Audio Mixing Techniques and Tips for Beginners

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Written By Tanya

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To polish an audio mix, you don’t need to be a professional. These are the most important audio mixing tips. The basics of audio mixing can make songs look great and less painful.

A terrible song can be made to be listenable by skillful mixing. An embarrassingly written song can be made to sound better. An experienced mixer can help you transform a boring song into something extraordinary.

A great song can be a worldwide sensation when it is crafted with the precision of an elite mixer. It can launch careers, change lives, and affect the professional paths of artists and touch the hearts of many listeners.

Everybody has heard polished audio on television and radio, and knows how music should sound. Recognizing and creating music are two completely different things. It’s not an easy task to create a soundscape that is universally appealing by massaging a song.

Mix engineers must have both technical skills to use the software and muses to get a song’s direction.

Mixing is not an easy task. However, there are some basic guidelines that you can use to help you get on the right track. This article will discuss the six elements of an aural composition, and offer mixing tips.

These essentials can be tackled in the order they are presented. Your tracks will work together and you’ll have a pleasant experience.

Use the tips above to avoid making the same mistakes. Your chances of finding new opportunities and a better life will never be lost.

Mixing is a game with diminishing returns, but don’t panic. It is possible to make a great mix in a fraction of the time it takes (which is only a matter of taste, preference and personal preference).

Core Audio Mixing Techniques

These are the fundamentals of audio mixing techniques that must be understood in order:

  1. Volume
  2. Panning
  3. Frequency
  4. Imaging
  5. Dynamics
  6. Effects

Let’s examine each of them individually to see how they contribute to the overall mix.

VOLUME

Although it’s tempting to get on to the fun stuff right away, it is important to balance the amplitudes for each track before you can have any good vision or hearing. To do this, turn the volume knob until each instrument is at the same level of loudness as you would expect from the final product.

Due to dynamic variations, you won’t be able to get it right the first time. You want to create a canvas that can be panned and EQ’d before being compressed.

Beginning users will scream from the high peaks that they need to pan first. They claim it is too difficult to hear every track in the mix if they are all arranged in the middle.

Some of the greatest mixes of all time were created in a time where mono mixing was the only choice. The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and many others released their masterpieces in mono, up the middle with crystal clear clarity. Don’t waste your time whining, get on with it!

Tips for Audio Mixing: Every mixing board, digital or physical, has a toggle button that allows you to change the stereo channel to mono. It’s a great way of ensuring that your mix is balanced and clear.

Stereo is the same as mono. If there are problems in stereo, it will be obvious. Radio stations will continue to broadcast mono, and listeners located off-axis can pick up on glaring problems.

PANNING

You are now ready to start panning, Mr. Ancy Pants. There are some expectations you need to follow when fleshing out your stereo fields. Rules are not meant to be broken. However, this isn’t the right place to surprise your listeners.

For instance, most schools of thought recommend keeping your kick drum, vocals, and bass centered. These are the dominant frequency ranges. They will create an anchored balance for both speakers and share the responsibility of thumping them out.

Mixing is both a science and an artistic process. If you stay too far away from current trends, most listeners will dislike it. But you can express your opinion as well. As you listen to your favorite albums, see how other mix engineers move instruments.

Some people pan the drum kit like they were directly in front or behind it. Some push the drum kit to the right and left channels, while others kick the entire drum kit except the snare. You can spread your tracks across the stereo field, or keep it in clusters. But remember, clarity is what you want, not preference or ego.

Pro Tip: You started in mono (right!?) You need to be familiar with the Pan Rule so that you can adjust your settings accordingly. You can pan left or right to see the amplitude of your tracks decrease. To compensate, you will need to increase your volume.

FREQUENCY

Your sounds are now at relatively high volumes and spread across the sound stage. However, things are still not clear. This is because sounds that are panned together may still be causing problems in certain frequency ranges. This can be solved with equalization (or EEQ).

You can play each track alone and fix any problems like hum, noise, or sibilance. Each track should be highlighted with unique and interesting aspects. However, the goal is to leave the best behind while other sounds can exist around it. Here are some examples of the sonic footprints from various instruments

You don’t have to be limited to a parametric or graphic EQ. You can silence whole sections of the frequency response range with a low-pass or high-pass filter.

You can then treat each track individually, adjusting the EQ to fix and spot problems in their harmonic and fundamental ranges. First, get them to sound great together.

