To many new producers it comes as a surprise that they have to mix at all.
It stands to reason that if every instrument in a song sounds great then surely the song itself will sound good too. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Without mixing it’s almost a certainty that your vocals will be drowned out by other instruments, your bass will be muddy, and there will be a host of other problems that make your song sound rather amateur.
That’s why we mix!
It’s here that you begin a slow descent into insanity as you strive to mix your tracks to perfection.
Mixing can be maddening because there’s no guidebook anyone can give you. There is no simple, “Do these 10 steps in this order in exactly this way to get the right mix.” Every song is different. Every genre is different. Oh sure there are best practices – and we’re going to share them with you here on Key and Pitch – but be aware that mixing has no right or wrong answers. In fact, there is only one rule you need to follow…
The Golden Rule of Mixing
The golden rule of mixing is that if it sounds good, it is good.
Mixing has best practices that should be used, but keep in mind that the goal of mixing is to make a song sound good (and that’s subjective).
How much do you want the kick to shine through in your song? Do you want the vocals to slightly blend in during the verse only to have them soar during the chorus? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It comes down to your own preferences.
While there are best practices and guidelines to follow, always remember that if it sounds good than it is good.
Here’s what mixing involves…
Mixing involves the manipulation of multiple audio elements to make a song sound phenomenal. Generally speaking, you’ll first mix each track in your song, and then bring all the tracks together to ensure the song sounds great.
Here’s what you’ve got to play with:
Increasing and Decreasing Volume
You can’t have instruments too loud or too quiet, and believe it or not you wouldn’t normally have them all at the same volume either.
When developing a great mix your goal is to balance the volume of your tracks to ensure all instruments are shining through. You’ll also want to ensure that abnormal volume changes aren’t occurring.
An example of volume balancing could be that your synths are drowning out the toms in your song. You’ll have to correct the volume to make sure both instruments can be heard correctly, and it’s up to you whether this means increasing the volume of your toms or decreasing the volume of your synths.
This might be the simplest part of mixing – just raise or lower the audio faders until you get the desired result.
Adding “Space” via Panning
If you ever hear people talk about adding “space” to your mix, they’re talking about panning. Put simply, panning is how much to the left or right an instrument sits when someone listens to it in stereo. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s not considered best practice for all instruments to sit directly in the center of a mix.
In audio production software you can be very subtle with panning. If you want to move one tom 10% to the left and another tom 10% to the right, that’s an option available to you.
It’s important you don’t put too many instruments on one side as that creates an imbalance in your track, and do try to keep your snare and lead vocals in the center
This is perhaps the biggest problem for new producers to correct in their music. At first your mixes will probably not sound clear. The bass and mids will be muddy, highs squashed, and the whole thing track will sound…honestly kinda meh.
You’ll fix this as part of the mixing process. In fact, you’re probably going to spend most of your time making sure your mix is as clear as possible. There are a variety of tools to help you do exactly this.
Last but not least, as part of the mixing process you’ll add effects to change the way the song sounds. When it comes to mixing we do not mean to add effects like space lasers or robot noises. Think more like adding distortion to a guitar or reverb to vocals.
It’s hugely important to many bands and producers that they have a distinct “sound” as part of their final product. Part of that distinct sound is made up by the instruments and vocalist, but another part comes down to the mix and the effects utilized. Not only does mixing make your music sound fantastic, it also helps add uniqueness to your sound.
That’s your introduction to mixing. Now it’s time for you to learn about the mixing plugins that are available.