In this article I wanted to share a few things to keep in mind when it comes to getting a great mix. These techniques are not only for beginners but also for the seasoned pros as well. Any great engineer should have a few things in mind before they start their work. These tips will serve more as a foundation that can sustain your mixes for year to come.
I’m not going to explain what audio mixing is because there are other good sources like Wikipedia who do that well. I’m just going to assume that you have a basic understand of what it is. What I hope to do is give you some actionable steps to use in your mixing workflow.
Your Listening Levels
Even before you get your hands on anything in your DAW and begin mixing your music, you would be smart to set up your monitoring levels from the get go. It doesn’t matter if you are mixing on your headphones or speakers, you should set a proper and consistent level that will remain as your go to volume for the entire mix.
Even the tiniest amount of volume change during the mixing process can obscure how you hear your project. So try and find a spot that you are comfortable with and then stick to that. And how do we find that spot you ask? The best way to judge the level is if you can have a conversation with someone with out having to raise your voice, than you are definitely in a sweet spot.
There’s many reasons why you want to mix your music at lower volumes but here are a couple: better frequency response, less room noise, and your ears will thank you later.
Proper Gain Staging
Now that you have your monitoring levels all ready to go you are going to need to do a little more house cleaning before you start mixing. This is where gain staging comes in. Your tracks are either too hot or too low and you need to set them in an optimal range.
What we are trying to achieve is a level that makes sense but also gives us enough headroom. Because if your master track is dangerously close to clipping then you will have problems. Digital clipping is the worst thing you can do to your tracks. The best way to do this is to add some type of gain plugin which will turn down the input of the track.
If you play back the song now, and you have about 25% of headroom on the master fader, then you are most likely in a sweet spot and you can continue on your music mixing journey.
The Volume of Your Tracks
The last point I want to drive home is probably the most important of them all. Now we want to try and establish the best possible fader position for each track in our mix. You may have done some of this stuff already but this is where you want to finish it off.
Every track in your mix is going to have a sweet spot at where the fader should reside and it’s your job to try and find out where that is. Your going to take a lot of listening to the tracks over and over. It’s your job to find the spot for each track where it delivers it’s optimal impact on the record. Of course, it’s not going to be perfect but it should make your mix sound more musical. At this point you are 90% of the way to mixing your song, congratulations!