The Indispensable Manual on Music Mixing

by Anders Johanson January 30, 2021 12 min read

Music Mixing Guide

Mixing, whether in a modest home studio or a professional space, is a highly subjective aspect of music recording. It is a topic that sparks various approaches and philosophies, with every mixer claiming that their method is the ultimate one. However, the truth is that countless variables come into play, influencing the outcome from one location to another. These variables range from obvious factors like room size and acoustic treatment to more intricate details such as microphone selection, placement, guitar amplifier power tubes, and even personal preferences for microphone and instrument cable brands. By providing the same tracks to two different producers, one would receive distinct final results, showcasing the remarkable variability of mixing.

This video from Waves’ YouTube channelThis demonstration illustrates the transformative power of two different mixes on a song, highlighting the impact of decisions made during the mixing process.

all producers. Regardless of the size or quality of your studio setup, these rules can help you maximize your potential and create great music. First and foremost, it's important to understand that having expensive gear doesn't automatically guarantee a good sound. While fancy equipment can certainly enhance your recordings, it's ultimately your creativity and skill as a producer that will make the biggest difference. So, don't feel discouraged if you don't have the latest and greatest gear. Next, focus on optimizing the space you have. Whether you have a dedicated room or just a corner of your apartment, make sure to organize and acoustically treat the area as best as you can. Use foam panels or bass traps to minimize unwanted reflections and create a more controlled sound environment. Additionally, learn to make the most out of your limited gear. Experiment with different microphone placements and settings to achieve the desired sound. Use effects and plugins to enhance the quality of your recordings. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can overcome the limitations of your equipment. Furthermore, invest time in developing your skills and knowledge. Watch tutorials and learn new techniques from experienced producers. Practice regularly and hone your craft. Remember, technology may change, but the fundamentals of music production remain the same. Focus on understanding concepts like EQ, compression, and mixing, as these skills will always be valuable. Lastly, embrace your unique circumstances. While it's tempting to compare yourself to others with better gear, remember that every producer has their own journey. Use your limitations as an opportunity to explore different styles and genres. Find ways to make your music stand out, even if it means working with unconventional tools or techniques. In conclusion, don't let the size or quality of your studio define your abilities as a producer. With the right mindset and approach, you can create incredible music regardless of your setup. Embrace your limitations, focus on the fundamentals, and let your creativity shine through. mixingGet ready to enhance your tracks with these fantastic tools available for instant implementation.

This compilation is by no means exhaustive or extensive, but it constitutes a compilation of crucial advice and factors to bear in mind when embarking on a music mixing session. Whether you are being paid a substantial sum to mix for a renowned band or assisting a friend with their singer/songwriter EP in exchange for a modest payment and some cups of coffee, these tips are applicable to every scenario. It would be absurd for someone to create an essential manual on music mixing and specify the gear that you "absolutely require" for achieving an exceptional mix or assert that a room must possess particular measurements and exclusive treatment from a specific brand in order to achieve the desired sound of a snare drum. You don't have to tirelessly search estate sales or constantly refresh Craigslist to find someone's MPC 2000 that they stumbled upon in their grandfather's attic, because that is the only method for sampling instruments and records and achieving a "good mix." Instead, there are fundamental principles that can be adhered to and implemented in any environment, with any equipment, and in any studio.

#1 - Familiarize Yourself with Your Equipment

goal is to create high-quality audio recordings, it's crucial to take a step back and reassess your current tools and resources. Instead of immediately spending money on expensive equipment or plugins, consider exploring the capabilities of your existing digital audio workstation (DAW). Believe it or not, some of the most powerful plugins may already be included with your DAW, waiting to be discovered. These stock plugins might have been overlooked because you were drawn to the allure of flashy, well-known brands. However, it's time to give them a chance. You may think that your lack of certain equipment is holding you back, but you won't truly understand your limitations until you fully comprehend your existing capabilities. Take the time to experiment with the tools at your disposal, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results. So, before you make any impulsive purchases, invest your time and energy into exploring what's available to you. Embrace the potential of your current setup, and unlock its hidden gems. By doing so, you'll gain a deeper understanding of your craft and elevate the quality of your recordings. DAWthem. And the reason for that is simple: Valhalla Room is just that good. With its pristine sound quality, versatile controls, and intuitive interface, it's the go-to reverb plugin for many professionals in the music industry. Sure, the Waves plugin bundle may offer a wide variety of options, but quantity doesn't always equate to quality. In fact, having too many choices can often lead to decision paralysis and hinder your creative process. It's better to have a few reliable plugins that you know inside and out, rather than constantly switching between countless options. So, while it may be tempting to splurge on expensive plugin bundles, it's important to consider whether you'll actually make use of all those additional plugins. Instead, focus on finding the ones that truly enhance your sound and workflow. And for me, Valhalla Room is one of those essential tools that I can't live without. reverbDo you know the reason why? It's because I have utilized it extensively, experimented with it extensively, and I am aware that I can quickly achieve a great sound. I'm not implying that you don't need to purchase additional plugins, as there are numerous companies that produce exceptional software. However, if you already possess something that can produce a similar outcome, save yourself the money and utilize that resource. I assure you, no one will be listening to your track in their vehicle and take the time to appreciate that you utilized the JLA 37 vintage tape machine plugin. Nonetheless, they will be able to discern whether your track sounds pleasing or not. Once you press the "publish" button on your track, making it available on platforms like Bandcamp or Soundcloud, nobody cares if you used Reaper or Pro Tools. Nobody knows if you utilized a Squier Stratocaster instead of a Fender Custom Shop. Only you will possess that knowledge, so familiarize yourself with what you already own.

