Audio mixing is a process where multiple recorded sounds are adjusted or combined into one or more audio tracks or channels to create a compound audio recording called a mix. The objective in creating a mix is to produce a music recording that maximizes appeal for the listeners by the manipulation of the dynamics, signal level, and frequency content of the original sound source coupled with added sound effects.
The Original Sound Source
There has been some disagreement over the years on whether or not the original sound to be used in mixing should first be recorded as “dry,” which means that it is raw with no added effects such as reverb, echo, delay or equalization (EQ). On the other hand, those recordings with added effects are considered as “wet.” Those who prefer to work with dry processed recordings, add their desired effects during the mixing process.
Though recording wet may have some advantages, it also makes it so you have a recording with effects you cannot remove if for some reason you desire you do not want them. For example, if you determine there is too much reverb, there’s simply not a lot you can do so you’re stuck with it in your mix.
The Audio Mixing Process
Mixing engineers or musical producers perform audio mixing of music or sound within a recording that is destined for reproduction in some manner such as CDs or radio. The process of mixing used to be performed primarily on an audio mixer, sound board, or mixing console prior to the rise of Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) that are now used in conjunction with the other tools for the best results.
There are many powerful mixing tools now available to mixing engineers and the selection of those tools is usually based on the preference of the engineer and his own personal style of mixing. Nevertheless, you want to obtain the best mixing equipment and monitoring system you can so you can maximize the accuracy of the music you mix and listen to it on as many other venues as possible. The use of mixing with headphones should be avoided since they do not allow for an accurate stereo mix.
The Basics of Audio Mixing
Basic mixing is a skill and art that is often felt through experience where you learn your method of balancing track or instrument levels and you determine how you want your music to sound. Focusing on the overall goal of a specified mix will point you in the right direction to achieve the “feel” of the song. Before attempting to mix, you need to make sure you are alert and awake, with your ears having rested as well so they are ready to identify sound problems.
Having said that, you next want to rely on your senses to mix a “feel” that is just right for your needs. This can be something as simple as the “wall of sound” effect, which is the method of mixing that fills every audible frequency with sound.
You also may want to use effects that are more complex and time consuming such as creating space around each of the instruments used. This is where those rested ears will have to select the proper point within the frequency spectrum for each of those instruments to dominate while also preventing any overlap. EQ can come in handy here with its ability to filter and cut frequencies and identify problems in the frequency spectrum. Due to the sensitive nature of the ear, it is recommended to cut unwanted frequencies rather than boosting those you are going to keep.
You also want to make sure you properly adjust your reverb for vocals and instruments so that the vocals are not too predominate or too far off in the background. Some good methods of effectively using reverb can include using a pre-delay to the reverb of the instruments to create a space around the vocals with an appropriate amount of reverb. It is often suggested that reverb should be added at mixdown to minimize unnatural sounds.
In addition, panning to spread your sound signals from instruments into new sound fields is a very important factor in preparing an audio mix masterpiece. The low-frequency instruments such as the bass drum and bass guitar usually tend to dominate and so they are best placed near the center of the mix. When it comes to lead vocals, you can either place them in the center of the mix as well, or balance the lead vocals against the background vocals in similar positions at opposite sides.
This is Just the Beginning of Audio Mixing
If you want to audio mix like a pro, it will take hands-on experience where you create your own style through trial and error. This article hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the art/science of mixing. Just remember that each audio mixing engineer brings his or her own talent and skills to the process and that is why one recording can be mixed by different engineers in so many different ways.
-By John Redick