Mixin' Never Hurt Anyone: Volume 1
Updated: Apr 18, 2019
I’m going to safely assume that if you didn’t already know, audio mixing is the artistic process of taking recorded tracks and balancing them to create a cohesive sound.
Tracks are brilliantly fused using various processes such as EQ, Compression & Reverb.
Long story short and less studio renting-essentially, you’re making all your different tracks sit well with each other. A good ol’ muse of musicality!
Where to Start?
If you’re new to mixing, this is where to begin… in other words, the DNA coding of mixing.
BALANCE YOUR LEVELS MAN!
Get a base line balance of your levels (volume) before you go suicide squad insane (which I am watching right now) with effects processing. Trim ‘em so they don’t clip later.
Early on in the process you want to think about headroom. Leave yourself at least 6db of “room” in your tracks when it’s finished and ready for mastering, so don’t turn everything up to 11!
Keep a final goal in mind as you balance all of your tracks. This will give you a rough idea of how each track will eventually fit together. Mentally processing the outcome will smooth out your rough ideas.
USE A BUS!
By sending multiple sounds to one track (the bus) you can apply the same processors to all of them at once.
A little apprehensive? Try it out on a drum bus - this allows you to process all your drum sounds as one unit!
Treat them with the same reverb to give the perception that they’re all in the same space. On the other hand, you can set up a delay or compression bus.
The “rules” are written in blood and as Hans Zimmer says, “If there is a rule, break it.” MY MAN! Experiment with which sounds you send to what bus. You’ll get some unusual and innovative results.
NOW FOR THE FUN PART!
The grade A meat of your mix can be broken down into three basic areas: EQ, Compression and Reverb.
Although mixing has many phases, these three make up nearly the entire process. Perfect these 3 areas and everything else is academic… then again I was notorious for sleeping in class but handwork and late nights paid off. You will do the same but the energy drinks and sunrises will pay off!
Equalizing is the art of boosting, cutting and balancing all the frequencies in a mix to get the sound you want.
You’ll often hear the frequency spectrum described as the Highs, Mids and Lows.
Even though we can place these sounds in the general high and low categories, all sounds will have pertinent information in both the highs and the lows. Remember this while you’re mixing.
What about filters?
If filters had a role on Grey’s Anatomy, they would be the steadiest surgical hands ever!
The best place to start with corrective EQ tools are high-pass and low-pass filters. High and low pass filters set limits for the signal you’d like to let through. The rest is left behind.
Remember that every track will need special attention. Listen to learn. Figure out what adjustments you need to make.
Now it’s time to sculpt your mix.
Carving EQ allows you to take insignificant low-end off your keys so that it doesn’t blanket the kick and bass. For example, you might have two elements battling each other in the same frequency, like vocals and pads. Carve a space for each by cutting the frequencies on one while boosting the same range on the other.
At this stage your tracks may even sound bad when they’re soloed. Don’t freak out and go bat s#!t cray cray! As soon as it’s in the mix it’ll sound great. This is because you carved your tracks down with the other tracks in mind.
You’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s the best metaphor: compression is the glue that holds your mix together.
It boosts the quieter parts and lowers the louder parts of your audio, resulting in a consistent and balanced sound.
How much a compressor does is determined by the compressor’s Ratio. Higher ratios affect the dynamic range more. For example, compression ratios are expressed in decibels, so that a ratio of 2:1 indicates that a signal exceeding the threshold by 2 dB will be attenuated down to 1 dB above the threshold, or a signal exceeding the threshold by 8 dB will be attenuated down to 4 dB.
Attack and release determine the speed.
I encourage you, for the sake of your tracks, the hours you put into creating your masterpiece, be careful not to get carried away! Applying too much compression is a danger zone.
I HOPE TO GOD I DIDN’T JUST SHOW MY AGE WITH THAT PIC!
Using only compression to try and balance levels in a mix will lead to a lifeless, punchless, and fatiguing mix.
Use compression as a companion to volume (gain) to get the best results.
Grasp the power of reverb to paint a real acoustic space for your sound. Utilize it to add some three-dimensionality to your mix!
It doesn’t matter if you tracked your instruments in isolation.
I typically start the process of reverbrization (making up cool and awesome words) by the use of ‘Small Room’ or ‘Ambiance’ presets on your reverb (or the most similar preset on your DAW of choice).
One cool thing I’ve discovered is putting the EQ before the reverb. If you haven’t done it TRY IT! This means you’re EQ’ing what’s coming into the reverb. Or, put it after the reverb and EQ what’s coming out. Anything goes! Again, BREAK THE “RULES”! Both approaches will give you interesting results.