How To Mix a Song: Mixing for Beginners

Anyone who has ever tried to mix a song knows there are a lot of factors that go into getting the perfect sound. Learning how to mix a song is no easy task, and if you’re not familiar with the process, it can be tough knowing where to start. This article will walk you through the basics of mixing and show you how to get started.

What Does It Mean To Mix a Song?

The process of mixing, by definition, involves adjusting and blending all the recorded sounds, so they’re right where they’re supposed to be.

Music mixing makes all the instruments and effects sound harmonic.  The end goal is to bring out the best in your recordings and provide an enjoyable song. Four key factors to pay attention to are:

  1. Arranging audio levels for all instruments to be heard at the desired volumes
  2. Covering a broad spectrum of frequencies for the sonic palette to sound appropriately complete
  3. Adding effects to dry audio tracks to create a more satisfying result
  4. Removing mistakes that occur during instrumental tracking

This article aims to provide all the necessary basics on how to properly mix a song on your own after setting up your home studio. You don’t need an audio mixing console like those used in professional studios. A digital audio workstation (DAW) does the job just the same.

If you feel like you need an analog mixer, you can find plenty of cheap four-channel mixers that you can get online or at the nearest music shop, but an even better option might be a MIDI controller.

Preparation

Preparation is the key if you want to have the best mix possible. Set up your workstation to be comfortable, and you won’t have anything distracting you while you work. This will speed up the mixing process, but the mix itself always sounds better when you focus all your concentration on the song itself.

Once you choose the right DAW, you can set it up to your liking. We advise you to get to know your DAW as much as possible, for it should be your best friend through the whole mixing process. Here are some steps to help you out:

  • Create templates, especially if you don’t know how to get started. Almost all DAWs come with multiple basic mix templates, or you can create your own. This is a great way to start your mixing journey and develop your song mixing methods.
  • Naming and colour coding your channels will allow for easier navigation. This comes in handy when working with 20+ channels of instruments and effects.
  • Delete unused and unwanted tracks to clear your workstation.
  • Bus the individual instruments under one subgroup for easier mixing. Whatever effect you apply to a group will affect them all, saving you time.
  • Gain staging, in audio mixing, refers to adjusting the signal within optimal parameters to minimize any distortion or noise and keep a sound clear.
  • Tempo data and time signature tells you how many beats occur per measure and what kind of note designates one beat. Knowing the time signature and how fast the tempo is will spare you further difficulties down the road.
  • Labelling your song sections is far easier than scrolling left and right through the mix trying to find the beginning of the verse.
  • Importing a reference track will help calibrate your ears to the result you are aiming for.

Diving Into the Mix

Once your music masher is set up, it’s time to make your own music. The key elements of mixing are:

  • Levels
  • Panning
  • Pitch correction
  • EQ
  • Audio Dynamics
  • Time-based effects

Levelling the Mix

Achieving a good balance in your mix is essential to create a polished, professional-sounding song. Each element in your mix should be clearly audible but not so loud that it overpowers the other components. This can be a tricky task, but a few basic tips will help you achieve a well-balanced mix.

First, take a listen to your track and identify the main elements. These could include the vocal, drums, bass, guitars, etc. Once you have identified the main elements, you can adjust the levels accordingly. It’s important to leave some headroom in your mix, so don’t be afraid to slightly turn down each element’s level. This will give you some room to play with as you continue to mix.

Panning

When audio mixing, panning is used to sculpt your sound image with your instruments, whether they’re traffic noise or musical instruments. Bass, kick, snare and vocals are traditionally placed in the center to create the focal point of your mix.

A general rule is that the higher the frequency they emit, the more to the sides the instruments are.

Pitch Correction

When people hear of pitch correction, they often think of autotune. However, this popular feature in the process of song mixing is only one of many elements of the pitch-correcting tool.

Pitch correction modifies the original pitch of a recording. The most common uses in the mix are polishing the vocals, adding creative effects (think Cher or T-Pain), or creating harmonies.

