How to Mix Music

Table of Contents

Introduction – How to Mix Music

How to Mix Music – Mixing is the process of taking multiple recorded tracks and blending them together into a cohesive, polished song. It involves adjusting levels, panning, EQ, compression, effects, and more to achieve a balanced mix that brings out the best in each instrument. Good mixing takes a raw song and makes it radio-ready. It is one of the most important production skills every producer needs to learn. This article will teach you how to mix like a pro, taking you through every step of the mixing process.

What is Mixing and Why is it Important?

Mixing is the process of taking all the individual tracks that were recorded for a song and blending them together into a cohesive stereo master track. This includes setting levels, panning, applying EQ and effects, and setting the overall balance and space of the various instruments in a song. Mastering usually comes after mixing and involves subtle sonic “polishing” and loudness maximization for the final track. Mixing happens before mastering and is one of the most crucial steps in the overall music production process.

A good mix can make or break a record. It’s what takes a bunch of disjointed tracks and transforms them into one unified piece of music. All the individual elements like vocals, drums, bass, and accompaniment parts have to work together harmoniously. Mixing helps create a depth and dimension to the music that wasn’t there before. Getting the right blend is an art that requires both technical know-how and intuitive listening skills. You have to be able to find the “pocket” where everything fits together perfectly.

The goal of mixing is to achieve balance where no one instrument overwhelms the others. The kick and snare have to cut through without drowning out the lead vocal. The bass provides a solid foundation without obscuring details and overpowering the mix. Every track serves a role and the mix engineer has to carve out space for each one, making adjustments so they complement each other. Careful level balancing, EQ moves, and stereo placement are essential. Compression helps control dynamics, providing more consistent levels and “gluing” elements together. Time-based effects like reverb and delay create a sense of space and depth. All of these mixing tools work together to craft a professional-sounding record.

A good mix allows listeners to clearly hear everything going on in a song. All the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic elements are distinct and work together. The emotional qualities of the music—whether it’s warm and lush or aggressive and punchy—come through more effectively with proper mixing. The vocals tell the story cleanly while the instruments surround them in a blended, supportive bed. It creates the immersive experience that music fans know and love. Mixing engineers are like wizards who can bring out qualities in the music you never knew existed. Their expertise and acute ears transform raw recordings into something spectacular.

In today’s music world where so much listening happens on small speakers and earbuds, mixing is more important than ever. A good mix will translate well across different systems. The better mixed a song is, the better chance it has of connecting with listeners no matter where they hear it. That’s why every musician should learn the art of mixing—it makes the difference between music that sounds amateurish and music that’s ready for primetime. Mixing is the essential process of giving your songs the professional polish they deserve.

Overview of the Mixing Process From Start to Finish

Mixing a song is a multi-step process that requires both creativity and technical skills. Here is an overview of the end-to-end mixing workflow:

The first step is getting organized. This means labeling your tracks and color-coding them by instrument group, like drums, bass, guitars, vocals, keys, etc. Create subfolders for alternate takes and versions. Listen through all the raw tracks to identify any issues that need editing or cleanup before mixing. Ensure all tracks are timed correctly and start/end at the same points.

Next, set up your mixing session in your DAW. Add any effects you’ll use like reverb sends to your master bus. Some mix engineers start by setting up a basic mix balance by pushing up faders to get all instruments audible, but you can also mix from the bottom up starting with drums and bass. The key is to get the foundation solid first before bringing other elements like guitars and vocals.

Mix the drums and bass first as they provide the heartbeat of the song. Get the kick and snare sounding punchy, then mix in the cymbals and other percussion. Process them with EQ to clean up unwanted resonances or make things brighter. Use compression to control dynamics. Add effects like reverb to give them space. The bass has to lock in tight with kick, so process them together. Sidechain compressing helps the bass duck under the kick.

Once the drums and bass groove is solid, start mixing in the main instrumentation like guitars, keyboards, etc. Pan them left and right to create a wide stereo image. Use EQ boosts and cuts to carve out space for each part, removing muddiness. Add compression, saturation, or other effects to fatten up the tone. Automate levels where needed like bringing guitars up for a solo section. Keep things balanced.

Now focus on the lead vocals, which often sit center in the mix. Clean up problem resonances with EQ. Use compression to smooth out vocals and make them more consistent. Add effects like reverb, delay, or chorus to enhance vibrance. De-ess vocals to control harsh sibilance. Automate the vocal level so it sits cleanly above the instrumentation. Do multiple passes to get the vocals polished.

Listen to the entire mix from start to finish. Make any final tweaks to create seamless transitions and maintain consistent gain staging. Add master bus compression and limiters to give cohesiveness and loudness. Do an overall sweep with EQ to clean up any final mud or harshness. A touch of stereo widening can make things sound bigger.

Bounce down your 2-track stereo mix, leaving around 6dB of peak headroom. Export alternate mix versions like radio edits or instrumentals. Listen critically on multiple speaker systems to ensure clarity. Get objective feedback from clients, colleagues or fresh ears. Master the final mix for commercial release. With patience and practice, you can learn to create fully professional mixes ready to share with the world.

Setup – How to Mix Music

Acoustic treatment for your studio

Proper acoustic treatment is essential for mixing music effectively in your studio. An untreated room will have distracting sonic issues like bass buildup, flutter echoes, and harsh reflections. This makes it hard to make mixing decisions and hear your music clearly. Acoustic treatment helps tune the room so it doesn’t negatively impact your ability to mix with precision.

The first priority is dealing with bass problems. Standing waves in square rooms boost certain bass frequencies and cause an uneven response. Low-end can sound boomy and undefined. Bass traps are absorptive panels placed in room corners which soak up deep bass energy and smooth out the low-end response. Placing traps in all corner locations, especially where speakers meet walls, will clean up muddy bass.

Mid and high-frequency reflections can cause blurring or harsh resonant tones. Flat foam panels on the walls and ceiling diffuse these reflections and make the room sound tighter and less noisy. Place panels at reflection points between monitors and walls, and cover large expanses of parallel walls to tame flutter echoes. Diffusion panels with angular grooved surfaces also help scatter sound in a more dispersed pattern.

Absorptive material directly behind monitors (especially foam or fiberglass) helps further clean up the midrange by eliminating close reflections. This makes monitors image better. Don’t over-dampen the room or highs will sound dull. Find the right balance of absorption and diffusion to tune the room. Bass traps, foam panels, and diffusion units applied correctly will make a significant difference in hearing detail.

