” Mixing is an art, not a science “- and you’d probably nod your head to it. As much as it’s an art form, it is probably fair to say it’s not Abstract Art. Most mixing engineers often take a step by step approach to forging solid mixes that translate well on almost any device. Here is a guide on how to mix music on your computer, in a sequenced flow :
I – GAIN STAGING AND PANNING
Every mix begins with individual gain staging. Applying gain staging leaves you with sufficient headroom to work with in the later stages of the mix. Usually, individual tracks peaking at -10db is considered to be a good starting point. You can do this by adjusting your tracks’ gain structure on each channel.
Next, move on to panning your instruments in the stereo field. Many a times, panning would expose most problems and what needs to be fixed.
II – PHASE AND PHASE ISSUES
Phase can be thought of as the time relation between two waveforms. If you have phase issues, it will usually result in noticeable combfiltering, a change in tone and timbre coloration.
Bumping into a recording with phase issues is a real pain for mixing engineers because there’s not much you can do lessen the effect. Conversely, if you have two acoustic guitar recordings, try inverting the phase or manually shifting the audio file. Open up your phase co relation meter for reference.
III – FILTERS AND SUBTRACTIVE EQ
Filters and subtractive eq are critical to creating more headroom and separation between instruments. While, it might appear simple, with filtering especially, it’s important to not overdo.
Insert a high pass filter on all of your tracks except the kick and the bass. This step alone will remove boominess and clear the low end.
For subtractive equalization, insert an eq and simply sweep through the frequency spectrum. Wherever you identify harshness or honkyness, attenuate that particular frequency.
IV – COMPRESSION AND FREQUENCY DENSITY
Compressors can be employed in a number of ways. One of the primary uses, is to manage levels and increasing rms of the overall mix. How much of compression you apply decides the dynamic range of the instrument.
We can also manipulate the ADSR envelope of an instrument using compressors. Doing this, allows us to place instruments in a front to back fashion.
V – SHAPING EQ
Equalization is probably the best tool that a mixer has to carve instruments and creating separation. When two or more instruments are fighting for the same frequency range, it can be a pretty bloody affair.
Use eqs to dominate certain frequency ranges, but never limit them to it. I can personally vouch that such a mix would sound horrific and end up in the bin. Remember, that our goal is to combat masking and still find a common thread to refrain the instruments from sounding alien when placed together.
VI – EFFECTS PROCESSING
Reverb and delays help us in defining the ambiance and texture of the mix. It is through these that we add depth, fill out the stereo panorama and place instruments in a front to back fashion.
Try putting reverbs on groups, to glue instruments together. For more check out this article !
VII – AUTOMATION
Contrary to term, Automation is what many engineers think adds the human touch to the mix. Automation can be applied to volume faders, bus sends or controlling the dry/wet levels on an insert effect- and this makes it extremely flexible.
Add automation to add the last touches to create, from subtle to soaring movements in your song.