Tip: When EQing, don’t be focused on what you can add. Never boost, but cut. Instead, focus on what to eliminate. It’s not uncommon to make tracks too loud or leave unintentional sonic footprints when boosting. If necessary, reduce the volume and compensate by increasing it if you need.

IMAGING

Now each instrument sounds great and has its own horizontal space. You can now deal with the vertical aspect of each instrument by looking at its frequency range in relation all the others. You can start by making tracks that are panned close together more clear.

You can then compare the panned clusters using the mono trick described above. This will ensure clarity even in sub-optimal listening environments and listening positions.

You’ll be able to anticipate this stage in the future as you make your panning decisions (and maybe the songwriter did the same when orchestrating). Example of frequency range dominance and sharing

You shouldn’t use tight Q’s anymore at this point. You have already refined each track. Broad Q’s are now necessary to cover a wider range of frequencies. You won’t have to interrupt your previous work by using smaller Q’s or making larger cuts.

Avoid falling for the temptation to mix visually. You can have sounds that share a portion of the frequency spectrum, but still make crystal clear sounding. Don’t look at anything (except the image above, which helps to illustrate the points of dominance and sharing frequency ranges, as well as the tip below).

Pro Tip: Voices, instruments and instruments all share a dominant frequency range which represents the distinctive sound signature. To identify the track’s middle section, you can sweep a Q of medium width with a slight boost. You can then perform a permanent minor cut at the same frequencies on other instruments that are competing for the same aural space.

DYNAMICS

Your mix is beginning to sound like it understands what it is doing. But something is missing. Compression is the “something”. Listeners have come to expect greater compression levels as the times have changed. This is largely due to radio stations competing for volume.

It is what it has always been. A high compression ratio with low thresholds would be great for pop music, but it would ruin a classical performance. Make wise choices.

Compression is used to dynamically reduce the amplitude of each track’s waveform. This results in a consistent volume and eliminates fast-attacking spikes or dips.

Sometimes, a singer’s body can move around in front of the microphone stand, resulting in inconsistent volume in an otherwise great performance. Perhaps the bassist played that one string too hard in the second verse. It is your job to fix it.

Automated solutions are best for very obvious issues. Next, use a compressor to reduce the track’s overall feel. Other audio mixing tips are related to compression, such as side-chaining with an EQ.

This method allows you to duck the bass by increasing the decibels each kick drum hits. It also increases clarity in areas where they would otherwise have to share the same frequency range or panning space.

You can adjust the attack and release to emphasize the sound of a guitar string, or make it more smooth. There are many ways to compress your sound, but less is more. The rule of thumb is to compress it as much as you want, then reduce it a bit.

Pro-Tip: Always, I repeat, always EQ before you compress. Your compressor is operating across the entire frequency range. A sound that isn’t desired crosses the threshold first will cause compression to be applied to all frequencies. This can often happen when you don’t want it. To avoid this, make sure you use EQ to clean up your tracks.

EFFECTS

Now you are listening to the most boring, clear and boring song in history. This is because you’ve not used any spacial effects that can create a feeling of wetness.

Here is where your subtle and artistic choices can really shine. Untrained listeners may not be able to tell why they prefer one mix over another at this stage, but the choices made here are.

You have the chance to amaze your listener by using some ear-candy. You can draw attention to certain sections of your song by adding or removing an effect.

Mixers like to build walls of sound, create a drier soundscape, and make an effect to suggest or highlight an emotion or reproduce certain listening environments.

You can use shorter, warmer reverbs with more compression to create intimacy or longer, metallic delays to create a feeling of depth and impersonal coldness.

You should choose what is most appropriate for the song, the lyrics and the emotion that the songwriters and performers are trying to convey, and not what you like (especially if it’s your second job).

Pro Tip: Delays and reverbs applied after compression can make your mix sound dull and unnatural. In real life, they are influenced by dynamics. You can breathe life into your mix and keep the core clean by using a bus to route the uncompressed track to a dedicated effects channel. The reverb will respond to the performance’s natural characteristics and will also swell or decrease.

This allows you to bring realism and charisma back into the song, while still maintaining a consistent and clear experience. You can also find all our reverb mixing techniques here.

Quick Audio Mixing Tips

The following quick tips will help you get started in the game of mixing. Many of these tips are familiar to veterans, but it’s worth a quick reminder.

Take your time, and use these 10 tips to create your next mix.

1 If your DAW is Digital Audio Workstation, take the time to study all the shortcuts. If necessary, label your keyboard. Software distractions are less distracting and allow you to focus more on the art.