In this captivating video, an incredibly talented metal enthusiast producer Adam GetgoodReimagined text with HTML markup:Mixes a drum kit solely utilizing the built-in plugins in Logic. With a plethora of albums and years of expertise under his belt, he achieved an extraordinary final outcome by solely relying on the features offered by this DAW. Absolutely no additional purchases, software bundles, or external tools were utilized – just the default resources.

#2 - A Good Mix Begins With a Quality Recording

It should be straightforward. If your source audio is of poor quality, your mix will also be poor. There are limitations to how much you can alter a poorly set guitar tone, a vocal take with microphone pops, or an untuned and neglected drum kit. You cannot always go back and re-record something that clipped due to high gain settings. If the sample pack you found is of low quality or has a low sample rate, no number of EQ plugins will rescue it. If your goal is to achieve the most professional mix possible with your equipment, ensure that you take the time to record everything correctly. A lot of wasted time and added stress can be avoided by making sure everything is properly set up. While it may still be subjective, I'm referring to the difference between correctly positioning a microphone on a snare drum versus having it a foot away and being surprised by the unsatisfactory sound.

There exist subjective elements, but there also exists common sense. If you already possess a concept of the desired sound for an instrument in the final product, endeavor to achieve as close as possible to that sound during the recording session. This will considerably save your time and effort that would otherwise be spent on making adjustments and fine-tuning minor details to reach the desired outcome. Instead, conduct research on diverse techniques for positioning microphones on various instruments, consider recording in different acoustic spaces if feasible, and do everything within your means to obtain an accurate recording. By doing so, when you progress to the mixing stage, you will have already accomplished the majority of the work.

#3 - The Majority of Your Mix Consists of Three Elements

tools that can enhance the sound and create a unique listening experience. Whether it's finding the perfect balance between the instruments or adding subtle effects, there is no shortage of options to experiment with. However, it's important not to get too caught up in these fancy tools and lose sight of the ultimate goal - creating a compelling and enjoyable track. Remember, the true magic lies in the creativity and emotion behind the music, not just the technical aspects. So, don't be afraid to explore new techniques and tools, but always keep in mind that the heart and soul of the track is what truly matters. effects When it comes to producing music, it's easy to get carried away with extra bonuses and fancy additions. However, it's important to remember that the most crucial elements of your mix are actually the simplest. Specifically, volume, panning, and equalizing are the key players that will truly shape the impact of your track. Believe it or not, with a good understanding of your equipment and a high-quality source recording, you can accomplish a great deal just by manipulating these three key elements. In fact, they serve as the foundation for the overall sound of your track. Once you have achieved the desired outcome using volume, panning, and equalization, you can then move on to the more intricate aspects of your mix. Compression, limiting, modulation, dynamic shifts, reverb, delay – the possibilities for fine-tuning are endless. But here's the catch: if you manage to create a solid mix without relying on these additional elements in your inserts or channel routing, your final product will sound even better. Remember, the more you pile on during the mixing stage, the greater the risk of your track becoming disjointed. So, focus on mastering the basics first and let your creativity flourish as you build upon a strong foundation.

The volume control is an invaluable tool that you should embrace. Utilizing it, you can effortlessly adjust the levels of every track and instrument in your session. Although this may seem like a basic and obvious concept, it is undeniably the most crucial aspect that you can manipulate. To gain a sense of how you should set your levels, a helpful technique is to initially lower everything completely. Gradually, incrementally raise the volume of each instrument one by one. Take note of how it harmonizes with the rest of the mix, and avoid overpowering one instrument with another, unless that is your intended effect. A successful mix requires a delicate balance, allowing every element to be distinctly audible. Therefore, take your time and execute your adjustments meticulously.