If room geometry allows, use non-parallel angles for the speaker listening position. This prevents stereo imaging issues from symmetric reflections. Place monitors away from walls to reduce boundary interferences. Decoupling speaker stands from floors via isolation pads prevents bass transmission below. Remove objects like shelves that cause reflections near monitors. Curtains and carpets absorb and diffuse sound naturally.

Proper acoustic treatment allows you to better analyze instrument balance, EQ, panning, and other critical mixing decisions by hearing the monitors accurately. The improved clarity and imaging enhances how your brain perceives the stereo field. Mixing in an acoustically “dead” room versus a lively one gives remarkably different results. Treating your studio effectively will elevate mixing skills.

Look up guides for calculating the proper amounts of bass trapping, absorption, and diffusion needed for the room size. Work in phases to get basic trapping done first, then add additional panels and diffusers until the room sounds neutral. The investment of time and money on acoustic treatment pays off exponentially in having a space optimized for mixing. Don’t compromise your mixes by working in an untreated room. With acoustic treatment, you can trust what you hear and make the best mixing choices.

Choosing monitors/headphones

Critical listening tools like monitors and headphones are a key investment for mixing music effectively. Carefully selecting the right models will enable you to hear your mixes precisely and make informed decisions. There are a few key factors to consider when choosing monitors and headphones.

For monitors, look for a flat frequency response and uncolored sound. Avoid big hyped peaks and dips which distort the actual balance of the mix. The Yamaha HS5, Adam A7X, and Kali Audio LP-6 are examples of affordable monitors with a neutral tone. If possible, test monitors in your room to hear how they sound in your environment. Placement and acoustic treatment also impact accuracy.

Monitors with larger woofers like 8” and above generally reproduce low frequencies better, avoiding distorted bass. A matching subwoofer handles sub-bass cleanly. Nearfield monitors work well for home studios as they sound consistent at short distances. Go for a higher wattage to achieve louder monitoring levels without distortion.

The size and layout of your room determines how large your monitors can be before running into issues with proper placement. In smaller rooms, 5” or 6.5” monitors provide a balanced presentation from short listening distances. Make sure monitors offer the inputs, tuning controls, and connectivity you need.

In addition to full-range monitor speakers, many mix engineers use a subwoofer for the low-end paired with smaller monitors focused on mids/highs. The sub reinforces bass and provides a more physical low-end feel. This setup allows nearfields to shine at higher frequencies.

For the most accurate monitoring, go with monitors offering flat response across as much of the spectrum as possible. Features like front ports reduce boundary interference and let you place monitors closer to walls. Quality transducers provide clearer imaging. Listen to a variety of monitors to find the best match for your room’s acoustics and your mixing needs.

On the headphone side, look for a well-balanced model that faithfully represents your mix. The Sony MDR-7506 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are popular mid-priced all-rounder headphones with decent frequency response and comfort. Open-back headphones like the Sennheiser HD 600 provide a spacious sound, but allow in external noise.

Closed-back headphones isolate the mix better for detailed analytical listening. Testing headphones alongside your monitors helps understand how the mix translates. Established brands tend to have better construction quality. Make sure headphones have the impedance rating to work properly with your audio interface’s headphone amp.

Trust your ears when evaluating headphone and monitor options. The choices that sound the most natural and neutral across various music genres are ideal for mixing work. Quality monitoring equipment and acoustic treatment are worth the investment for mixing skills to progress.

Audio interface and DAW selection

A proper audio interface and digital audio workstation (DAW) are fundamental for recording, editing, and mixing music on a computer. Choosing the right models will empower your home studio capabilities without breaking the bank.

For the audio interface, focus on analog-to-digital conversion quality, available inputs/outputs, driver stability, and monitoring functionality. Popular affordable options like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 provide strong bang-for-buck value.

Key specs to compare are the converter bit depth (look for 24-bit minimum) and sample rate. Higher equals better dynamic range and frequency response. Make sure the interface offers enough inputs and outputs for your needs whether recording live instruments or mixing in-the-box.

Durability is also important – metal housings withstand more wear versus plastic. XLR, 1/4” line, and MIDI I/O options allow interfacing with pro studio gear. Integrated mixer functions like cue mixes and zero-latency monitoring give more control. The preamps should have good gain range without excessive noise.

Software bundle deals that include a DAW and plugins offer savings, but research if the included software fits your workflow needs. Overall, choose an interface that provides reliable performance for both recording and mixing. Popular models from Focusrite, Steinberg, and Native Instruments are safe bets.

In terms of DAWs for mixing, top choices include Ableton Live, Avid Pro Tools, and Apple Logic Pro. They all provide professional mixing capabilities, so you can’t go wrong. Focus more on the workflow that clicks with your creative process.

Ableton Live’s session view enables quick beat creation and loop-based production, while still offering deep mixing tools. The intuitive interface and warp editing make it popular for electronic genres. Pro Tools sets the standard in recording studios thanks to its maturity and sound quality. The learning curve is steeper but it excels for precise mixing.

Logic Pro provides a seamless creative to technical environment on Mac. Virtual instruments, audio quantization, and smart MIDI features integrate with a full-featured mixer and suite of effects. Apple’s focus on simplicity and elegance benefits newer producers. Evaluate trial versions to get a hands-on feel for each DAW’s mixing approach.

On a budget, REAPER offers professional mixing capabilities at a fraction of the cost. The interface is highly customizable and the routing matrix is extremely flexible. While not as beginner-friendly, REAPER provides CPU-efficient performance.

There are no universally “best” interfaces and DAWs – find the ones that align with your workflow and creative style. Spend time learning your chosen tools inside and out to maximize their mixing potential. With quality interface hardware and software, you’ll be equipped to mix and produce at a professional level in your home studio.

Organizing sessions and stems

Proper organization is critical when mixing a project with multiple tracks and session files. Keeping stems, versions, and assets well-managed ensures a smooth workflow and avoids mix frustrations.

First, group your raw multitrack session files into a main PROJECT folder named logically, like “Song Title_Mix Sessions”. Inside this, create subfolders for each version like “v1”, “v2”, “alt mixes” etc. Clearly label session files with the version or date. This keeps each stage of the mix accessible.

Within session folders, properly name and color code tracks according to instrument or function. Lead Vox, BGVox (Background Vocals), Kick, Snare, Overheads, Bass, Gtrs (Guitars), Piano, Synth, FX – these types of track labels help identify parts quickly. Be consistent across sessions.

Organize edits, alternate takes, ad libs, harmonies, and other variations into neatly labeled subfolders within each version folder. This avoids cluttering your main session timeline. Only keep the best final takes in your active session. Mute unused tracks and hide them from view to streamline mixing.