Equalizer (EQ)

The frequency spectrum is divided into lows, mids, and highs, and the equalizer allows you to modify the precise frequency you want by cutting it or boosting it.

EQs are divided into:

  • Corrective (Surgical)
  • Carving
  • Creative

Corrective EQ

The best one to start with when you’re song mixing is a corrective EQ, which consists of low-pass and high-pass filters. These filters set limits to signals you want to let go through to your mix while the rest is left behind.

Carving EQ

A carving EQ is almost identical to the corrective EQ, with the difference being that now you are adjusting your frequency with other tracks in mind. This is when everything starts to fall into its place, all the pieces coming together to create the story out of your music track.

If you have two elements opposing each other at the same frequency, carve a space for each by cutting the frequencies on one and boosting the same range of frequencies on the other.

Creative EQ

The final and the most entertaining part is the creative EQ. This is where you play with your mix. Let your imagination run free. Mixing is an art. Experiment with different frequencies, cut or boost whichever part seems to need it. There are plenty of EQs specializing in different frequency spectrums, so play and no incorrect way of using them.

See what sounds good to you because chances are if it doesn’t sound good to you, it won’t sound good to anyone else.

Audio Dynamics

Dynamic range is the space between an audio signal’s quietest and loudest levels in audio mixing. A cymbal, for example, has a wide dynamic range as tone changes from the moment you hit it until it stops vibrating completely.

Compression is how you control the dynamic range, as you use it to change the volume of the sound during its entire life span. Different audio mixing methods use different types of compression. Be careful when applying compression as too much may muffle the sound, making it indistinguishable or lifeless.

Time-Based Effects

Reverb and delay are how you create the illusion of depth and space. This makes instruments seem further away or gives you the perception of a room. Other creative time-based effects can be used to create unique textures, add distortion to the mix or really make the vocal shine.

Whether creating a church hall effect, giving the vocal that divine echo, or even adding the concert effect, reverb, delay and echo are the things that give you that power, but always remember that moderation is key. Unless you want your mix to sound like it’s playing in a very deep well, set boundaries to the effects.

Play around and make your own music. Mix EQ with reverb – put the reverb before and EQ what’s coming out, or put it after and reverb whatever you previously equalized. Different audio mixing methods will bring you different results.

What Is Mastering?

There is one more additional step after the mix that you can do to make the mix fuller – mastering. You are still mixing the track, but the difference between mixing and mastering is that you do the mastering with the whole mix at once.

Mastering requires a new set of ears, a pair that is not biased to the mix, so it’s not uncommon for mastering to be done by a different engineer. If you do not have someone to help you out with mastering, one of the crucial mastering tips is to let your ears rest from the mix for a day or two so that you can come at it fresh and relaxed.

During the mastering process, you would typically add modest amounts of EQ, limiting, and compression in order to make the final mix compatible with the standards of today’s streaming standards. Typically this means that the track should be as loud as possible without undermining how the original engineer mixed the song.

The Step Back

By understanding the basics of levelling, preparation and EQ, you can start to mix your own songs with better results. Mixing and mastering songs is an art that takes time and practice to perfect, but following these simple steps will give you a good foundation to work from. Don’t be afraid to experiment – there are no strict rules when it comes to mixing, so find what works best for you and keep learning and refining your skills. With a bit of effort, you can create mixes that sound great and make your music stand out from the crowd. Ready to try it yourself? Start mixing today!

FAQ

Is mixing a song hard?

Mixing a song may be complicated but it’s a skill learned through trial and error. Choosing the right audio mixer, creating an outline of your work, as well as practising are all elements that make for a great mixing experience. 

What makes a good mix?

A good mix is clear and distinct enough for the listener to be able to recognize all the sounds.

What is mastering vs. mixing?

Mixing is working on each track in the mix separately and making them sound good. Mastering comes at the end of the process and deals with a track as a whole.

What are the types of mixing?

Mixing techniques differ from genre to genre, as well as from engineer to engineer. There are no specific types of mixing. How to mix a song is determined by what you mix and what kind of audio mixer you use. Audio mixers can be analog, powered analog or digital.

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