In this video from Warren Huart, a record producer, has his own YouTube channel called Produce Like a Pro. Discover the time and effort-saving benefits of mastering volume level adjustments.

Once you have adjusted your volume levels, you can proceed to adjust the panning of your tracks. This aspect, like anything else, can be subjective. Would you like your drum kit to sound as if it's coming from the perspective of the drummer or from the audience? How about the guitar lead lines - should they be panned to the left, right, or kept in the center? Utilizing the stereo field effectively will add a remarkable sense of depth to your track, even before applying any reverb or space-enhancing plugins - if you find them necessary at all after this stage. Paying close attention to the positioning of each instrument piece is crucial. Are you using a shaker sample? Why not try sending it exclusively to the right ear, and then send a transposed version of the same sample to the left ear for an added touch of flavor.

Once you have finished adjusting your volume and panning, you can proceed to equalization. This is the stage where you have the opportunity to manipulate frequencies in order to achieve a balanced sound. When it comes to equalizing, there are two main approaches or perspectives: subtractive equalization and additive equalization In the first technique, you achieve balance in your tracks by decreasing the volume of specific frequencies. This method is commonly preferred as it removes information from the tracks while preserving their original tone. In the second technique, you make adjustments by increasing the volume of specific frequencies. This approach adds information to the tracks, for example, a guitar tone that lacks mid-boost but has middle frequencies added during the mixing process will now have more than it initially had. There is no definitive right or wrong way to approach this, as it depends on the situation at hand. However, it is important to consider that most frequency increases or decreases may require corresponding adjustments elsewhere. If you desire a more prominent low-end thump and presence in your bass, it may cause your kick drum to no longer fit well in that particular spot, or vice versa. Take note of which instruments occupy various frequency spectrums and ensure that they do not compete with each other. This will assist in maintaining clarity in your mix.

#4 - Use Your Ears to Mix, Not Your Eyes

One of the greatest pitfalls that music producers often succumb to is relying on visual perception when it comes to mixing. It is common to assume that a certain sound level appears excessively high or to mistakenly believe that too much frequency is being eliminated based on the aesthetic representation in the plugin's user interface. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that the essence of mixing lies in using our auditory senses, rather than relying solely on visual cues. For instance, if you typically configure a compressor in a particular manner simply because it appears to be making a noticeable impact, you may be taken aback when actively listening and realize that its effect is entirely different from what you initially perceived.

Imagine you've just recorded a snare drum using your best techniques. Curious to learn how to mix it, you decide to watch a YouTube tutorial on snare drum mixing. Following along, you load the exact same plugins and configure them according to the tutorial's settings. However, to your surprise, your snare drum does not sound the same as the one in the video. There are multiple factors influencing the difference in snare tones, making it clear that mixing based solely on visual cues - matching what you think sounds right with what you think looks right - is ineffective. Instead, it is crucial to rely on your listening skills and determine the optimal sound for your mix. Even if it may not seem visually perfect, trust your ears to guide you towards the best outcome.

#5 - Keep it Simple When it comes to complex problems, it is often best to keep things simple. By simplifying the issue at hand, we can gain a clearer understanding and find more effective solutions. It is tempting to overcomplicate matters, thinking that a more intricate approach will yield better results. However, this can lead to confusion and inefficiency. By focusing on the core elements and removing unnecessary complexities, we can achieve greater clarity and streamline our efforts. Keeping it simple also helps with communication. When discussing complicated ideas or concepts, using plain language and avoiding jargon can ensure that everyone is on the same page. This promotes better collaboration and prevents misunderstandings. In addition, a simple approach allows for easier adaptation and flexibility. When faced with unexpected challenges or changes, complex systems can be difficult to modify or navigate. On the other hand, a simple structure allows for quick adjustments, making it easier to respond to unforeseen circumstances. In essence, simplicity is key in problem-solving. By keeping things straightforward and uncomplicated, we can eliminate unnecessary obstacles and reach our goals more efficiently.

Another pitfall that is easy to stumble into is the misconception that a well-balanced mix requires a plethora of elements, when in reality, a simple approach of adjusting volumes, utilizing panning, equalizing to suit your preferences, applying a handful of effects if necessary, and calling it a day can yield impressive results. There exist videos featuring seasoned professional producers and audio engineers effortlessly mixing a song within minutes. Admittedly, their extensive experience and countless hours spent perfecting their craft played a significant role, but it does highlight the fact that achieving a pleasing mix doesn't always necessitate excessive tinkering. Yet, we often trick ourselves into believing that complexity is the key to sonic perfection. This mindset is far from accurate. Mixing music is akin to Charmin Ultra - less is indeed more.

the link below: Check out this video. YouTuber Jon SineIn only a mere twenty minutes, he will guide you through effortless techniques to transform a song from an average recording to a remarkable mix.

