What Is Audio Mixing
Audio Mixing is a process of blending individual things in a recording to come up with as good as a possible version of a song. The mixing process includes:
- Fine-tuning the sense or sound of each instrument using and EQ
- Balancing pre-recorded track levels
- Panning tracks between speakers to come up with a stereo image
- Compression, Adding reverb and other effects, improve the already recorded song.
- Taking your song from Good to GREAT!
Often, mixing also includes editing. Editing is choosing the best bits of a song and sometimes even include building a musical element from scratch. On other occasions, mixing include more than editing or the editing involves separate stages in between mixing and tracking.
Beginner Mistakes To Avoid When Mixing Music
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If you have an interest in mixing music and want to know which mistakes to avoid as a beginner, then you’ve come to the right place! Read on to find out which common missteps you may be making. Check out these 10 beginner mix mistakes:
If you find yourself guilty of any of these common mix mistakes, fear not, Ive been guilty of them too! So have we all. Read on and learn from our mistakesor jump to a section below to learn what you’re doing wrong in a certain area and how to avoid beginner mix mistakes in your next track:
Color Coding And Labeling Tracks
Once I have my multi-track session laid out, I like to begin the process of color coding and labeling all the tracks in the session.
Color Coding and Labeling is the simplest thing anyone can do to prepare a song for mixing but it boggles my mind why people dont do it. Often times I see tracks labeled like 05Gtbk_03_20.
What does that even mean?
I like to visually see things in the mixer as groups AND individuals. I think there is a psychological reason behind this but I just am to lazy to find out a source.
The reason for this is it makes finding things SUPER easy.
Think of it like folders on your computer. If you are looking for Picture#3from Spring 2014, it might make your life easy to have a folder called Spring 2014 with Picture#3inside that folder.
Same thing applies to finding tracks in your mixer. The coloring coding is like your folders and the labeling is like the file inside the folder.
Look at the 2 pictures below. Which one do you think would be easier to find the track you are looking for? Be honest!
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Should I Mix My Own Music
I recommend every artist attempt to mix their first few songs before they use any online mixing and mastering services, so they have an idea of what goes into the mixing process and so that they can communicate effectively with their mixer, instead of saying things like Make it sound magical!. And who knows you might actually become a wizard at mixing your own stuff. However, 90% of the time youll get better results if you get an engineer to mix it as theyll not only provide fresh trained ears but theyll hopefully have had a lot of practice mixing songs.
The keyword here is practice. Just like if you took piano lessons as a kid, youll know that you only got better when you kept practicing a ridiculous amount of time, the same goes for mixing. I personally have probably mixed and mastered over a 1000 songs in the last three years alone . But you can probably imagine I like most audio engineers have heard it all by now.
Trying To Turn A Sound Into Something It Isnt
I once watched a talented engineer who had just graduated from audio school sit with a classical recording. Little by little, he turned the sound of a baritone vocalist into something overly reverberant, a bit harsh, and altogether unnatural. Eventually, he turned to me and said its not working, is it?
So he did something daring: he took off all the processing and limited himself to two plug-ins and one send effect. To his surprise, it turned out quite well. Ive since heard classical recordings this man engineered, and they are as excellent as anything Ive listened to.
I take no credit for his evolutionI didnt offer any advice or criticism limiting himself to two concrete plug-ins was his idea. I only watched him learn that you dont have to work so hard, especially if you dont fight the natural/different busses.
It comes back to this: Whenever youre reaching for a new plug-in, do you know what youre trying to achieve with this next move? Are you serving or fighting the sound?
Of course, the answer to this question is dependent on maintaining a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, which brings us to our next pitfall:
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When To Choose Mixing Or Mastering
If you’re planning on using your recording for a demo, mastering is not an absolute necessity. It requires much more intensive knowledge and experience than mixing so it can be costly when done by a professional.
On the other hand, mixing is something you should always make an effort to do, no matter what stage of release your song or album might be in. You don’t have to hire a professional and you don’t have to be a professional, but you should at least try to give each of your songs a rough mix whenever possible.
Unlike mastering, you can do mixing at home. It requires practice and time, but with some dedication, you can get the job done.
Time To Crush It And Make It Loud
No, Im only kidding but essentially thats what everyone wants. If you got excited when reading that title, then shame on you.
