How to Mix Music
After the song has been recorded and all the performances have been captured properly, the next step in the music production process is the mix. When tracking modern music, multiple layers are required to get that professional, "radio ready" sound. This multi-tracking technique requires many tracks of the same instrument to be recorded and stacked on top of one another. When tracking multiple layers of a vocal, producers must apply different layers of compression and eq to make the layers melt together to make the illusion of one large vocal cutting through the mix. This is not a new technique but it is largely unknown to novice engineers and producers. When applied correctly, this music production technique can give you a very large and loud sounding mix that is comparable with mixes you hear from your favorite artists.
When recording multiple tracks and layering them, compression and equalization of the individual tracks becomes even more important. Panning and effects becomes even more complex when using this production technique. Each track has to compete for space in the mix. Whether it is the drums or vocals ~ each track deserves its own attention. The vocal should have the focus directed at the center of the mix while the "doubles", or layers take a supporting role. These tracks should be panned and compressed differently than the main vocal. This will add depth to your mix while giving the vocal a chance to pierce through the layers of drums and synthesizers or instruments.
Eq is best when you are cutting unwanted frequencies from a track that is competing for space within the mix. Sometimes you have to use an eq to boost the low end of a bass but this is not an ideal situation. There are better ways to get a low bass tone. This goes true for synthetic sounds too. A good producer or engineer will understand the importance of the eq but not rely on it to enhance poorly recorded material. It is always easier to mix a properly recorded performance. Every professional production starts with a superb performance by the artist and capturing the sound properly by the recording engineer. No matter how good a mix engineer may be - garbage in equals garbage out.
Once you have a solid balance of the tracks and all the editing of the cross fades have been done, you can focus on the fun stuff - Effects. The basics are relatively simple. Reverb helps to give the illusion of a three dimensional space. The genre of music you are working in will help guide you to the size of room you will be emulating. Rap vocals are obviously going to have a different reverb than a female pop vocal or even a Reggae or Dancehall vocal. Reverbs can also create contrast in the mix when it comes to transitioning between the verse and chorus or when you are going to the bridge of the song. Larger reverbs can help the chorus sound larger than life along with extreme panning and delays.
Delays are a little more tricky. Time delays are very common and add extra dimension to your mix. With time delays, it is important to have the original material recorded to a metronome. This makes using presets very easy once you set the tempo of the delay to the default Tempo of the song. It also makes things easier when you go to automate the delays. Adding too much delay effects to a vocal is one of the most common mistakes made by young engineers and producers. Applying the delay sparingly across certain words adds a really nice touch to a mix but overuse can sound annoying and take away from the performance itself.
There are many more aspects to creating a great mix of your song. These tips only scratch the surface. I mentioned automation briefly before but it plays a very important role in the end product. Automation of the mix is much more complicated and can be very time consuming but learning the DAW software will be key in this process.. There are many great ways to use the software to your advantage when automating the mix. I will go into more detail on a future post.