Group instrument tracks using folders or categories like Drums, Percussion, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Vocals, etc. This lets you treat them as submixes for processing. Position track groups logically from drums to vocals for a structured session layout. Reference tracks go at the bottom.

Use markers on your DAW’s arrangement to delineate sections like Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Solo. Add temporary markers for areas needing work. This facilitates quick navigation when mixing different sections. Color code or name markers consistently.

Finally, export and organized final mix stems including individual tracks, subgroups, and full mixes neatly arranged into a STEMS folder within the project folder. This aids revision requests and future remixing. Balance file organization with security like encryption and cloud backup.

Avoid cluttering your working session folder with non-project content. Use templates and presets folders to store channel strip settings, effects racks, and Samples subfolders for any custom created patches, one-shots or loops.

The goal is having a streamlined directory structure and naming convention to let you focus on the creative mixing process. Neatly arranged color-coded tracks with clear labels, consolidated edits and takes, logically marked sections, and well-exported stems enable mixing with speed and precision. Organization skills directly translate to mix productivity.

Levels and Panning – How to Mix Music

Setting appropriate track levels

Proper gain staging through setting appropriate track levels is crucial for a quality mix. Getting signals at optimal loudness gives you maximum headroom to work with. Here are some tips for dialing in levels:

Aim for an average level around -18 to -12 dB peak for individual tracks, leaving headroom for transient peaks. This gives space before hitting 0 dB clipping. Some mixers adhere to the -18 dB standard, allowing peaks up to -6 dB.

Louder elements like kick and snare can hit from -12 to -6 dB peaks, while delicate tracks like soft vocals and acoustic instruments sit around -18 dB. Trust your ears and level meters to find the sweet spot.

Groups like drum kits and bass lines may have a higher overall level around -10 to -6 dB for punch, but watch that kick and snare transients don’t clip. Compressing groups can help control peaks.

Lead vocals generally sit just above the instrumental mix between -10 to -8 dB peaks, loud enough to cut through clearly. Background vocals sit lower around -16 dB. Room mics and delicate sources want lower levels.

Set your main mix buss level around -6 dB peak to leave optimal headroom for your master bus processing. This prevents clipping down the chain. Keep an eye on your mix bus meter when adjusting individual tracks.

Volume automation can help smooth out erratic tracks with wide dynamics like acoustic guitar. Compression and limiting can also control peaks, but avoid “over-squashing” dynamics.

Listen at soft and loud monitoring levels to ensure the balance holds up. Quieter elements drowned out at low volumes may need their levels nudged up. A mix that sounds solid at different loudness is more reliable.

Don’t try to push every fader to 0 dB – this will likely create clipping and excessive congestion. Set your loudest tracks first, then balance other parts relative to them at lower volumes.

Finally, listen in mono to check for phase issues or instruments disappearing. Levels may need tweaking after mono checking. Setting appropriate track levels requires a combination of technical know-how and critical listening skills.

Panning tracks for space and separation

Panning allows you to place tracks within the stereo field, giving width and space to a mix. Careful panning creates separation between instruments, preventing muddiness and masking. Here are some panning tips:

Vocals are typically panned center to anchor them as the focal point. Backing vocals can be panned subtly left and right for width, but avoid extremes. Slight panning adds realism, like 15-30% off-center.

Bass and kick are normally panned center for power. Panning too wide takes away their solidity. Other percussive elements like hi-hats and cymbals can pan more for realism. Snare is often slightly off-center.

Guitars often get hard left-right panning, especially for doubles. Offset rhythm guitars a bit for seperation. Solo guitars sit more toward the middle. Acoustics are often panned center-right to leave space for vocals.

Keyboards, synths and pads occupy the center and sides, but leaving the far left/right for guitars. Widen background textures but keep leads centered. Hard pans can sound unnatural on sustainig sounds.

Try offsetting instruments that mask each other – for example, pans a gritty synth left and the distorted guitar right. This provides clarity. Room mics panned opposite their spot mics open the sides.

Don’t overdo hard left-right pans – slight asymmetry provides natural width and space. Listen in mono to check phase cancellations from extreme panning. Subtly panning background layers gives depth.

Widen the stereo image of groups like drums and vocals using the “mid-side” technique – boosting 200-500 Hz on the centered mid channel, and attenuating the stereo side channels.

Be careful of excessive panning on sounds with strong mid or low frequencies, which can cause strain on smaller speakers. Apply moderate panning moves to bassier elements.

Panning helps place each track in its own pocket. Visualizing the stereo field helps – bass and drums in the middle, rhythm guitars left and right, leads and vocals up center. Trust your ears to find the right pan position.

Balancing levels of different instruments

Proper level balancing is key to achieving a mix where all parts are heard clearly. Here are some tips for setting relative instrument levels:

The most important elements like lead vocals, kick and snare should be the loudest in the mix. Vocals often peak around -8 to -6 dB, while kicks and snares peak around -6 to -3 dB. This punch comes through clearly above other instruments.

Bass occupies the low end around -8 dB, working with kick to provide a solid foundation. Make sure the bass doesn’t overpower the kick. Sidechain compression can help. Dial back boomy low mids for clarity.

Key instruments like guitars, pianos and synths sit roughly -12 to -10 dB peaks, loud enough to make their presence clearly felt while leaving room for vocals to shine. Background pads and textures sit quieter.

Subtle instruments like acoustic guitar require lower levels around -18 dB so their transient details aren’t masked. Compression can be used to bring out ambience. Risers, sweeps and percussion layers sit lower.

Aim for around -16 dB average for backing vocals and harmonies, dipping down during lead vocal lines. Hard panned doubles need less reduction. Volume automation helps vocals move naturally.

Drums other than kick and snare (toms, cymbals, etc) sit medium-low around -16 to -12 dB for natual balance. Overheads tie the kit together around -10 dB. Room mics add air lower down.

Listen at different monitoring levels and in mono to identify instruments disappearing or sticking out. Lead vocal consistency is most critical. Creative level moves can help highlights certain sections.

Smoothly transition between sections by easing levels down then up on instruments carrying over, preventing jarring jumps. Automation enhances this flow.

Don’t aim for all faders at unity gain – leave lower ones lower with principal elements peaking atop. EQ carves out space too. Don’t get distracted by meters, trust your ears for balance.

EQ – How to Mix Music

EQ basics (lows, mids, highs)

Equalization, or EQ, allows boosting or cutting specific frequencies to shape the tonality of individual tracks and the overall mix. Understanding what different frequency ranges represent is key to using EQ effectively.

