Mixing in music production can be an intimidating prospect for a beginner.
Once you start to understand the basics, you can start looking at it as a more artistic process, rather than just a technical or scientific one. With these basic steps, you can start mixing music from pretty much wherever you are, because you don’t need a professional studio to do it – in fact, your bedroom will do!
What Is Mixing Music?
When you’re creating a song, there have several different components that can be recorded separately and sound great, but putting them together can sound dislocated and cluttered. Mixing these individual sounds to create one cohesive one is what the art of mixing music is.
There are different mixing software to choose from, so be sure to research them before you jump in headfirst. Balancing different sounds, frequencies, and volumes can take time to perfect, but if you start bearing the components of music mixing in mind, you’ll be able to start improving your mixes.
Many of the frequency issues found in a music track can be fixed using an equaliser tool. Equalisation (sometimes abbreviated to EQ) refers to the balancing of frequencies when mixing music – this can be either to remove unwanted frequencies or boost others.
Quite often, a high pass filter can be used to remove all frequencies below a certain level, whilst leaving higher ones untouched. This can remove sounds like environmental noise, and plosives in the vocal track (i.e. the harsh sounds of b, t, p). Low pass filters work in the opposite way, by filtering higher frequencies. Notch filters remove a more narrow band of frequencies. These filters can all be used from an EQ plug-in.
It’s important to not get carried away when it comes to EQ. If you make too many or too larger adjustments then the sound of the audio can be negatively impacted. It’s therefore better to keep it simple by focusing on either boosting certain frequencies that will correct sections or cutting frequencies out that clash.
Audio compression is a way of reducing the range between the softest and loudest parts of the song. Evening out the dynamics of the individual recordings of each instrument, and between different parts of the song (which naturally have louder and quieter bits), helps to create a smooth listening experience without constant dynamic shifts. There are compression and gain plug-in tools that can help you balance and even automation processes to balance volumes across different instruments.
After equalisation and compression, you should now have a decent and balanced mix on your hands. Now, you can start playing around with some effects that can add dimension to your track. Panning helps to create space in your track, to avoid different sounds and instruments competing with each other. You can pan (i.e. move) sounds left or right from the centre; this will spread the sound between speakers.
Generally, vocals are kept in the centre to keep them as the main focus for the listener, and kick drum and bass should normally be kept centre too. If you’re struggling to grasp panning as a concept, you can listen to songs through headphones and listen to which ear you can hear different instruments coming through.
Reverb is the interaction of a sound with its environment where it is manipulated as it reflects off surfaces. Enhancing and adjusting this increases the depth of the sound. This can be done during the recording process by changing the room – generally, you want to reduce the effects of reverb by having furniture and materials that absorb sound because adding it in after is a lot easier than trying to reduce it.
To add reverb, you need to create a return track to patch your reverb inline. You can then select your reverb type, and the size, and set the decay. Setting the decay is one of the most important aspects because it will affect the time it will take for the sound to return to silence.
This refers to how you alter and change a soundwave from its original form. This is technically what you are doing with the other effects we’ve mentioned too, but this is more intentional.
There are different types of distortion which include the following.
Harmonic distortion: this is when a processor enhances the overtones of the original recording.
Inharmonic distortion: this is the opposite. It’s usually something you want to limit because the frequency components aren’t musically related to the input. This can be utilised if you are trying to add a grungy or jarring tone to the music.
Clipping: this is when a processor is pushed beyond its maximum capacity, which creates a kind of harmonic distortion. This can add a really cool layer to your music by making certain signals appear louder without using additional headroom (headroom is how much room your audio signal has before becomes distorted).
These are pretty much how they sound. Limiters are devices that limit the audio from exceeding a certain volume. This means that a signal can be read and then will prevent the audio from going any louder than the volume that you set. Using them can increase the perceived loudness of a section of the audio by increasing the average volume of the audio (i.e. it increases the volume of quieter instruments and sounds). The importance of this is that it can increase the entire volume of a song without it becoming distorted.
Now you know the basics when it comes to mixing music, you can start experimenting. Play around with equalisation to adjust frequencies, compression to control volumes, and reverberation to change the depth of the sound. Using various types of distortion and Finding different tools and plug-ins that suit your style can take some time, but they will be crucial in ensuring you become more efficient at mixing music, as well as creating the perfect sound and music track.