After tracks are recorded, the engineer begins the editing and mixing processes. The goal of mixing is to sculpt and blend all recorded tracks into one cohesive entity.
She or he may use four microphones on a single guitar amp, but ultimately those four tracks will be mixed together so the listener hears one recorded sound.
Whether you’re brand new to mixing or have hundreds of albums under your belt, there are several things all mixers should keep in mind:
- Before you start mixing, make sure you are content with your tracks. If you don’t like the tone coming from your amp, fix it. If you aren’t satisfied with how you played, try another take. Mixing won’t change your performance. It’s better to rerecord a sound than to spend hours working to manipulate it into something entirely different.
- There is no formula for creating a great mix. It takes time, trial and error. Only you can judge if your mix is finished.
- Every track has it’s own place within the mix. It’s important for your mix to have space so instruments aren’t crowding each other. Below, you can read about a few tools that can help achieve this.
Sound is made up of many different frequencies which is measured in hertz (hZ). The range of human hearing spans from 20 hZ (almost inaudibly low) to 20,000 hZ (almost inaudibly high). Equalization, called EQ for short, is the process of balancing these frequencies within your recorded signal. Many EQ plugins are presented with the range of frequencies on the X-axis and gain on the Y-axis. Subtractive EQ means lowering or removing frequencies from a recorded signal. If your guitar signal has too much high end hiss, scoop out some of the high end (often between 10,000 and 12,000 hertz) to get rid of it. Additive EQ means increasing frequencies within a recorded signal. If your kick drum sounds too thin, boost the low end (around 100 hertz) to give it a deeper tone.
Panning is the spread of a sound within the stereo field. A mono audio track means it consists of one channel and was recorded with one microphone. If you pan a mono track entirely to the left, you’ll hear it in your left headphone only. If you pan a mono track entirely to the right, you’ll hear it in your right headphone only. A stereo audio track has two channels panned fully left and right. Panning can add clarity to mixes by allowing each instrument to be heard more concisely and helping to create a wider stereo image. Some engineers pan the parts of a drum kit from the drummers’ perspective, meaning the snare and rack tom are panned slightly to the left and the floor tom is panned roughly halfway to the right.
Compression is the process of decreasing the dynamic range between the loudest and softest parts of your tracks. In a nutshell, compression boosts the quieter signals and attenuates the louder signals. Compressors come in several different varieties but all have a few common denominators. The threshold of a compressor decides how loud a signal needs to be before compression is applied. If the threshold is high, the signal will need to be loud for the compressor to activate. The ratio of a compressor lets you choose how much compression is applied to your track. The attack of a compressor decides how quickly the compressor will work once it has been activated and the release will determine when the compressor stops working after the signal has dipped below the threshold. Keep in mind compressing the dynamic range is not synonymous with making a track quieter. Many compressors allow you to add makeup gain for what may have lost while lessening the dynamic range.
After you mix a song, listen back in as many different places as possible – on headphones, speakers, your laptop or in your car for starters. These are just a few basic mixing tools but they can take your tracks a long way. There is no right or wrong way to mix tracks which means the process can be simultaneously daunting and liberating. Practice often and you’ll naturally hone your ears to what sounds best for your project.