put just enough to make it interesting but not too much that the details get lost.
High-Pass Filters Can Be Helpful, But Remember That Moderation Is Key
While a heavy bass response might be enjoyable via headphones, it can cloud the overall sound of a mix and make it difficult to pick out individual instruments. You can achieve clarity in the mix by using a high-pass filter, which blocks out lower frequencies while letting higher ones through. High-pass filtering is often an in-built feature of EQ effects and plugins.
Listen to Your Final Mix on Multiple Speaker Systems
Mixing using high-quality headphones or studio monitors is ideal for capturing subtle nuances and enhancing the overall quality of your work. The issue is that not all your listeners will use high-quality equipment to play the recording. Be practical about how you will expose the bulk of your listeners to the music.
And there you have it, a complete guide on how to mix music. You can mix all the sounds and all the tracks you can get your hands on and make your own mix. You can mix without even having your own songs.
There is one more technical step to master before you can call yourself a music mixer.
That’s correct; there’s a lot of work involved in mixing. And you can only get better if you practice. A good mix has a natural sound and perfectly mixed audio tracks forming a complete individual track.
We’re certain that you’ve learned something from this piece. So remember to tag us and share this throughout your social media channels!