The Fundamentals of Mixing

Mixing is the stage at which all the sounds come together to be blended as one.

A great mix can be defined as having a perfect balance of the following:

  1. Instruments
  2. Tone
  3. Space
  4. Interest

Instruments

Achieving the correct balance of instruments can be a key success of a song. Balance of instruments means having a perfect number of instruments playing at any one particular time in a song. Although important, it is often overlooked in the mixing process. More often than not, the number of instruments playing at once is not in balance due to a poorly arranged song by an inexperienced band or artist.

If there are an excessive number of instruments playing at the same time in a song, they will fight with one another for space within the mix; a phenomenon known as masking.

If on the other hand there are not enough instruments playing at same time, the track may sound empty. The solution is to find the correct balance for the song being worked upon. It is important to consider every individual song on its own merit, genre and style.

Mixing involves making adjustments to eliminate masking conflicts by changing the dynamics and development of the song.

This can be achieved by:

  1. Muting offending instruments when the mix is overly busy
  2. Lowering the level of certain instruments to let others shine through
  3. Using equalization to separate instrument frequencies in the mix
  4. Using the pan controls to give instruments their own space within the stereo field
  5. Removing tracks completely from the mix

As a general rule, the more elements playing together in a song at the same time, the more chance they will fight together and muddy up the mix.

Having a vision of the song’s arrangement from the start can help reduce confusion and mistakes at a later stage.

Tone

It is the tone of music which makes it sound bright, deep and full; or dull, empty and plain. Having a perfect balance of tone is achieving a mix that has all tonal frequencies properly represented throughout the audio spectrum. That is enough sub-bass, bass, midrange, treble and presence to satisfy a clear and powerful sound.

If certain instruments occupy a similar frequency band they will end up masking each other within that particular area of the audio spectrum, often resulting in a muddy sound. A good example of a muddy mix can be heard when unprocessed vocals and electric guitar are mixing together as they both occupy similar frequency ranges. The frequencies of these conflicting instruments have to be adjusted to allow them to sit together better in the mix. The process of adjusting a sounds tonal balance is carried out with an equalizer.

An equalizer can be used for a number of reasons, for example, sound enhancement, noise reduction or as an effect.

Space

Space refers to the stereo field. It is important to make full use of the stereo field by finding a perfect balance of space within a mix. Achieving a perfect balance of space means that the stereo sound field sounds full and distinct.

Panning adds definition to instruments by giving them their own space in the stereo field.

It can be used to eliminate masking by moving sounds out the way of other sounds. Leaving everything centred in the stereo field causes the sounds to become muddy and lifeless. In contrast, spreading instruments far and wide will cause the sound to become unbalanced, loose and thin.

It is important to consider every individual song on its own merits, genre and style when panning.

Interest

Balance of interest simply means having several elements that make the mix exciting. This could be with a solid arrangement for even down to a single instrument. Using effects, processors and equalization all help add interest to a song.