When you hear a beautiful song on the radio, the first thing that comes to mind is “how did they make a mix sound so perfect?”
It has always been a mystery to people how mixing is done step by step.
You can learn a lot about your ears by comparing a disliked song to a liked song.
A professional mix will sound like any other song to an average listener. They won’t be able to judge the song’s mix.
Only an audio engineer can say that after hours of studying and practicing mixing.
That’s why every artist has a personal mixing engineer they stick with for their entire career.
Steps to a professional mix,
Chords and soundscapes
Sound selection is critical for a good mix.
The song’s chords and soundscape must also be addressed.
The arrangement simplifies the mixing process.
Mixing is vital in making a song sound good.
If properly exported, the song or mix can be mastered for commercial release.
Understanding mixing is one thing, but being able to mix a song well is another. That’s why artists lavishly compensate mixing engineers.
In this article, I will show you how mixing engineers get a good mix in a studio. Let’s get started.
Most people skip this step when discussing getting a good mix. The sounds chosen in the song contribute to the song’s amazing sound.
When choosing sounds, consider how they will fit in the mix. Having a bird’s eye view while selecting sounds will ensure a great sounding mix.
There are some steps you can take to ensure you stay on the right track.
Focus on drums
A beat existed long before instruments. Rhythm came before harmony. That’s why people start moving as soon as the beat starts.
Drums are an essential part of rhythm.
Many sounds are involved in each drum section. Less is more when it comes to drumming.
Even if the harmonies are better, the song will lack energy if the drums are not emphasized.
Drums hold a song’s energy. Your mix will be off if the kick doesn’t hit properly.
Don’t reuse samples
Samples are essential to creating an audio track. The most common mistake that prevents you from getting a good mix is using compressed and used samples.
Always look for fresh and dynamic samples.
Samples from old drum machines and instruments are sometimes too crushed and don’t help you get a bigger sound. This would greatly reduce the mix’s quality.
The best samples for a mix are those that are crisp without compression and have natural reverb.
Harden your bass.
After the drums, the bass is a vital part of a song. If the selected bass sample is not clean and has a fuzzy sound, it will affect the entire mix.
This would muddy up the mix. A good bass sound has a 150-200Hz frequency range that isn’t muddy.
You can use the same techniques to make your bass hit harder. One method is to add a side chain to the kick.
It has a thumping effect when used heavily. A small amount will produce a great bass.
A saturation plugin can be used to enhance the bass sound after side chaining.
Use good sample libraries
Sample libraries come after sample selection. The orchestral and complex sounds require many libraries. Using low-quality sample libraries will result in thin and narrow mixes.
To get a great mix, we want a wide range of sounds that fill the song’s sonic space. This keeps the listener hooked. This makes them listen to the song repeatedly.
High-quality sample libraries can sometimes elevate an ordinary sound. Yes, a sample swap can transform your mixes.
Music and soundscapes
If sound is half of improving a song’s sound, then music theory is the other half. Even well-chosen sounds would sound bad without proper music theory.
To mix and master music, you need well-written music. Learning music theory is difficult if you have never done it before, but nowadays it is a breeze thanks to the abundance of resources available.
Before we start writing music, let’s check a few things.
A song’s chords are essential. Great sounding chord patterns are essential for a great sounding mix.
You can already download a variety of chord patterns to use. Starting from a familiar place in music theory will help you write better music.
You’ll have more control over the chords and a better mix. No need to write 8 complex chords. 4 easy complementary chords that sound good together and fit well.
Sound Design for the End
After finding the chords, the next step is to combine the sounds using sound design tools. The biggest blunder is ignoring the fact that you already have good chords and sounds.
They overcomplicate things by adding sound design after sound selection. Excessive sound manipulation will cause chaos in the mix. This will add more mud.
Too much sound design may cause the actual sounds to not mix properly.
Knowing who your mix and sound design should be will help you make a great sounding mix.
Yes, 7ths and 11th chords sound better. Better mixes don’t require complicated chords. Using a complex chord restricts your ability to explore different possible variations that are easily available when using simple cards.
You’ll inevitably disrupt the song’s harmony. This is why all modern songs have only 4 simple chords that are repeated. This keeps the mix simple and clean.
The arrangement of a song is critical to a professional mix.
Arranging a song takes time and effort, and sometimes people forget to optimize their arrangements for mixing. It must also be optimized for a great mix.
Great arrangements add depth and clarity to the mix. It emphasizes each element of the arrangement by prioritizing each song section. This allows listeners to hear and enjoy every element of a song.
Let’s look at some tips for getting a great mix.
Have a fun start!
An interesting start to a song changes how people perceive it. Look at how people listen nowadays.
They only listen for 7–9 seconds before skipping. The song’s mix is outstanding because it captures their attention before they hit the skip button.
One such technique is to start with a narrow mono sound and then expand to a full stereo sound. Nowadays, many songs use clear mix techniques to attract listeners.
Don’t repeat loops
Unless it’s hip-hop or a trap mix, never repeat a loop throughout the trap. No matter what you put in the mix, the result is always mediocre.
Even in a trap mix, allowing certain loops to fade in and out throughout the mix makes a big difference.
Loops can be both a blessing and a curse to the mix, as they can disrupt the song’s flow.
When using a loop, make sure it doesn’t repeat for more than 9 seconds.
Always add and sub
Simple mixes sound amazing even with less effects. Countless mixing engineers use this amazing solution.
They manipulate the arrangement by increasing or decreasing the number of elements present in a mix, allowing other elements to shine through.
