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Mixing can be tricky to figure out when you are at the beginning of your music production journey. There will often be times when you feel unsure if you’ll ever be any good at it because of how complex it is.
For this very reason, producers sometimes choose to focus on the arrangement of the song and completely outsource the mixing and mastering parts of a project.
The volume levels in mixing play a huge role in how much you can push up the volume in your songs during the mastering session of a project.
This is one of the reasons why a producer has to make sure that the track is at the optimum volume levels when it is sent to the mastering engineer for mastering. This is where the volume levels at which the song gets mixed comes into play.
Sometimes producers would start by completely ignoring the volume levels and end up with ruined tracks. This is because tracks would have so much distortion that you cannot reverse any effects that are applied using audio production software.
The output level at which the song is rendered at the end of a mixing project is very crucial.
Usually, the mixing engineer makes sure that the output level of the mixed track is around -6dB. This is the perfect sweet spot that gives mastering engineers enough headroom to work through the mixed track and make it even better. All commercially released songs are mixed at -6dB.
If you start to dig deeper about what is mixing is all about, there is a sea of knowledge about it.
In this article, I will specifically walk you through the concepts of why songs are mixed at a particular volume level and why should pay attention to it as a producer. Let’s get started.
What is mixing?
Mixing is a process by which the multiple elements in a track are put together. In this process, various techniques are used to make the track sound better.
This process also ensures that the track is ready for the final step of the audio production process, which is mastering.
Mixing involves various skills that are crucial for developing the polished sound that listeners enjoy hearing repeatedly.
Mixing engineers are responsible for making sure that the track is clean and doesn’t have any resonant frequencies, which can be quite annoying.
Mixing is the solution for a lot of mistakes that can take place during the process of recording a song. Sometimes, even the production mistakes are rectified by the mixing engineers.
The mixing engineer’s ability to sort through every element and make it sound great is what makes mixing challenging for most people to master.
One thing that is very important when it comes to mixing is the volume levels and the place where the mixing engineer starts to mix as a reference.
Some mixing engineers love to start around -12dB, which is a good place to keep your loudest element and mix every other element around it. This will provide enough headroom for mastering.
Mixing is arguably the most important step in a song. A mediocre artist can be made to look like they are a professional with proper mixing techniques.
Mixing is a post-production tool that helps to make up for anything that was left out during the studio recording process.
Why mixing at -6dB is important?
When you are mixing at -6dB you will get enough headroom, which is a big factor when it comes to mastering. When the mastering engineer is adding effects, the track will start to increase in volume again.
If the track doesn’t have headroom, there will be distortion. Distortion is one of the biggest enemies of music production. You can work around it sometimes but it’s not always possible.
As you might know, distortion will reduce the details in the track and introduce noise. To eliminate this issue of having too much distortion, songs are recommended to have headspace of about -6dB.
This will allow any additional volume gain to be corrected in the mastering phase. The Loudness limit is what makes the song more vibrant after it’s rendered in mastering.
If you are not experienced in mixing music, you should not mix your music for commercial release. If you are keen on doing mixing, learn audio production to mix your music more effectively.
With proper training, you will understand the best practices for mixing as well.
The most important task in mixing at –6dB is that all the elements in the project have to be kept at a nominal level to interact well with the other elements.
The harmonization of these should be controlled by increasing the audio monitor volume but keeping the mixing main master volume around -6dB.
It takes time and precision to hone these techniques which is why mastering and mixing engineers are paid more than producers in some projects. The complexity of the project usually determines what is paid for mixing engineers.
Benefits of mixing at -6dB
- The track will have more sheen in the upper-frequency spectrum
- The track will have reduced rumble in the lower end
- There is more headroom for the mastering engineer in limiting the track
- Resonance frequencies are reduced in the mixing stage
- Distortion is eliminated
- There is more clarity added through creating space in the mix
- Mastering engineers don’t have to worry about gain staging
- There won’t be any problems caused by software distortions and high volume gains.
- Clean limiting to reach -14 LUFS can be achieved.
Why should we mix and monitor at low volume levels?
Mixing at low volume levels allows the music producer to focus on achieving the most cohesive result of the track rather than focusing on one element. Keeping the volume low while mixing also improves the producer’s ability to find the problematic frequencies in the mix more often.
What are the basic mixing techniques?
The basic mixing techniques include:
- Adding space using reverb
- Adding dimension using delay and
- Adding compression for dynamic range reduction.
These are some of the most commonly used mixing techniques in the mixing studio. They allow a mixing engineer to get a well-developed sound for commercial release.
How do you make a loud mix?
A mastering engineer can make a mix loud by using a limiter. The limiter is used to push the volume of the track towards the ceiling of 0dB.
If the track is being pushed above 0dB you will get distortion. Mastering engineers usually push the tracks to the limit where they don’t hear any distortion.
How loud should my vocals be in a mix?
Vocals can be as loud as -12dB in a mix during the mixing process. Usually, vocals and drums are mixed at the highest volume while mixing all the other elements under this frame of reference.
Vocals should be placed in the center of a mix, just like the bass and kick drum in a track. The other elements of the song can be panned around the vocals.
How loud should a mix be before mastering?
A mix should not be louder than –6dB before mastering. If the track is louder than -6dB it will result in distortion and less headroom for the mastering engineer to add any effects or even for them to push the song to make it louder.
The mixing engineer should take extra care to check the output levels in the master channel at the end of a mixing session.
Understanding mixing might take a while, so don’t let that frustrate you too much. You might also find out that mixing at -6dB is not an easy thing to do when you try it for the first time.
This is completely normal for any producer who is starting out in music production. Mixing is the top skill in audio manipulation and it will take some time to master it purposefully.
If you are interested check out our article on how to equalize vocals here and click here to learn about the 7 major audio production techniques to get the most out of your track.
Learning and taking your time practice is the only way to improve in mixing and training your ears. Make sure you completely immerse yourself in the craft, learn as much as possible and keep practicing what you have learned.