What is mixing in music? The 9 Step Process Explained


If you are hearing this term for the first time, don’t get confused. Mixing is one of the most important stages in audio production. The term mixing means that you are mixing elements of instruments to put together a song.

Most people won’t even know that this process exists. One of the reasons is that people don’t see the mixing engineers on stage. They only see the artists on stage.

Mixing music has evolved due to the introduction of new modern equipment and software.

Today the time taken to release music has also been reduced very significantly when compared to the olden days, where you have to wait for the studio to give your track after six months of recording the song.

Mixing in music is the process in which multiple audio elements in a track are brought together and sonically placed to appeal to a listener. Mixing makes the song more pleasant and soothing to listen to. Without mixing a song would sound blunt and the instruments would sound out of sorts.

Just understanding that mixing is needed to make a song sound amazing doesn’t convey the message as to how it’s used in a song. In this article, I will go through every step related to how mixing is used in music and audio production. Let’s get started on this shall we,

Steps in mixing music:

Mixing music is not just one click of a button. It takes hours to process each element and get things right. Even after spending hours putting together a good piece of music, if it’s not mixed properly it wouldn’t sound good. Let’s dive a little deeper  

1. Arrangement 

Some people don’t consider the arrangement as a part of the mixing process. If you don’t have the arrangement of the song ready you will not be able to mix the song properly.

This would result in chaos and confusion when adding effects to the tracks and elements of a track.

This is one of the reasons why you have to finish your arrangements and then start mixing from the ground up. If you are keeping the arrangements simple, then you will have less of a hassle in the other process of mixing a song.

2. Leveling 

Leveling a song is also known as the process of gain staging a song. Gain staging or leveling just means that you are adjusting the volumes of each element to fit them perfectly in the mix.

This is where you would change the volume of an instrument or a vocal to appear well in front of the mix.

Gain staging can be a hard task to do when you have about 100 plus tracks in your project. You can tackle them by grouping them one by one.

Starting from drum elements, bass and moving towards the other elements of the mix would help to have clarity in gain staging.

3. Bus tracks 

Trained audio production engineers will use bus tracks to organize a mix. Let’s say you have about 15 drum elements, it would be wiser for you to route them all to bus tracks and add effects on the bus track rather than adding effects individually. 

If you find any individual instruments with issues you can fix them in their separate tracks. All the other tracks can be routed and organized using bus tracks. This saves time and energy while working on a large project with say more than 100 tracks.

4. Compression 

Compression is used to reduce the dynamics of volume in a sound or audio track. In the case of music, some elements or instruments might have higher volume in one section of the track and lower in another section of the track this can be solved by using a compressor that brings both the higher and lower volume regions to an in-between level to optimize the sound for proper flow in the song.

There are so many types of compression being used in today’s mixing world. Some people love bus compression and some people opt for side-chain compressors.

Even though the taste of audio engineers differs so much, the quality of the end song always remains clean when compressors are used. 

Using compression extensively will also harm the audio track by making everything sound flat without any dynamics in the song. Mild compression on every element is a great place to start if you are a beginner doing mixing in a song.

5. Reverb 

Reverb is nothing but space around a sound. This can be explained by how the same sound can be heard differently in different rooms and spaces.

This particular effect is used to add a specific feel to an instrument or even a vocal to make the sound feel more natural.

There are so many types of reverbs available for mixing. Some include short tail reverb and long-tail reverb. Reverbs have an important option in their function which is called room size.

You can adjust the room size and depth to achieve the best possible result in audio production software.

6. Delay 

This is a common effect that you might find in almost all the songs. Delay can be used creatively to add space to an instrument to bring its character into the song.

A normal recorded instrument or vocal will sound dry and without any atmosphere around it in song.

You can find delays being creatively used to move the vocals again and again in a song, where a particular line has to re-emphasize. 

7. Equalization 

Equalization is the meat of the mixing process. Even if you skip one or two steps if you do both gain staging and equalization you will have a decent mix. Equalization is a process in which the audio spectrum is being manipulated to get the best sounding audio for the song or music in the project. 

Equalization allows you to fit multiple instruments into the audio spectrum without causing issues while playing all the instruments together. This is one such trick that is used in orchestras to fit multiple elements into a mix.

8. Panning 

This is one of the most under-rated techniques used in mixing music. Panning is nothing but a moment of sounds in the left and right channels of a stereo field. You can notice this in a headset.

Every element in a song is placed at different places in a mix to sound balanced. This is usually done to bring clarity and space to every instrument and element in the song.

Before stereo was introduced panning had no effect on the mix because every song was in mono. In stereo, every song was developed in a 3D sonic space where panning measures one axis and frequency spectrum measures the other axes.

9. Exporting 

This would be the last step of the mixing process in making music. There are certain things you should keep in mind while exporting the track to send it to mastering as well.  your master track should not have any gains above -6db.

This would give your mastering engineer enough space to work and increase the loudness further.

When exporting always make sure you are exporting in the highest quality WAV files rather than other file formats. This will allow you to make further edits to the mix in the mastering process.

Should you mix your music?

If you are not experienced in mixing music, you should not mix your music for commercial release. If you are doing mixing to learn audio production, it’s good to mix your music.

With proper training, you will understand the best practices to mixing as well.

How important is mixing a song?

Mixing would be 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 recording in the studio.

What makes well-mixed music?

A good mix will have everything starting from bass to treble in a good sonic space. You cannot find an excess of anything in a good mix. In the contrast, a bad mix will have an improper frequency of sounds irritating your ears.

Is mixing music hard?

Mixing music is not a hard task but mixing music at a higher quality is a hard task, as it takes years to develop our ears to hear the resonances in a mix and fix it. If you don’t practice, it’s really hard to do mixing as a profession.

Conclusion

Audio mixing is an integral part of the arrangement of a musical track. If you are going to make a song, spend more time mixing the song properly just like how you will be spending on recording a song.

Audio mixing plays a huge role in the result of a music production project. Hope this article sheds some light on why mixing is needed as well as how music is shaped in the studio.

Understanding the importance and function of mixing in music will make you invest more in mixing and get good mixing engineers on board to meet the production goals. 

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