Audio mixing is the process of gathering a number of recorded tracks and combining them in a single track.
The purpose of mixing is to clean, correct and enhance the sound of the tracks included in the mix, so that the final mix sounds as good as it get and the result makes sense to the ears of the listeners.
To achieve these results audio engineers compress and adjust the level of the sounds, use panning to clean up the middle section of the mix in order to widen the stereo track and apply effects such as delay, reverb and chorus.
These sessions are called multitrack recordings because they include of two or more tracks ready for processing. There is no specific number of tracks that have to be used. After the mixing process, all the tracks are combined into a single track, and the multitrack output is called the mixdown. The mixdown is the final stage of a track before audio mastering.
Audio mixing guide for beginners
It is essential for every music producer to be able to mix his music on his own. Being able to do so, gives him the absolute control over his music, enhances his creativity and helps him improve his skills and take his music to the next level.
It is very important that you create an appropriate listening environment in the place you mix. This will help you listen to the details of the tracks you are mixing and will result in being more accurate when it comes to deciding about what changes to make in the mix.
First think you need to know, is to take into serious consideration the room modes. Room modes usually cause difficulties and make the mix sound noisy, especially in the mid and low frequencies.
Another thing that causes noise to the acoustics of your mix, is any surface that causes reflections to the sound. You can limit this problem by applying a carpet to your floor and covering the walls with sound absorbing materials.
Avoid putting your studio monitor on hard surfaces, as this will bring out too many low frequencies to your sound, and try to be as symmetrical as you can when setting up your equipment, especially your monitor. Use equal distances between them and you so that you have a better perspective of the overall sound.
Choose your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Choosing the ideal music software can be time consuming as there many option available in the market for you to choose. Some of the best are:
- Pro Tools
- Ableton Live
- FL Studio
- Adobe Audition
Our suggestion for you is to try all them and decide which one suits you best.
You have to learn your DAW software of choice in depth, and become familiar with the ways it operates and interface, so that you can use it to its maximum capability.
What is more, learn to set up your music software to your liking so that it is convenient for you to use every time you start a session from scratch. Create your own template and arrange the tracks and patterns so that it is easy for you to stay organized.
Choosing color and naming your tracks is also a key factor to staying organized and not mess up your sessions. Try to name all of your separate tracks according to the instrument or vocal they represent, so that you can revisit the project and find each track you want to correct easily.
Remember to keep same groups of instruments under the same color, so that your eyes can distinguish different tracks and sounds and speed up the process.
Concentrate on the mix
Get organized and avoid distraction to keep a clear head and focus on the mixing process as much as you can. You must have the mentality of working and make sure that other people will not interrupt you, or that you will be disturbed by other distractions such as phone calls.
Avoid listening to the same track repeatedly without taking small breaks. After listening to the same sounds for hours, especially in high volume levels, our ears tend to get tired. When this happens, lower the volume levels of the track so that you can have a more subtle perspective of the mix.
The audio mixing basics
First step you should take considering your mix, is to choose the best original sounds you can and apply them to your mix. It is better to build a great basis from the beginning when creating a music production or during recording, so that you can avoid unnecessary tweaking and changer later.
You want your mix to sound unified. To achieve this, you have to send multiple sounds to one track that is called the bus, and apply the same processors or effects to it. Using this method, you manage to give the perception that all sounds used in the same bus sound as if they match together.
Pay extra attention to your volume levels. Experiment with your sounds to determine which track you want to keep as lead sounds in your mix and enhance them and which ones you want to be more subtle.
Do not be afraid to try new things on your mix and tweak your tracks. Many times interesting things happen during the mixing process when you play around in the session, that you would not otherwise have thought of.
Create a basic balance of the levels and always try to have a mind-map of how you want your mix to sound, so that you can keep the process going. The tracks will start to work well with each other and new ideas will come up during the mixing process.
Always plan to broaden a stereo mix. Panning will help your mix sound cleaner and your sounds to stand out in a beautiful way. Sound with lower frequencies such as the bass or the kicks usually stay in the middle so that they can become the basis of the mix.
On the other hand, mid-high and high frequencies work better when they get panned. Avoid keeping them all in the middle because this will cause your track to sound either flat or noisy.
Equalization is the process of enhancing or cutting down the frequencies of the sounds, so that we can balance the overall sound of our mix. All sounds are made of frequencies, which are measured with Herz (Hz).