2 Many effects plugs have wet/dry ratios. This saves you time when routing buses around. These plugins are great!

3) Use mix templates with general settings to save time and add plugins to labeled tracks for faster launch times when working with new songs.

4) Get familiar with the best mixing headphones and a set in your control room. Cross-referencing will be consistent and reliable. You can also check your mix at different volumes.

5) If in doubt, record in stereo. You can also add a room mic or an overhead. You don’t have to stick with 8-track recorders. It is possible to spend more and have more options for mix time.

6) Mix at least 3db, if not greater, of headroom on a 24-bit computer. Your final mix can be mixed without being normalized or squashed. The mastering engineer should have the space to do his job.

7) Boom Vocal Up and Down versions, as well as a set of Gang of Four stems after you’re done with the mix. This allows you to keep your leasing and promotional options open.

8) The Subgroup tracks are your drums. With one fader, you can change the volume of all the kit simultaneously without disrupting their relationship.

9) Do not ship your mix as soon as it is finished. You can leave it alone for a few days and then come back and listen again with fresh ears. This will save you (and your career) many times.

10) You can learn mixing jargon to communicate with other musicians. Although terms like warmth, fullness and punch are subjective, they still refer to certain frequency ranges.

Bad audio mixing techniques are to be avoided

We see a lot of rookie mixing errors, which can be easily avoided. These can be related to the acoustic and frequency response of the monitors as well as being aggressive in trying to fix or coerce tracks.

TOO LOW-END

Low frequency bass is literally good. It vibrates us gently and we feel it as much.

This is what newbies are trying to do in their music. However, they don’t realize that the bottom end of the mix can be the most delicate and difficult to master. These two issues are simple: a bottom that is too loud and undefined, and a muddiness that clouds the mix like murky water. Handsome acoustic treatment at Prime Cut Studio

How to Fix: Acoustically treat the control room using bass traps in the corners. Prime Cut Studio, Nashville, TN, has provided the photo. They effectively use bass traps, reflection panels and clouds to manage unwanted constructive and destructive interference issues.

Use monitors that have the lowest frequency response possible. Your monitors and your headphones should be properly placed in an equilateral triangle, with sides no less than 3 feet in length. The triangle should point down into the long direction of your room with your head at the 38% mark. Mix room set-up courtesy of Real Traps

PAINFUL TREBLE

A large, rich low-end can be delicious, but a crispy, succulent high-end can also seduce young mixers. Many novice mixers mistake brightness for clarity, so they use high-pass filters and exciters throughout the mix.

Mixers may also have caused damage to their high-end hearing, which can lead to a sizzle and sharpness that can be very irritating to hear. This can make entire albums impossible to listen to.

How to Fix:Don’t abuse high-pass filters or succumb marketing about exciters. If necessary, use a de-esser to enhance your vocals. Sibilance can be unbearable and distract from the art. You can either nip it in the bud, or you risk losing everything.

PEAKING AND DISTORTION

Studio culture is a place where you can see that today’s music lacks dynamics and is louder than ever.

While professionals are capable of creating songs under such conditions, novices who attempt to duplicate it often track boost and bounce too hot, leaving listeners with a distorted mix that is flat and dead.

How to Fix: If you are not sending the mix off to mastering, you can use a limiter. If you don’t want the mix to be sent off for mastering, make sure you leave enough headroom. The mastering engineer will give you the results you desire. You can leave up to 10db of space in a 24-bit environment. Loudness is possible later. Mix first.

TRACK MISALIGNMENT

Even on high-end albums, this problem can slip through. Sometimes, you just end up with an unplaced sample when cutting and pasting choruses or bouncing a mix.

Although the sample might start a few milliseconds too early or late, it is not noticed by people who are familiar with the song. However, all new listeners will notice it instantly. This could be due to human error or software problems.

How to Fix: Sending tracks around for collaboration is the most important cause. Leave enough blank space at the beginning of a vocal file, even if it doesn’t produce sound after the minute-and a half mark. This prevents placement errors. You should always double-check the final mix by listening carefully for any errors or muted tracks.

These audio mixing tips will take you far

Apply the tips to improve your audio.

Without a mixer, no band or artist can record a song that sounds as good live as it does on the album.

They wouldn’t have any fans if they just bounced the song around without thinking about the six elements. Mixing well is crucial.

As the mixer, you can literally make or break a song by adding your creative flair. These audio mixing tips will help you get the hits and continue to earn royalties every day. Good luck!

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