But seriously we do need to try and squeeze out some loudness in the mastering stage without making it sound too squashed. This is no easy task and thats why I always recommend going to a pro mastering engineer whenever possible.
But there are times when a client will specifically state that they have no plans on going to a mastering engineer but they want their track to sound competitive. At this point I have no choice but do both the mixing and mastering.
That being said, I dont do a whole lot of processing on my Mix Buss because I feel like I dont really need to. I actually prefer the sound of a mix thats more dynamic.
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The Mixing Process Is Always The Same
*The process of mixing is always the same. It doesn’t matter which DAW you use.
But the result is different.
Even with the same set of tracks, or compositions.
A bad mix sounds muddy and jumbled.
Beginners are often wondering why their tracks sound so bad. The compositions may be good, but the mixes sound bad.
A muddy mix is a mix that does not sound crisp and clear. Everything tends to sound muffled. We usually refer to this as mud in the mix.
This is almost always the result of poor mixing techniques.
Lets Add Some Effects To Our Song
Now as the wonderful world of mixing music evolves into something new everyday, there is a vast majority of new tools being created that you can use to add effects and space to your tracks.
It really is exciting to see where the mixing world is going but at the same time I understand just how easy it is to get lost when you are a beginner.
To help you stay a float and not drown, Im only going to cover a few effects that I feel every new engineer should get a handle on.
Once you understand these then from there you can really dig in an experiment with some new tools.
- Reverb: Of course I am going to mention reverb as its almost a prerequisite for every mixing engineer. This is going to help define some space in your record as well as create a vibe or feeling. I have already made 2 pretty good tuts on reverb so check them out below.
- Delay: Another mixing engineer staple is the delay plugin. You can use a delay to create a reverb like effect, to create movement in a track or do something really radical to keep the listener intrigued. Delays are very easy to manipulate especially when you start adding things like EQ, Compression, Distortion or Automation to them. Check out my tutorial on how to create delay throws or see video below.
- Chorusing/Flaging: Although technically these are two different things, I consider them as one when I think about them. You can use these type of effects to create some warping and movement between your speakers. Get creative!
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A Common Misconception: Stereo Bus Processing Is Not Mastering
Its not hard to see confusion at the overlap points: Mixing and mastering engineers often deploy stereo bus processing on the song as a whole to get the effects they desire. But this doesnt mean mastering and mixing are in any way the same.
Now, with generalized definitions out of the way, we can cover what differentiates mixing from mastering in a more granular way.
Setting Up Your Audio Mixing Session
Most DAWâs provide nifty templates if youâre unsure of how to get started.For example, Pro Tools includes the âRockâ template which sets your session up with tracks for:Drums / Bass / Organ / Guitar / 4 empty audio tracks for recording / Click Track / Pre-routed Headphone Mix / Reverb Return / Delay Return / Chorus returnAlthough this is a basic band mix template, there are other templates to choose from. If you donât see the template you need, just make one. Making your own template is a great step in developing your mix style. Perfect for booting up your computer and starting a mix from scratch.
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Mix References: All Audio Mixers Should Use Them
So your mix is coming along smoothly by this point. But there are always those looming questions… How do you know if your mix is up to snuff? Does it sound like other good songs? Is everything sitting together properly? Use a Mix Reference. Thereâs a couple ways to do this:
Do you love the Rolling Stones? Throw Street Fighting Man into your session as track one and reference it while you go. Is your kick sitting like theirs? Is your guitar cutting like Keithâs?
Export and master your track often during the mix process. Take notes on whatâs sounding right or wrong. Go back to your mix and fix.
Thereâs a saying that the last 10% of the job is actually 90% of the work. Use LANDR to avoid this creative block. The only way youâll know youâre done is to hear it mastered.
Why Should I Invest In An Audio Engineer For Mixing And Mastering My Tracks
Youve worked hard to record and arrange your tracks, paid a composer and a session musician, so its definitely worth it to get a professional to mix and master them. It might be too challenging and timely to go DIY so if youre planning to release a professional album, you need professional help. Even if you are recording just for fun, you can still find some great value freelance services to mix & master it.
