Tips on getting that mix just right
The most common mistake made is to think that mixing is nothing but setting each instrument at the right volume level in relation to each other. There’s quite a bit more to it.
Just like what we see, sound has more than one dimension. The first and most obvious is indeed setting everything at the right volume levels. Next, we look at the frequency spectrum of each sound. When we listen to a song, everything sounds balanced. We have our low, low-mid, medium, high-mid and high frequency ranges. As we mix, we have to pay special attention to the frequency content of each sound in the mix and make sure that all elements have their respectful place in the frequency spectrum.
A good example is to look at the way we mix bass sounds. One would think that if you want your bass sounds to be bigger and “fat”, all we need to do is boost all the low frequencies, when in reality all this does is do make your mix muddy. You’d be much better off rolling off everything below around 50Hz, which cleans up your mix significantly and opens up more headroom in your mix for everything else.
It is important to decide what it is that makes your song work. In other words you have to decide what are the most important elements in your mix, emphasize them and build everything else around those elements.
Apart from the volume levels and frequency ranges, we also have to use effects like reverb and delays. Every sound around us takes a certain time to reach our ears, which means that we have to use reverb and delays to place sounds in a space to give it context. This makes things sound more realistic, lively and natural. In our mix though, reverb plays another big role. It is used to create depth in our mixes. The more reverb we give something, the farther back we push it in the mix, while lesser reverb allows us to bring sounds forward and put more focus on them.
Of course there are countless other effects, textures and processors (both analogue and digital) that we can use to spice up the mix and make our song stand out and to get it to sound precisely the way we want it to.
The last and most important element of any mix is its dynamic range. When talking about dynamic range, we refer to the difference between the softest and loudest sound in the mix.
All genres of music have different levels of movement in the song. For example dance music would have a lot more dynamic range than a highly compressed rock song.
We use compression to control the dynamics of all the sounds in the mix and to enhance certain qualities such as attack, sustain etc. Compression is added in stages on all instruments as needed. The more you squash the sounds, the less dynamic range you your mix will have.
In the end, it all comes down to what it is you’re doing and deciding what the best way is to make your song be the best you can get it to be.