Basic Mixing Concepts You Need to Know

The art of mixing is about finding the right balance and underlining the vibe of the track. And that is not too easy, especially when you are new to it. When I finished my first ever track that was going to be released and showed it to a friend in the studio, he said “very nice, it just needs a good mix now and then you are good to go!” – I was completely confused. What is mixing about?

Don’t worry, mixing is actually not about using the most complicated effect chain on every sound, but it is essentially about frequencies, dynamics and dimension. Frequencies can be controlled by equalizers. Some can add specific color to the sound (like PuigTec EQ, Manley Massive Passive, …) while others are very linear (e.g., Fabfilter Pro Q3, Ableton EQ Eight, …). Use linear equalizers for demasking sounds that overlap, but when it comes to changing the tone of a sound for aesthetic reasons try out some that add color.
With compressors you can control dynamics. Sounds can be put upfront in your mix by compressing them and thus reducing its dynamic range, while at the same time it is also a very useful tool to glue a group of sounds together (like your drum bus). Dimension is what makes your track lively and breathing. Reverb and delays are the most common tools to create spaces in your track.

Think of those as real-life rooms! If you got a strong, aggressive techno track you probably don’t want your hats and percussions to be drowned in long reverb tails but to be punchy and upfront instead, while the background pad that adds atmosphere might use a lot of reverb and delay to fill the space between the other sounds. Panning and stereo width are also part of the dimension and help to separate sounds as well. Don’t be afraid to keep some stuff in mono too! When starting to mix, the wide range of possibilities might make you feel a little overwhelmed. Depending on the genre you are working in, you will have a framework of characteristics your mix should have though to compete with others. But how can you find these?

One of the things every mixing engineer will do is work with a reference track to match the mix with. It is an extremely powerful technique that can help you find the right levels of bass, highs, overall tone, stereo width, compression and loudness for your track. Using a Spectral Analyzer or Loudness Meter can also help to identify those characteristics. The hard thing about mixing now is to do only the things that are necessary and to not kill the mix by applying too much processing. A good way of working around that is the following technique: Listen to your track from the beginning: Whenever you hear something, you’d like to work on write it down. Keep on listening until you have three things to fix and then get them done relatively fast.

You should never be stuck on a sound for too long, since your ears will get used to what it is like and you won’t be able to decide what is good or bad about it anymore. When you finished all the three notes, go back to listening from the beginning and again write down three things that you want to work on. Repeat this process over and over. It helps you avoid two of the biggest mistakes: Changing things that have actually been good and loosing overview of the track. The most important advice though is very general: Simply try to mix in short sessions. Your ears will get tired of the track pretty fast and therefor you will not be able to hear all the nuances anymore when your ears are overtaxed. That goes along with splitting producing and mixing.
Focus on the creative part when you are writing the track and wait with the mixing process for at least one or two days (the longer the better though!). When you try it, you will be amazed by how obvious certain problem will seem to you when your back on it for the first time after some days and how easy mixing can be.

article by Kos:mo for weltsound