The bass frequencies up to around 250 Hz contain the deep low end. This is where kick drums and bass reside providing the foundation. Too much bottom end sounds muddy so attenuate below 80 Hz. Boost around 60 Hz for punchy bass or 120 Hz for bass fullness.

The low mids from 250 Hz to 500 Hz add warmth and body. Many instruments occupy this range like guitar, snare, and vocals. Be careful boosting low mids too much, which can make mixes undefined. Dial back around 400 Hz to reduce muddiness.

The mids from 500 Hz to 2 kHz contain fundamental tones of most instruments and vocals. Boost 1-2 kHz for clarity and cut around 600 Hz for hollowness. The upper mids 2-5 kHz add presence and bite. Boosting here makes things more cutting and harsh.

The highs starting above 5 kHz provide brilliance, sheen and air. Boost between 10-15 kHz for sparkle but avoid boosting sibilance between 7-10 kHz. Hi-hats and cymbals occupy the top end. Rolling off frequencies above 16 kHz isn’t necessary.

Sweeping cuts and boosts lets you hone in on problem resonances. Narrow and wide Q settings have different effects. Visualizing EQ curves helps gain frequency awareness. Match EQ settings to track function – low end for bass, top end for cymbals, etc.

Understand how frequencies cumulatively interact – for example, too much boost between 100 Hz to 1 kHz makes things honky. Clean cuts are better than resonant boosts. Be judicious with EQ – don’t overdo it.

Learning the frequency ranges instruments occupy helps target the right areas. EQ to make room for other parts sharing frequencies. Listen for masking, muddiness, harshness etc and use surgical EQ moves to correct this.

Understanding the lows, mids and highs allows you to intuitively reach for the right tonal fixes. This frequency awareness comes with time and practice. EQ can make or break a mix when used properly.

Making frequency cuts to clean up tracks

Subtractive equalization using cuts is an essential mixing technique for cleaning up problem frequencies that clutter up a track. Here are some tips for effectively carving out mud with EQ cuts:

A common first move is high-passing everything below 30-50 Hz to remove inaudible sub rumble that wastes headroom. This instantly cleans up the low end. Steep 24 dB/octave filters work best.

Cut mids around 200-400 Hz on tracks like guitars and vocals to reduce muddiness and open up the clarity. Find the muddy resonance and make a narrow notch cut. Widen Q for gentler attenuation.

Clean up boxy tones on vocals, snare, and guitars by attenuating around 500 Hz. This frequency range can sound hollow and undefined when boosted too much. Careful cuts fix this.

Sweep for harsh resonant peaks between 1-6 kHz and cut them out. Narrow Q notches around 1 kHz often smooth out brittle tones. Watch boosting this range too much.

Roll off excessive highs starting above 10 kHz on cymbals, guitars and synth parts that have too much top-end sheen. A shelving filter works well for this.

Sidechain compressors with high-pass filters compress everything below the filter threshold. This is useful for creating frequency-conscious ducking.

Use a spectral analyzer to identify problem resonances and ringing. It’s easier to spot and precisely notch these issues visually. This takes the guesswork out of cuts.

Try boosting narrow peaks to hear where the ugliness lies, then cut those frequencies. Cuts around 600 Hz often help vocals sit clearer in a mix for example.

Trimming frequencies shared by competing instruments like guitars and piano opens up space in a crowded mix. You can boost what remains after cutting.

Alert frequencies for potential cuts: 200 Hz mud, 400-500 Hz hollowness, 600 Hz phasing issues, 1 kHz hardness, 5 kHz sizzle, 10 kHz+ air.

Boosting important frequencies

While subtractive EQ is common for cleaning up mixes, boosting key frequencies is equally important for enhancing sounds. Here are some effective ways to boost with EQ:

Gently boosting around 100-120 Hz adds low-end warmth to bass, kick, and guitar. This enhances the bottom fundamentals. Too much becomes boomy so boost subtly.

Add clarity and presence to vocals and acoustic guitars by boosting 2-5 kHz. Be careful around 3 kHz where things can get harsh. Narrow Q works well here.

Boost 10-15 kHz on cymbals, strings, and pads to add air and high-end sheen. Use a shelving filter so you don’t overdo it. This brightens dull tracks.

Boost the attack transients around 5-7 kHz on drums like snares and toms to sharpen the attack punch. Compress after to control peakiness.

Find the resonant sweet spot for each instrument and boost it gently to enhance tonal qualities. For example 1-2 kHz brings out the growl in an electric guitar nicely.

Widen instruments subtly by boosting 200-500 Hz in the center channel and attenuating the sides with mid-side EQ. This adds clarity.

Use paragraphic EQ to boost multiple frequency bands at once for surgical tonal shaping. Great for surgical master bus EQ moves.

Carefully alternate boosts and cuts to create spectral contrast. For example, cut 600 Hz mud and boost 1 kHz presence on a vocal. Offset moves provide clarity.

Boost a high shelf starting above 10 kHz on your master bus to add sizzle and excitement to a mix. Compress after to control added peaks.

Don’t go overboard with boosting to avoid overload distortion or peaks clipping. Narrower bandwidths focus the enhancement more. Used right, boosts bring life.

Using EQ dynamically (sidechaining)

Sidechaining EQ is an effective dynamic mixing technique where the EQ applied to a track is directly influenced by the signal level of another source. This allows the EQ to respond rhythmically and pump, opening up new creative possibilities.

A typical application is sidechaining EQ on a pad or synth to the kick drum. Every time the kick hits, filters triggered by the sidechain duck certain frequencies in the pad, often in the bass range around 100-250 Hz. This makes room for the kick, preventing muddiness.

The same technique can be used for different frequency ranges – for example sidechaining a 2 kHz dip in the pad from the snare to reduce masking of the snare crack. Fast attack and release times ensure the EQ engages rhythmically with the trigger source.

Vocals can also benefit from sidechained EQ – for instance, having the vocal brightness dip every time the lead vocal enters maintains a consistent tone. Sidechaining creates frequency-conscious ducking rather than overall volume dips.

Sidechaining is achieved by setting up an EQ as normal on the target track, then tapping the sidechain input to receive the trigger signal. This links the EQ dynamically to the sidechain source, engaging the gain reduction in time with that signal.

Creative effects are possible by triggering EQ moves from unrelated sources, like boosting reverb brightness from a drum loop. The possibilities open up when using more esoteric trigger signals.

