Mixing is the art of blending different audio elements of a composition to create a fully developed idea which is usually a song.
There are various techniques that people employ to achieve this and there isn’t a one-fits-all way of doing things. The reality is that audio mixing does have rules but these rules all depend on ones perception of audio.
Which is why most people that are involved in audio or music production will come out right and tell you that the idea of a perfect mix is purely subjective.
With this said most people, especially beginners will always want to figure out the key elements that are crucial to mixing.
This post will cover the basic 3 things that are fundamental to any mix.
so let’s get into…
When it comes to mixing there is nothing that is more important than balance. It is crucial to have all your elements well balanced so you have the right cohesiveness and consistency through out the song.
The volume relationship between different mix elements is very vital because you’ll want to portray a good sonic balance that can be easy to listen to. The job then becomes pushing the volume up or down to try to get the appropriate level for each element and having a consistent volume through out.
Most newbies make the mistake of thinking they have a mix all done and finished once they get a good balance in volume but this pretty far from the truth.
You’ll need to also use tools to properly deal with the dynamic range that comes with your elements. This will involve utilizing tools like compression, limiting and gating. What these tools will essentially do is maintain a natural appropriate level within your mix that will keep it pleasant.
Compression will primarily be the tool that will help you get a good even volume consistency in your elements. It will be more applied to vocals because recording comes with the disadvantage of the impossibility of maintaining a consistent dynamic range because we are human beings after all, not machines.
Limiting is basically another form of compression that will help you sort of tame your mix to ensure that you don’t have anything peaking and going over 0db.
Gating will help you have more control over the overall dynamics of your various elements.
Another important aspect of mixing which is second on this list has to be dimension.
When mixing and mastering music this is one thing that every producer should be concerned with because you have to do it right.
Dimension basically is how your sounds relate with each other and how they fit into the overall stereo image.
It’s always good to think of the stereo image like a sonic image that is composed of various sounds.
Your speakers are basically left and right plus the centre that is a result of both your left and right speakers playing. the stereo image is right, left and centre of the sound landscape.
This is where we basically use tools like panning, delay, reverb to be able to add some ambiance and space to sounds. You’ll find that most industry professionals will say this is basically getting the mix “wetter” which is true because dimension comes with the actual goal of giving sounds a less dry and more wet feel so they can properly sit in the mix and be pleasurable to listen to by the consumer.
Delay is an effect that is commonly used as a way to add dimension because of its repetition effect that can help fill in the blanks within mix and create some width.
Similarly, reverb does a good job of creating space around sounds so they can sit and fit better in the stereo image.
Finally, panning is a more intentional way of physically moving a sound either to the right side or left side of the sound landscape. It is a very effective of way of balancing the stereo image and a good way of avoiding sounds from conflicting and clashing.
Interest is another huge aspect of mixing that has to properly be accounted for because you want people to listen to your record without easily getting them bored.
In short, the final third element that a mix should have is “specialness”. Music is all about invoking emotion. You do that by creating a journey for the listener to go on.
This is done by creating various effects, controlling dynamics, key changes, climax effects.
Various effects could include various vocal textures that can help the message be delivered with more precision. For example a song like Adele’s “someone like you” riles up emotion because of its ambiance, vocal textures and correlating instrumentation to go with the vocals.
Dynamics are also another part, the volumes of various elements should be able to rile up emotion and you as the producer will have to use your intuition and expertise at best to properly carry this out in an effective manner.
Key changes are also vital, but they are limited in their application. Not all songs require drastic key changes. Some times changing melodies can work sometimes they’re unnecessary.
Finally the climax effect should be the centre or the hook that captures and zeroes in on the emotion that is looking to be riled up in the listener. This takes a certain understanding of the genre and the message behind the song because not all climaxing effects are the same.