Tips & Tricks for Mixing: Audio Mixing Basics

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Getting Started

When looking to create a balanced mix for your project, there are several factors which determine whether your final mixdown ends up correctly optimised for the mastering process. You are best dealing with these early on in your writing process. Going back to 'fix' elements of the track could have a detrimental effect on automation levels, other signature sounds, and even the feel of the piece.

The modern music scene is not short of music styles. With the explosion of popularity in digital studio environments and the accessibility of high-quality plugins and virtual instruments, even the average bedroom producer is using sophisticated and industry-standard resources. This new world, in turn, has led to a radical shift in the popular styles, techniques and 'genres'.

There are several areas which can be tricky to get right. In future articles, we look at the common challenges producers face, and the processes you can implement at the writing stage to avoid issues pre-mastering.

Before we go into the technical aspects of mixing bass frequencies, there are basic housekeeping exercises you can carry out which enable you to calibrate your hearing and your expectations and intentions. These are a simple list of questions which you can ask yourself. Determining the answers sets you off on the right path.

What is my target genre?

This question may seem like an inappropriate one to ask. When writing and recording music, the idea is to remove restriction and allow creativity to flow. The idea of writing with a genre in mind may seem somewhat counterproductive to the creative process. Surely genres are for stacking shelves, (or creating playlists)?

When pitching your music to record labels, potential promoters, or even your growing fan base via social media platforms, listeners compare your track with others they like. It is a beneficial exercise to familiarise yourself with other music that may sit alongside your own. Understanding the relationship of the drums, bass and synths in a progressive club record is extremely useful to you if you are to write something that appeals to that audience and the influencers that play that music. The same is true of rock and ambient electronica. If your mix is out of proportion to the type of sounds other producers use, then your track may not work for that audience. A mix that is not sympathetic to your audience results in fewer streams, less radio play and makes it harder to get gigs.

To give you a headstart, listen to other respected tracks, particularly those made by significant producers within that scene. Records that are getting played on reliable podcasts and radio shows and those with very high levels of traction on streaming sites are working for a reason. Build playlists of respected bands, producers and labels. Before you start on your mix, choose one or two essential reference tracks to compare your mix with and to facilitate significant mixing decisions.

Where is my track going to be played?

A big room EDM track is likely to be played on large sound systems at festivals and in clubs. Very often these sound systems are wired up in mono. Large numbers of stereo effects and wide panning may cause mix issues when your track is played back, with entire parts lost in the resulting signal. Although the effect is less severe, many of these tracks find their way onto systems with mono sub-woofers and stereo mid-tops. So mono'ing frequencies below a certain threshold is an intelligent mix decision.

Jazz, classically inspired and orchestral music is more likely to be played on reasonable quality HiFi systems, and good quality headphones and so in this instance more extremes of stereo are appropriate. Even wildly experimental music, ambient and chill-out music is more at home on earbuds, home equipment. It is fair to say that promoters of events that feature niche music are generally more anal about sound too, and so experimental music, even when electronic, is often more stereo oriented.

When it comes to bands, it is usually fair to assume that tracks appear across a wide range of platforms. Get to know your fan base. Talk to sound engineers at gigs, and build an understanding of how they approach live mixes. If you have a DJ or Controllerist within your line up, you may have to blend elements of live band mixing, with the more clubby sound.

Of course, all of these are generalisations and experimentation is the name of the game. Even so, build an understanding of your audience, your gig environments, and what influencers like to play. Very quickly, you can calibrate your ear to the accepted levels for your chosen field. This process is especially useful when putting together a new band, or when starting to create a new musical identity.

Preparing your room for mixing

The art of studio design is both detailed and subjective. That aside, there are some simple preparatory steps which ensure mixing sessions are productive and deliver the best results.

Four practical tips for getting better mixdowns

  1. Noise reduction: Eliminate noisy computer fans, air conditioning units, beer fridges and anything else that delivers constant intrusive sound. These noises tire you out and ultimately affect your mixes.
  2. Reduce reflective surfaces: Patio doors, shiny surfaces like plastic and concrete, and stark decor add reflections to a room. Use backdrops, rugs, and heavy furnishing to dampen the room down—the less reflective the room, the fewer frequencies are bouncing around.
  3. Treat the room: If you are going to mix music successfully, you cannot avoid this. Reducing reflective surfaces is one stage, but you must add acoustic tiling to problematic areas of the room. Go for bass traps first, as very often they deal with errant mid-hi frequencies too.
  4. Vary monitoring: A session should involve listening on monitors, in closed-back headphones and in open-back headphones. Jump to laptop speakers, mono Bluetooth speakers, and the car stereo. Variety of monitoring helps with a more balanced mix. Treatment is a subject we intend to delve in too much further in other articles, however, to get you going you can also check this excellent article out here.

Now you should be ready to start mixing down objectively. You have a good understanding of your musical direction, and your room is on its way to becoming as good as it can be. Its time to start mixing. In part two of this series, we are going to start looking at the actual processes involved in mixing and how you can ensure your track is ready for mastering. The first area we consider is bass. To make sure you get the down-low on the low down, why not click here and subscribe to our newsletter. We would love to keep in touch.

In the meantime, keep listening objectively, and build your influences without prejudice. Your ears are your most significant friend.

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