As a general rule, frequencies are distinguished into three categories: Low, Mid and High frequencies. Heavier sounds such as the bass or kicks are made of low frequencies, lighter sound such as snares, hihats and percussions are made of mid frequencies, and the really light instruments like the violin for example are made mostly of high frequencies.
That being said, it has to be noted that all sounds have both low, middle and high frequencies that play an important part to the final sound result of each track.
In addition to equalization, you can use filtering for results that are more precise. You can use filtering to clean the frequencies more accurately or to apply effects on your tracks, like low-pass or high-pass. Those two filtering processes are the best way to acquire a better understanding of how filtering works.
There are no golden rules or standard ways to proceed when equalizing or filtering. Even if a kick for example had to go through a certain process to stand out in a mix, this does not mean that another kick would have to go through the same process, even if they are made of almost the same frequencies.
Every sound has to be treated separately and be given special adjustments.
Carving equalization is applied after the main equalization process. It is used to blend all the different tracks together and correct their frequencies so that they sound properly when combined.
This form of equalization is used so that you can make it clear to the listener which are the main sounds and melodies of the mix, and which ones are there to fill in the mix rather than stand out. This means that sometimes you have to even cut down good frequencies of some tracks, in order to help the main ones sound better.
Generally, that with this method, when you have two tracks playing in the same frequency, you get to decide which one will stand out by cutting down the frequency levels of the other one, so that they interact properly together.
Experimenting with equalization
The third and most creative form of equalization, is the experimental. You can use this kind of equalization to boost your tracks or change completely the way they sound.
Experimenting with different equalizers may bring surprising results that will take your mix to the next level. You can also combine different equalizers together that may or may not work well with each other in order to bring out the personality of your tracks.
You can use audio compressors to limit the frequency levels of different tracks in the mix. It will balance the overall sound level of a track, by bringing down the louder parts and bringing up the quieter parts so that the sound of the tracks gets smoother.
You have to search and experiment in order to achieve the ideal range and practice will make you better over time. There is no way that all instruments are going to sound absolutely constant throughout the track, but compression is the process that can make those irregularities more subtle.
The purpose of compressing is to balance the dynamic ranges of the tracks in a mix. Gaining the appropriate experience is the best way to achieve satisfactory results, and this can be achieve by practicing and consistent learning.
Excessive use of compression may alter the sound of your tracks. You have to be very careful with compressors and always try to use them combined with volume gaining to acquire the best results possible. Otherwise, your songs will sound blurry and suppressed and instead of loud and warm, their overall sound will be just noisy.
Using noise gates
Noise that does not reach a minimum volume can be cut out with noise gates. This is often very useful for recording that were performed in noisy or crowded places. Noise gates can automatically cut down such background noises and clean up the track substantially.
Not all instruments or sound need to be processed by noise gate. For instruments that do not have a major role in the mix, you can simply lower the volume using the fader. Noise gates are also ideal when it comes to filtering out unwanted lower volumes of percussion, without losing the initial punchy sound.
In order to provide a louder, crispier and bring certain track channels back to life, you can apply noise gate to them and experiment until you reach to an ideal level.
The reverb effect
Reverb is used especially to tracks that include sound in the mid-high or high frequencies, in order to create space and make the mix sound fuller.
Reverb can be applied to almost every sound according to your liking. The reverb effect has the ability to create a sound space that sounds natural as if all the instruments were recorded in the same room, and make your mix sound more like things sound in real life.
Make sure that all the changes you make and the reverb effects that you apply to your mix are subtle, and try adding more only if you feel that the tracks really need it. Using too much reverb may cause some pretty decent sound to lose their natural frequencies.
Finalizing your mix
Compare and adjust your final mix by using reference mixes. Reference mixes are mainstream songs that you can use as guides in order to try to imitate their sound, so that you can achieve industry standard results.
Audio mixing takes times. Do not be in a hurry and do not try to manipulate the process in order to speed it up. Gaining experience and training your ears takes time, and you have to invest in daily practice in order to achieve this.
You have to enjoy the process and trust yourself when mixing songs. All people tend to be impatient when learning new skills but you have to be focus and keep practicing so that you can improve your capabilities and acquire more knowledge.
Do not be afraid to experiment, test and apply all new methods and techniques you learn on your mixes. Testing is the best way to improve your skills and remember that there is no right or wrong in the music industry. If it sounds right to you then it is right.
Breaking the rules is an important step for every artist, music producer or audio engineer in order to rise to the next level. You should never stop question the results you achieve, but at the same time, you ought to believe in yourself and your abilities in order to stay motivated.
Start working and practicing today.
The soon the better!