Some compressors feature selectable filter sidechaining, engaging only the compression below or above a set frequency threshold. This frequency-targeted control takes sidechaining further.

Sidechain EQ compression from synth pads and guitars can provide rhythmic animation to pads that otherwise remain fairly static. This brings life and movement to the mix.

Try using extreme EQ settings and magnifying the ducking amount for more dramatic “pumping” effects. Subtle sidechain EQ though better serves to delicately carve out space in the mix.

When applied with finesse, sidechained EQ provides all the control of compression but focused on particular frequencies. This hybrid technique opens up new dimensions for mix processing.

Compression – How to Mix Music

Compressor basics and controls

A compressor reduces the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal. This evens out level inconsistencies and helps instruments sit better in a mix. Compressors have a few key controls:

Threshold – The level at which compression kicks in. Signals above the threshold get compressed. Turning it down causes more compression. Typical range -30 to 0 dB.

Ratio – Amount of compression applied. 2:1 means if a signal goes 2dB over the threshold, its output will only go up 1dB. Higher ratios like 8:1 apply limiting.

Attack – How fast the compressor starts compressing once the signal passes the threshold. Faster times like 10-20 ms help tame transients but slower attacks around 100 ms sound smoother.

Release – How fast the compression lets go of the signal after it drops back below the threshold. Slower release times like 200-500 ms prevent abrupt pumping.

Makeup Gain – Boosts the overall output after compression to make up for volume loss. Compression tends to lower level so makeup gain brings it back up.

Hard knee compression abruptly kicks in once the threshold is passed. Soft knee compression starts gradually as compression increases, which sounds more natural on vocals and instruments.

Understanding these fundamentals provides the framework for using compression effectively when mixing to control dynamics, glue elements, add punch, and provide sustaining texture.

Uses for compression (glue, pump, etc)

Glueing – Gentle compression (ratio 2-3:1) with quick attack and release glues elements together. Good for drum buses, vocal groups, and master bus compression. Adds cohesion.

Controlling Dynamics – More aggressive compression (6:1+) smooths out dynamic inconsistencies in vocals and instruments like guitars and drums. Makes levels more even.

Pumping – High ratio pumping compression (10:1+) with slow attack and release creates obvious audible compression effects and breathing. Good for dance/electronic styles.

Sustain/Texture – Slow compressor release (300 ms+) adds sustained tail/body to sounds like guitar and snare hits. Provides thickness and decaying ambience.

Clarity – Fast attack times (5-20 ms) prevents transients from popping out. This keeps levels controlled without blunting attack, keeping things clear.

Tone Shaping – Compressing with extreme attack and release settings changes the envelope shape, transforming the original tone in creative ways.

Mix Bus Glue – Subtle mix bus compression (2-3 dB gain reduction) glues the entire mix together. Start with this when mixing.

Level Maximizing – Brickwall limiting compression raises loudness and prevents peaking over 0 dB. Essential for increasing apparent volume.

Creatively used, compression takes on many roles : gluing elements together, adding punch, evening out performances, increasing loudness, and becoming an effect. These techniques give mixes professional polish.

Compressing drums, vocals, guitars, more

Compressing Drums

The kick and snare are often compressed to add punch and a keyed-in sound. Use a fast attack (10-20 ms) to control the initial transients, along with a quick release (100-300 ms). For thick, sustained kick and snare tone, try slower releases up to 500 ms. Set the threshold low enough to engage compression (around -18 dB) with a moderate ratio of 3:1 or 4:1. Additional heavy limiting just on kick and snare can significantly increase their apparent impact.

More gentle compression on the drum bus glues the kit together. Try a 2:1 ratio with medium attack and release, mixing in parallel to preserve dynamics. Getting your drum compression settings just right takes experimentation and ear training. When optimized, the drums will punch through the mix with outstanding energy and solidity.

Compressing Vocals

Light vocal compression makes a huge difference in getting vocals to sit right in a mix. Set a low threshold around -12 dB to engage compression, along with a gentle ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 so dynamics still sound natural. Attack around 10 ms helps control plosives without losing body. Release around 200 ms works on most voices.

Higher ratio compression (6:1+) creates a lush, dense vocal tone for ballads. Slower attack and release times in the 30-100 ms range allow the nuances of the voice to shine through. Setting the release time in sync with the tempo can sound amazing on rhythmical vocals. Automate vocal compression to be heavier during choruses for intensity and presence.

Compressing Guitars

Compressing distortion guitars makes them cut through better in a dense mix. Bring up the sustain with 200-500 ms release times and moderate 4:1 ratio compression. For strummed acoustics, use a faster release to control ringing and add punch. Parallel compression brings up background texture and vibrance.

On lead guitar sustains, heavier limiting compression adds singing tone and note definition. Let the compressor bring softer passages up in volume for consistency. Careful compression on guitars provides the ideal blend of expressiveness and clarity in a professional mix.

Compressing Other Instruments

Compression glues piano and keyboards into a cohesive bed, especially when using bus compression across layered keys. Percussive instruments like congas benefit from high ratios to add sustain and ambience. Orchestral strings become lush and open up from gentle compression.

On groups like background vocals and instrumental busses, compression adds density and brings out inner details, making the sections sound rich and full. The possibilities for creative and corrective compression are endless. With practice and experience, compression will become an invaluable mixing tool.

Parallel compression

Parallel compression, also known as New York style compression, involves blending the uncompressed and compressed versions of a track to get the benefits of compression while retaining natural dynamics. This technique can make instruments thicker and more exciting.

Start with a single track, like a snare drum. Set up a compressor on an aux track, for example with a medium ratio like 4:1, medium attack and release, and threshold low enough to give around 3-4 dB gain reduction. Send some of the dry snare track to this aux compressor.

Now blend the compressed aux return back in with the original dry snare track. Start with the compressed signal quieter around -10 dB compared to the uncompressed source. Slowly increase the level of the compressed track while lowering the dry signal, until you achieve the ideal blend.

The compressed signal will thicken up the body and sustain of the snare, while the original dynamic track preserves the natural transient snap. Blending to taste gives you the best of both worlds – sustain and punch. You can pan the parallel tracks subtly for widening too.

On drums like kick and snare, medium release times around 200 ms allow the compressed track to fill in the sustain between hits. The drier uncompressed source provides the front-end attacks. Parallel compression on drums adds consistency, body and excitement.

The same technique works on guitar, keys, and synth tracks, adding thickness and a lively compressed texture under the original part. On vocals, it provides consistency and brings out nuances lost in a flat compressed vocal.