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Plus Its A Huge Waste Of Time
I bet you instinctively know where the plates are in your kitchen. You dont even have to think, you just walk over to the cupboard, open the door and BAM there they are.
You need to instinctively do the same thing with your tracks in the mix window.
You should come up with a variation and placement in the mixer that works well for you. The more you put things in a familiar place than the more instinctive it will be for you and mixing in the future.
To get you started, heres how I would organize a small session:
Bass Drums Instruments Vocals Mix Buss
This is just a starting point but know that I am so in tune with where things are in my sessions that I dont even think about it.
I encourage you to develop your own but BE CONSISTANT, that is the key. If you start with the vocals on the left than try and keep your vocals on the left for your future sessions.
You will see a massive improvement in your mixes over time.
Once you are familiar with your layout, through repetition, your technical brain will start to shut down as you mix and the creative portion will now become SUPER CHARGED.
Putting Reverb On Every Track
I remember my early fear of a dry signal. Out of this fear, Id slap reverb on nearly everything. But in my early days, this approach yielded nothing but a pea soup of sound.
I was not yet cognizant of how differing reverbs signify particular trends or genres, or how some sounds might have been recorded with reverb alreadyguitars being a good example, but also synths given to you by a producer.
Once again, learning grew from limitation. So if putting reverbs on every track sounds like your bag, I invite you to try the following: Limit yourself to only four or five reverbs across a whole mixand to shoot for fewer if possible. Maybe apply some verb to the drums, the vocals, a touch of exploding snare, and a spring verb on an otherwise dry guitar.
The same goes for other effects. In our efforts to make everything interesting we can dull the overall impact of the entire mix. Therefore, learn the intentionality behind modulation, delay, and conventional pitch variance. Understand what, exactly, a phaser will get you, as opposed to a flanger or a chorus. Learn how delays can expand the spaciousness of a sound , or establish a genre .
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The Music Mixing Mindset
The art of music mixing is by far the most elusive and difficult part of the music production process to comprehend. Of all the engineering skills one could learn, mixing audio is by far the most difficult to master. That’s why, in the professional audio engineering world, it is by far the highest paying job. The record companies are well aware of this critical part of the music production process and will pay a premium for engineers that do it well.
I am often humored by home recording enthusiasts, musicians and students of engineering when they fail to understand why their mixes don’t measure up to what they hear on CDs. To give an analogy that may put this in perspective, let’s say that you are a guitar player who idolizes Jeff Beck. You’ve been playing guitar for 1 year and can’t understand why your guitar playing is not as good as Jeff Beck’s. Mixing is as much of an art as guitar playing. It requires a lot of patience, knowledge, and practice.
In this article, I want to give you some insights that will help correct your approach to music mixing. Without the right mindset, you will be embarking on a journey with no map and no idea of where you are going. Mixing is not about processing, tricks, effects or EQ. It is all about understanding how we perceive sound, and how to capture that essence in a pair of speakers.
Lets Pause For A Disclaimer
Okay since the art of music mixing is so subjective I need to put out a disclaimer.
I realized after I got this far, just how structured this article might seem.
I know I am kind of giving you a beginner version on how to mix a song but try to really understand the concepts and not the process.
You may see that high passing comes before compression in this article but that might not be practical in a real world situation. Its more of a feel that you need to develop and not a list of steps to follow. You will get there, it will just take a bit of time.
If you apply the methods, in this article you will be in good shape.
Just remember that mixing is just as much of an art form as it is a technical process. The technical stuff just help us reach our goals.
Now, on with the show.
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If The Balance Isnt Right Than More Often Than Not It Just Wont Feel Right
So as a rule of thumb, if you are new to mixing songs, than it would be advised to balance the record even before you touch an EQ or a compressor.
You will be forced to listen to the relationship of all the sounds and how they work together. Try to resist the urge to touch your plugins. If you can get the vibe from a balance than more often than not the finished mix should sound good.
Check out the video below:
This video shows how I would generally approach the balance of a song.
Although this balance was done on a hip hop song it can be applied to any genre.
Also if you liked this video, be sure to head over to my YouTube Channel and subscribe. All the cool kids are doing it, I promise!
One Last thing, that video is from one of the 17 sections in my Premium Hip Hop Mixing Tutorial. Check it out!