This can make a huge difference in a mix. Compared to 100 track big mixes, a few elements can make a mix sound big and professional.
Bringing in and out an arrangement is also important.
Boosts and drops
Drops are places where you hear all the elements of a song at once, and they sound huge compared to other sections. The raises are 7 seconds before a drop.
The song builds pressure with noises and slowly increasing pitched synth sounds, and ends with a sub drop.
With a drop and raise, the song sounds full. The contrast between a fully crowded mix and a less crowded mix diversifies the song’s sweetness and elevates it.
Mixing is a complex process when creating and distributing music commercially. A killer mix is required to make your music stand out from the crowd.
As stated previously, good sound selection and arrangement are only part of a larger professional sound.
Process the arrangements with carefully crafted and selected sounds; this affects the final mix result when exporting.
Let’s take a closer look at the mixing strategy.
Decide on a benchmark
When mixing a track, this can be in a headset or a studio monitor. Our ears will soon tire and our ability to judge the mix will dwindle.
To overcome this, use a reference mix to compare your mix to. This is a great way to keep your mixes in check while mixing.
First, picking a reference track can be tricky. But once you know what a good mix is. You can easily pick a good mix to use as a benchmark for your own mixes.
Do gain staging
Gain staging or levelling is the process of adjusting the volume of various elements in a song. A song doesn’t sound good if all the elements are at different volume levels.
This is something to consider when mixing. Always keep your mix elements under -12db and under -6db throughout the mixing process.
Gain staging allows the mastering engineer to work at the optimal peak volume for a good listening experience.
Organize bus routes
Bus routing is a crucial step in mixing. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the process of passing certain key elements or instruments through another track to add effects and manipulations.
Bus routings can be a simple way to mix a song without worrying about mixing a 100 track song. You can efficiently route all similar elements into 7 buses.
This is a game-changing feature for mixing projects with less tracks.
It’s difficult to even begin compressing a large track with 100 elements. Here we can use step-by-step compression to focus on specific mix elements.
Compression is the process of reducing the dynamic range of an element or instrument in a song.
Compression usually flattens the song. Overdoing it can ruin a song.
It optimizes elements in a song to stick together.
Remove unneeded frequencies
Equalizing is the process of removing unnecessary frequencies from a recorded instrument’s frequency spectrum. This can add space for an instrument as well as new instrument pockets.
Filtering unwanted frequencies will help calm the instrument clash.
A mix that emphasizes the instruments. Normally, low and high cuts are used in mixing.
Throughout the song, resonant frequencies are removed to make it sound bigger in the mix.
Saturation is one of those techniques that has little effect on the track but has a big impact on how people perceive it.
Saturation adds richness to the mix and makes it pop across all elements.
Saturation boosts a song’s harmonics. This brings out the irregular harmonics.
Using a saturation effect in audio editing software produces interesting sound shapes.
This also simplifies harmonics issues.
Check your bottom
Everyone concentrates on the high end and mid-range of a song or track to get a good mix but ignores the low end.
This is one of the most common mixing mistakes. The low end gives the song power and soul. You can’t add emotion to a song without its soul.
If you don’t clean the low end frequencies, it will rumble in any speaker. In order to remove the entire inaudible rumble, a 30HZ low cut is used.
Compression in parallel
This is an alternative method to adding creative effects and thickness to the mix using the saturation plugin.
Parallel compression adds a lot of thickness to the mix, while saturation adds harmonics. Return tracks in audio production software can do this.
All project elements are run through parallel return bus tracks, creating a thick layer of song that adds punch and harmonics from saturation.
Audio platforms used to be monochrome. Now everything is in right and left stereo. Even with headphones, you can hear both sides of a mix.
Along with panning, reverbs and delays add dimension to a song.
The reverb creates a space around the elements depending on what it bounces off. This gives a mix’s elements character.
Various reverbs such as hall, room, and plate reverbs are used in songs.
To make a mix sound amazing, delays rule the vocals. Vocals without delays are rare nowadays. Ping-Pong delays are used to add depth to the mix.
Even if all the above steps are perfect, a bad export can cause a major U-turn. When exporting a mixed song, make sure the song is completely under -6db.
This gives the mastering engineer working on this track or mix enough room to work.
Before sending it to mastering, all main tracks and return tracks are normally exported into one.
In order to master yourself, you can use a complete export with all return tracks.
How do I polish my song?
Making a song sound professional isn’t easy. Every sonic element of the song takes several hours to craft. Mixing and mastering are crucial to a song’s professional sound.
Why do my mixes sound amateurish?
Professional mixing requires a lot of practice and ear training. Professional music mixing is difficult to learn. Understanding the mixing process is half the battle; training your ears to detect issues is the other.
How to mix a big sound?
Big sounding mixes have amazing special effects. This is usually due to reverb and delays overlaid on the live sound.
Big sounding mixes are popular in pop and electronic dance music.
Making a great mix
A great mix is perfectly balanced in terms of the frequency spread of all the instruments in it. It’s pleasant to listen to and doesn’t irritate. Great mixes sound great on all devices.
Following a procedure can get you a decent mix. If it’s your first time mixing, don’t worry. Confidence comes from years of practice.
Until then, it’s a game of figuring out how mixing works in various music styles.
You may also find that you can skip some steps in this article and create your own methods of making music.
There are numerous ways to creatively mix tracks to achieve the desired sound. Never be afraid to fail when mixing.
You can use the steps in the article to create a simple mind map for your future mixes.