Try compressing the parallel aux track more aggressively for extra bite. Blend to taste with the original source, allowing some dynamics to poke through the compressed bed. Mix the compressed signal lower on sections like verses, and bring it up for choruses.

Creative effects are possible by using radically different compressor settings on the parallel track – very fast attacks and releases for a squashed pump, or slow attacks for a lazy fade-in sustain. Get creative!

Used right, parallel compression makes sounds bigger and more three-dimensional. This technique brings out vibrance lost when heavily compressing the source track alone. Subtle parallel compression can work magic on most instruments in a mix.

Effects – How to Mix Music

Types of effects for mixing (reverb, delay, modulation)


Reverb creates a sense of space and environment around instruments. Small, bright reverbs are great on vocals, snare, and lead instruments to place them upfront in the mix. Longer reverbs can be used on guitars and pads to give a big ambient wash. Adjusting the decay time controls the room size. Pre-delay before the reverb onset helps clarity. Reverb makes elements sound larger than life.


Delay repeats a sound after a time interval, creating echoes. Short delays under 100ms give thickness to vocals and leads. Longer delays over 500ms create trippy atmospheric effects. Adjust feedback to control the number of repeats. Delays widen and slow down the perception of sound. Using delays on adlibs, guitar licks and vocal lines makes them more immersive.


Chorus modulates the pitch of a duplicate signal, blending it back with the original to create thickness and movement. This works well on guitars, keys, vocals and synth pads. Rate and depth parameters control the speed and intensity of the wobble. Chorus adds natural shimmer that brings sounds to life. However, go easy as it can sound artificial if overdone.


Phasers swoosh a signal across the frequency spectrum, applying dramatic EQ motion. This adds rhythmic animation to guitars, synths and drum loops, making them more engaging. The LFO rate sets the speed of the phasing sweep. Resonance boosts certain moving frequencies. Phasers can be subtle or heavily sweeping for electronic-sounding modulation effects.


Flangers swoosh sound up and down like phasers, but use a slightly delayed copy blended with the original. This adds cosmic jet-plane type effects. Flangers work well on electric guitar, spacey synth leads, and special transitions. The LFO rate controls the swooping speed. Regeneration adds resonance peaks. Flanging can get intense fast, so apply these effects sparingly unless going for an experimental sound.

Used creatively, effects like reverb, delay and modulation transform the dimension and space of instruments. They bring sounds to life in the mix. Start with basics like hall reverbs and standard delays, then get adventurous with chorusing, flanging, and dense reverbs. Effects provide the ear candy that makes mixes shimmer.

Using sends and returns

Sends and returns allow you to route a single effects plugin instance across multiple tracks for efficient processing. Here’s how they work:

First set up your effect plugin, like a reverb, on a return track. Make sure this track is set to receive no input directly, only via sends. The return track outputs the reverberated signal.

Now on your individual source tracks like vocals, guitars, drums etc, add send knobs assigned to control the level being sent to your return track. Turning up a send routes some of that track into the reverb.

Adjust the send levels on each track to dial in the perfect amount of effect applied. You can pan the sends left/right to position the effected signal. Leaving the original track centered retains clarity.

Using a return track allows you to process many tracks through the same effect while retaining individual control over the wet/dry blend. This saves CPU power compared to inserting the plugin on every channel.

EQ’ing and compressing the return track can shape the sound of the effect. For example, high-passing reverb reduces muddiness. Sidechain compression on a reverb return from the drums ducks the reverb when drums hit.

If you want different effect settings per track, set up multiple return tracks with different effects chains like short bright reverb, long hall reverb, delay etc. Send different instruments to these returns.

You can use parallel saturation or distortion on a return track to add grit just to the effected signal. This keeps the original track sounding clean while thickening the reverb/delay.

Automating the send levels provides great creative control. Send vocals selectively to a delay return just on certain words for impact. Bring send levels up during choruses to make the effects more intense.

Using sends and returns with effects provides maximum flexibility and adjustability when processing multiple tracks together. This routing method streamlines workflow while offering deep sound shaping potential when mixing.

Setting effect parameters (time, mix, etc)

Decay Time

The decay or reverb length control determines how long the effect sustains. For subtle ambience, use short decay times around 1-2 seconds. Longer decays of 4+ seconds work well on big washy guitars and pads. Match the decay length to the tempo and arrangement so the tail doesn’t clutter up new parts coming in.

Wet/Dry Mix

The wet/dry balance sets how much original dry signal is blended with the effect. For aux sends, keep the source track 100% dry and use the send knob to dial in the wet effect to taste. Insert effects will have a wet/dry mix control – often a good starting point is 50/50. Go lower on effects like reverb (30% wet) so the dry signal still shines through.


The time or rate parameter sets the rhythmic speed of modulation effects like chorus, flanger and phaser. Times around 1 Hz provide slow sweeping movement, while faster rates above 5 Hz create buzzy, sci-fi effects. Syncing the rate to tempo is useful. For example set chorusing at a 1/4 or 1/8 note rate to match the music.


Feedback or regeneration on delays and reverbs determines how many echoes occur. Higher settings cause longer trails of repeats. Keep feedback under control around 20-30% to prevent runaway oscillation. Pushing feedback higher achieves trippy otherworldly textures. Automate it for cool effect builds.

Mix Level

Keep effects like reverb quite subtle in a mix, often lower than you expect. Reverb sends are often around -12 to -16 dB relative to the dry source. Excessive wet effect levels clutter up a mix quickly. Use effects for accenting and enhancement – they can be felt more as a subtle presence than distinctly heard.


Adding a bit of pre-delay before the wet signal onset helps clarity, especially on reverbs. Around 10-50 ms provides space between the dry sound and effect. Shorter pre-delays sound more natural, while longer values accentuate the effect. Used creatively, pre-delays add rhythmic anticipation to the wet signal.

Carefully setting effect parameters makes mixes vibrant without being overwhelming. Subtle enhancement goes a long way – you can always add more effect later. Tweak controls like decay, mix and time until finding the sweet spots where effects complement your tracks perfectly.

Using effects creatively

1. Print Reverb Effects

Instead of adding reverb as a send, print a splash of reverb right on the source track itself. This creates unique ambience that becomes part of the tone rather than just making it bigger. Quick 1-2 second decays work best. Try this on vocals, guitar plucks, and percussive parts.

2. Unusual Effects Chains

Experiment with effects you normally wouldn’t think to pair, like flanger into a gritty distortion, or try a doubler before reverb. Chaining mods into delays or distorting just the delay signal opens creative possibilities. See what interesting chains you can cook up.

