How To Mix Music (Part 2)
Learn How to Mix Music in Your Studio
Every time you mix audio in your own home studio, your skill level and the quality of your production work will get better. Mixing is one of the key areas involved in making your own music, and I think developing this skill is one the best investments of your studio time you can make.
It's true that getting started can be quite hard at first, as there's a lot to learn and take in during those initial stages. But mixing your music can bring a track to life and help to highlight the great parts in the song - which is probably why, for me, it's one of the more exciting and interesting parts of music creation and production.
I've outlined some simple tips and techniques to help you get started on the road to becoming a great mixer.
Balancing the Mix
A question I often hear, especially from those who don't yet have much experience in mixing sound or mixing a song, is 'where do I start?'.
Different mixers start from different places, so it's hard to give a concrete answer to this question. But I think there are some common starting points that can be used to help you get started with your mixing:
- Start with the balance of the drums and the bass, as this can give your production a solid platform on which to build.
- Don't mix audio too loudly, as your ears can tire quickly which can affect your judgement. If you can get your mix to sound good at a quieter volume, then when you turn it up it'll sound even better.
- Check your mix in mono. If there's anything in your mix that's out of phase between the left and right channels, then summing them to mono will cause these signals to do funny things, maybe even completely disappear. You can fix these issues if they arise. You want your mix to sound good in mono as your production may eventually be listened to on a mono source, like on a small radio or an old car stereo.
- Pan your kick drum, bass, and lead vocals centrally, helping to stabilize the mix.
- Spread other instruments across the stereo field.
- Add effects as necessary to help with the space and depth of the mix.
- Here's a useful little trick: check your mix from another room, but leave the door open between the rooms. Anything that is too loud or too quiet will immediately stand out, and you can then adjust them in the mix.
- Check your mix on a pair of headphones, where you can listen to the smaller details and you can check the sounds across the stereo field (don't mix audio on headphones though - the results are usually pretty poor).
- If you have a particular song by a favorite artist that you're trying to emulate the sound of, load it into your computer so you can listen to it over your studio monitors. A/B the two tracks - compare it to your own mix, which can help you to learn how these favorite mixes of yours were created.
Problems with Mixing Sound
Now and again you'll come across problems and issues if you want to mix your own music. Here are some tips that I think may help:
- Take a break! Your ears can get tired easily when you're actively listening to music for hours at a time.
- Get a rough initial mix without using EQ or effects and work from there.
- Is the mix too busy? Are all those parts needed? Try placing some elements of your production lower in volume or farther back using reverb, or maybe even cut them out completely.
- Is there too much going on in the mid-frequency range? This can happen quite easily. Try using EQ to thin some of these sounds out and to create more sonic room for vocals and instruments to sit in. Remember, the important thing is how a track sounds within the whole mix, not how it sounds when listened to in isolation (when the solo button is turned on or when other tracks are muted).
- If your synthesizers aren't working, try out some new sounds.
- Take away some effects if your mix is sounding a bit messy.
- Try different panning positions, or use different effects. For example, if your guitar sounds too distant with the reverb you've used, try a delay setting instead.
- There's nothing really stopping you remixing your own tracks so you can get more practice - try remixing an old track from a completely different starting point, and then compare the two to see the contrast and the variation that a new approach can produce.
- Experiment and try new things out!
Answering the question of how to mix music can be difficult, as there are so many ways to approach the task. Everyone will have their own favorite way to mix audio in the studio, and the only way to discover your preferred method is with constant mixing practice.