#6 - Tune in to Various Channels In this digital era, it is common to access information and entertainment from multiple sources. One particular aspect of this is the ability to listen to various sources simultaneously. With the advancement of technology, individuals can now tune in to different sources and enjoy a wide range of content. It is no longer necessary to limit oneself to a single source of information or entertainment. Thanks to the convenience of modern devices and platforms, individuals can easily listen to multiple sources at the same time. Whether it is streaming music from different providers, tuning in to various radio channels, or multitasking with podcasts and audiobooks, the options are endless. By being able to listen on multiple sources, individuals can customize their listening experiences and cater to their specific interests and preferences. This allows for a more diverse and enriching auditory experience. Additionally, it provides flexibility and variety, as individuals can easily switch between sources depending on their mood or the content they wish to consume. In conclusion, the ability to listen on multiple sources is a valuable aspect of modern technology. It allows individuals to access a wide range of content and tailor their auditory experiences to their liking. So why limit yourself to just one source? Tune in to various channels and enjoy the abundance of options available to you.

go is a great way to analyze your music and make improvements. With the ability to listen to your mix on the go, you can identify any flaws or imbalances in the sound and make necessary adjustments. This can be particularly helpful for fine-tuning the overall EQ, levels, and stereo imaging of your tracks. Additionally, listening on the go allows you to experience your mix in different environments, helping you ensure that it translates well across various playback systems. So, take advantage of the portability and convenience of listening to your mix on the go and take your music production to the next level. monitorsenvironments as possible. It's easy to become familiar with the sound of your mix in one particular setting, like your untreated bedroom. However, that doesn't give you a true representation of how it will sound to others. By listening to your mix through various speakers and environments, you can get a better understanding of how it will translate to different listening conditions. Don't just rely on high-end studio monitors or headphones; try listening to your mix on different types of speakers, such as car stereos, portable speakers, and even smartphone speakers. Additionally, consider testing it out in different rooms with different acoustics. This way, you'll be able to identify any problem areas in your mix and make necessary adjustments. So, make it a priority to experiment with different speakers and environments when listening to your mix, and ensure that it sounds great no matter where it's played. headphonesFrom your least expensive option to your most expensive option, make sure to take notes and identify what is present and what is missing in each one. After that, return to your mixing session and try to make up for those deficiencies. In my previous home studio, I discovered that my tracks tended to have too much bass because the bass frequencies were not adequately represented in my room. What I believed to be the appropriate bass level turned out to be excessive, so I learned to use less bass than I initially anticipated, resulting in significantly different outcomes. It's disheartening to realize that after spending countless hours fine-tuning frequencies and settings to achieve the perfect sound, the majority of people who listen to your track will hear it through a phone's built-in speaker rather than high-quality studio monitors like the ones you have in your setup. The more sources you can use to listen to your mix and the more adjustments you can make to ensure consistent quality across all platforms, the more impressive the final result will be.

#7 - A Good Mix Can’t Fix a Bad Song A bad song cannot be fixed simply by having a good mix.

The same applies in reverse, where a well-crafted song can still be enjoyable despite a poor mix. Conversely, a skilled producer can mix a bad song and still produce an unsatisfactory result. Just like when recording your source tones, a good mix cannot salvage a subpar song or performance. To aid yourself or your producer during the mixing stage, it is crucial to write a song that sounds pleasing, flows coherently, and is adequately recorded at the very least. Adjusting panning and volume levels cannot rectify a terrible guitar recording or disjointed parts that do not harmonize. Enter a recording session fully prepared and poised to deliver your best performance. Seek out trusted individuals and share demos of your works in progress, request input on lyrics and song structure, and accept constructive criticism with the understanding that others genuinely want to assist you in improving, not attacking you for the sake of it. The quality of your performance during a recording session directly impacts the mixing process and the overall quality of your final product.

If it hasn't been clarified yet, I cannot emphasize enough the subjectivity of things during the mixing stage. However, any producer, regardless of experience, would concur with these fundamental suggestions. Acquiring a mix that sounds excellent doesn't require a plethora of plugins or an exceptional computer. It can be achieved through preparation, comprehensive knowledge of your gear, and a dedication to being organized and professional throughout the recording process. I trust that this guide has proven beneficial to you and that you can utilize these fundamental tips in your upcoming mixing session.

Anders Johanson
Anders Johanson

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