3. Extreme Settings

Take effects to extremes with unconventional parameter settings. Exaggerated long decay times, intense feedback repeats, super fast modulation rates, etc can transform sounds. This technique lends itself to electronic and experimental genres. Happy accidents often occur.

4. Filtered Effects

Put a filter before or after an effect to shape the tone. For example, high-passing reverb reduces muddiness, or rolling off highs can simulate vintage gear. Low-passing delay darkens the echoes. Use filters to create band-limited effects.

5. Sidechain Effects

Use compression sidechaining to make an effect pump in rhythm with a track’s groove. Sidechain reverb from kick/snare to add rhythmic spaciousness to a pad. Sidechain delay repeating just on off-beats. The possibilities are endless.

6. Unusual Sidechain Triggers

Get creative with sidechain triggers. Instead of compressing a pad from kick hits for example, try using the vocal melody as the trigger to create more unusual rhythmic interplay. Experiment with dynamic triggering between unlikely sources.

7. Automate Wet/Dry Mix

Add motion and intensity by automating an effect’s wet/dry mix parameter. For example, gradually blend in a rising reverb swell, or bring in delay echoes only during specific sections. Automating effect balances provides fluid control.

When used inventively, effects become an integral part of the arrangement rather than just adding sheen over the top. Explore creative possibilities like these to take your productions to the next level.

Automation – How to Mix Music

Volume, pan, and effect automation

Volume Automation

Careful volume automation ensures consistent levels and intelligible details. For example, bring vocals up a bit during quieter passages or distant lines using clip gain or rides. Automate choruses louder for energy. Intro/outro levels should be lower than main sections. Fade intros/outros gradually.

Smooth out uneven acoustic guitar and vocal lines with volume automation, bringing down loud spots and boosting quiet phrases. Eliminate abrupt level jumps between sections by crossfading instrument levels. Use clip gain to align inconsistent takes.

Pan Automation

Subtle panning shifts add movement and spatial dynamics. Widen backing vocals during choruses by panning them outward. Pan lead lines from center to side across verse/chorus segments. Widen instruments for effect during transitional fills and builds. Keep automation curves smooth for seamless imaging.

Reverb/Delay Sends

Increase reverb send levels during choruses to make them bigger and more enveloping, then reduce send levels again during verses for clarity. Or do the inverse – keep verses ambient and choruses tighter. Automate delay send levels creatively to add rhythmic echoes only where needed.

Effect Parameter Automation

Automate effect parameters like reverb decay time or flanger rate for dynamic sound shaping. For example, increase reverb decay length during final choruses for a dramatic distant outro effect. Or intensify chorus depth/speed to climax a buildup. Get creative!

Filter/EQ Automation

Use filter or EQ automation to create sweeping filter FX or tonal transitions. For example, gradually open a low-pass filter during a riser to create energy. Or have EQ get brighter into a chorus, then darker again afterwards. The possibilities are endless.

Used artfully, automation keeps mixes evolving fluidly while highlighting key moments. Subtle changes over time add life. Don’t overdo it though – the goal is transparent and musical automation that sounds like a natural progression. A little automation goes a long way.

Automating EQ and compression

Automating EQ

Strategic EQ automation helps mixes progress naturally and highlights important sections. For example, boost highs going into choruses for extra shimmer, then cut them again afterwards. Or gradually sweep a peak filter across instrumentation as a riser effect.

Vocal EQ automation like boosting sibilance reduction only on problem words cleans up mixes transparently. Automate midrange cuts on guitars to dip reverb sends when they play, opening space. Gradually darken EQ across outro verses leading to fadeout.

Use EQ automation to remove resonant buildup as more instruments stack. For example, attenuate harshness slowly across a crescendo to prevent congestion. Apply EQ dynamically in this way.

Automating Compression

Increase vocal compression via threshold automation on belt-it-out choruses for power, then back off for tender verses. Bass and kick compression can also increase intensity during peak sections. Mixes breathe more this way.

Automating compression release times can create amazing dynamic textures. For example, lengthen snare release across a fill to increase density. Or tighten compression release on drums before a drop. Get creative with compression timing.

Sidechain compression on a pad can be tightened during verses for rhythmic ducking, then eased off during open choruses. Sync compression timing changes to the arrangement purposefully.

Creative Approaches

Automate EQ and compression together, for example opening highs while increasing density with faster compression on choruses. Think multi-dimensionally about dynamics and tonal shaping over time.

Use extreme EQ/compression settings at strategic points for emphasis. Exaggerate moves subtly just on transition fills or key hooks. Dramatic settings automated briefly grab attention.

Don’t overwrite natural musical dynamics and vibrance. Allow the piece to breathe. Apply just enough EQ/compression automation to maintain energy and clarity. Let musicality lead the way.

When used effectively, EQ and compression automation brings mixes to life by embodying the musical narrative. Carefully reinforce this story as it unfolds to maximize engagement and impact.

Drawing vs recording automation

Drawing Automation

With drawing automation, you manually create volume, pan, and effect parameter changes by drawing automation curves with your mouse. This allows sculpting smooth, perfectly synchronized moves.

For example, you can gradually draw a volume fade out over a minute just by creating a downward sloping line. Or draw EQ bands increasing during choruses and decreasing afterwards. Drawing provides total control.

The downside is drawing automation can sound artificial if not done carefully. Keep curves natural – avoid jagged or rapid back-and-forth changes. Listen back continuously as you draw. Working in sections allows precision.

Drawing works best for long, gradual changes like extended fades, filter sweeps, and evolving effect dynamics that are hard to perform in real-time. Edit lines judiciously until they sound musical.

Recording Automation

Recording automation means enabling “write” mode and performing fader, pan, and parameter changes in real time while the track plays. The software writes your hands-on tweaks as automation.

This captures more lifelike humanization and expression. For example, record vocal rider fader changes to smooth out inconsistent lines, or effect sends to quickly grab reverb for impact. Riding gains and effect balances energetically breathes life.

It’s harder to maintain tight synchronization when recording automation. Punch in smaller sections for precision control instead of long passes. Capturing real-time automation takes practice but provides natural dynamics.

Recording automation works well for riding vocal levels, effecting subtle parameter tweaks, adding musical accents via volume and pan, and improvising expressive changes. Let the music guide you.

Use a combination of drawing and recording automation where appropriate. Draw foundational long-term changes, then record selective real-time moves atop these to capture finer nuances. Meeting halfway balances control with human feel.

