Production & Technique Steve's simple guide to Mixing

Steve's simple guide to Mixing

There are many ways to skin a cat, or so the saying goes. When it comes to mixing down your music each style and genre has a multitude of do’s and do not’s that can help to define a track, but at the heart of the process the are some standard rules you can follow to make the task quicker and easier for yourself. So we present to you a quick guide to mixing your tracks.

Some fundamentals:

1).  Clean up your audio!!!!!!

Seriously, you can save yourself a while heap of trouble and work by cleaning up your tracks before you start to mix. Get your edit tool out and remove all the noises, breaths, crackly guitar leads etc. This will also clean up your working area making it easier to see what’s ahead.

Next, find a reference CD or file that you admire or would like to emulate and listen to that on your system. Listen to the use of space/noise/effects etc.

2) Go out and put the kettle on.

Again, seriously, give yourself some time away from the project. Yours ears get ‘tired’, and tired means you’re gonna miss something.

3). When you finally feel ready to go, listen once more to each individual track or group track, nows the time to add any compression or eq to tracks. In the finished mix we want each instrument or group to hold it’s own within the particular sonic space, If you use too much of one frequency band across a number of tracks, you’ll find it dominates when everything is played back together, so pay particular attention to eq.

4). Ok. Bass and main drums into the centre please. Along with the main vocal, these should remain constant at the centre of your stereo spread. If you’ve recorded your kit correctly, or if your sample /loop is a good one, the drums should naturally assume their correct position, with the snare sitting slightly to the right, and the toms spreading R to L as they would with a real drummer. Make sure the cymbals aren’t too loud.

5). Now add the rhythm guitars, panned as they would be on stage, around 30 points left or right.

6).  Next we want synths, strings, pads, all the stuff that ‘engulfs’ the sonic space. We need to blend these instruments ‘around’ the existing ones, so that each can be heard clearly. At this point, check your reverbs. Do you have different reverb lengths for your instruments? If so, are any of them clashing i.e. Does the reverb sound consistent. Is it believable that all these instruments were in the same space at the same time?

7).  Next we want solo instruments like lead guitars or pianos or brass. See these as being layered ‘over’ the mix you have just created, and pay attention to the panning i.e. Horns usually come from the back and sides, lead guitars are usually panned 30 points L or R.

8).  Finally, vocals hard centre. Backing vox 10 points left and right.

Vocals are the most emotive instrument in any song. Make sure they’re balanced well against the backing, that harmonies “support” rather than challenge the lead vocal, and now, a very important rule.

Wherever you’ve set the reverb on the vocal track, Back it off a bit!

Seriously, again, this simple rule will stand you in good stead time and time again.

9) OK. Walk away.

Once again, rest your ears. Before the final mix, take a walk outside, let your ears re-align themselves with normal everyday sounds and sound levels. Give it at least 20 mins for your ears to reset.

10). There is no 10.

You’re on your own. Mixing is a skill and an art. Trust your ears. Burn a mix. Take it somewhere else to listen to it i.e. A boom box or car radio system. Be critical……it’s gonna be a long night……..