Getting creative with automation

Automate EQ Filtering

Automate filter sweeps on instruments like synths and noise risers for huge dynamic effects. For example, use a low-pass filter to gradually remove highs during a breakdown, then open it back up into a chorus. Or ride a notch filter across guitar chops rhythmically.

Choppy Volume Cuts

Instead of basic crossfades between sections, get creative with volume automation using occasional choppy dips and spikes during fills and transitions. These dynamic cuts grab attention and energize mixes. Just don’t overdo it.

Pan Slipping

Add bonus panning animation like slow pan slips on hi-hats from left to right, or auto-pan synth pads subtly for spaciousness. Extra panning motion makes mixes shimmer. Use LFO modulation on depth/rate for hypnotic effects.

Unconventional Routing

Sidechain compressors and effects from creative sources beyond just drums. Let synths or vocals trigger rhythmic dips in guitars. Route bass to duck sections with rich reverbs for space. Get weird!

Exaggerated Settings

Crank up effect levels, EQ boosts, compressor ratios or other parameters to extreme amounts, automate briefly for emphasis. Pushing settings over-the-top at certain moments draws attention. Just don’t overdo this technique.

Twist Macro Knobs

Assign multiple effect/EQ parameters to a single macro knob, so tweaking it morphs the sound in complex ways. Automating this macro control sweeps through radically evolving tones. Great on build-ups.

Draw Chaotic Warping

Draw wild volume and effect automation with crazy zig-zags and jagged spikes for glitchy/experimental music. This chaotic warping adds edgy dynamic changes. Or use random LFOs on parameters.

Don’t limit yourself to just volume and pan moves. The world of modulation and non-linear parameter automation opens up unlimited creative possibilities. Explore out-there automation to keep mixes evolving in exciting ways.

Final Mixdown – How to Mix Music

Gain staging and headroom

Proper gain staging means optimizing signal levels at each stage of the mixing process to maximize clarity and minimize noise. This gives you plenty of headroom, or space below the maximum volume limit, avoiding clipping.

Start by recording tracks at appropriate levels, peaking around -12 to -6 dB. This prevents clipping at the interface input stage. Leave peaks near 0 dB for mastering.

Set channel faders to a healthy level like -18 dB average, then control overall track levels via clip gain. This solid gain stage at the channel strip gives room to boost before overloading.

Mix with peaks around -6 dB on your master bus, leaving at least 6 dB of headroom below 0 dB so mastering can bump the overall level. Never allow master bus clipping.

Keep levels consistent across all tracks and effects. Don’t boost individual tracks too loud in the mix, causing master bus overloading. Balancing tracks is key.

Avoid pushing processing like EQ, compression and effects too hot, increasing noise and distortion. Allow room on effects for master bus processing.

Set input/output levels on outboard gear appropriately to integrate with your system gain staging. Calibrate headphone volumes for comfortable long-term mixing.

Watch level meters closely to identify clipping at any stage. Clipping halts transient peaks unnaturally, causing distortion. Aim to never limit dynamics through poor gain structuring.

Optimizing gain staging gives you maximum clarity and control while avoiding noise and harsh clipping distortion. This clarity allows making better mixing decisions. Don’t overlook the importance of thoughtful gain structuring from beginning to end.

Bouncing/exporting final mix

Always do your final mixdown export only after completing the entire mix to avoid iterating endlessly. Mix with intent and commit. Don’t second guess yourself.

To create your final mix, consolidate all tracks into a single stereo master track. Mute or delete unneeded tracks and processing to free up system resources.

Do any final tweaks like master bus processing and limiting to polish the full mix before export. Make sure clipping hasn’t crept in. Never export a clipped mix!

When exporting, choose a lossless format like .WAV or .AIFF. These retain full quality for mastering. The file extension doesn’t inherently affect quality.

Make sure dithering is added while exporting to maximize bit depth resolution. This reduces quantization noise from truncating large bit depths.

Export your mix at the target sample rate it was mixed at (usually 44.1 or 48 kHz). Don’t resample or convert sample rates on export.

A peak level of around -6 dBFS generally provides enough headroom for mastering while maximizing signal level. Integrated LUFS loudness can average around -14 LUFS.

Name your export file clearly like “Song Title_Mix_Date” so you know exactly what project version it contains. Good file organization is crucial.

For reference, also export MP3s at 320 kbps and lower bitrates like 128/96 kbps to check your mix in lossy formats. Listen critically to how it translates.

Back up your final mix project folder containing the mix session and exports to both internal and external drives in multiple locations. Never have just a single copy of important mixes!

With care and practice, bouncing and exporting mixes becomes quick second nature. Just be sure to avoid rookie mistakes like clipping and organize files logically. Your music is worth getting the finale right!

Loudness metering

Loudness meters analyze perceived loudness based on how the human ear hears, unlike peak signal meters which simply show maximum volume. Loudness meters like LUFS help ensure consistent perceived loudness across different playback systems.

LUFS stands for Loudness Units relative to Full Scale. LUFS values indicate the overall integrated loudness of audio normalized to a set negative value. Most streaming platforms now use LUFS normalization.

For example, Spotify and YouTube normalize audio to around -14 LUFS integrated loudness. This means a laid-back -18 LUFS folk track will be turned up as much as a dense -10 LUFS EDM banger so both play at equal loudness.

When mixing music for streaming services, mixing to integrated target loudness values like -14 LUFS ensures your mix won’t get turned up or down after upload. This provides reliable translation and avoids destructive normalization.

Don’t try to “trick” loudness normalization by mastering tracks super loud. This just triggers excessive normalization compression causing squashing, artifacting, and transient loss ruining your mix impact.

Aim to have your mix peak transients around -3 to -5 LUFS short-term loudness with average integrated loudness around -14 LUFS for today’s music services. Precision loudness metering prevents nasty surprises.

Don’t obsess over loudness meters when mixing as musical balance and tone should drive decisions. Just be aware of integrated loudness and peaks to avoid over-compressing and allow fair normalization by streaming platforms.

Do a final pass tuning integrated loudness and peak levels when exporting mix stems for mastering. This provides optimal gain staging for the mastering process. Communicate target loudness specs to your mastering engineer clearly.

With loudness normalization being applied whether we like it or not, mixing and mastering engineers must evolve by mastering perceived loudness and how it impacts musical experiences. Loudness metering literacy is critical.

Delivery formats (MP3, WAV, etc)

The most common full quality delivery format is the uncompressed WAV file. This contains the highest fidelity audio and is preferred for CD pressing and vinyl manufacturing. AIFF is also sometimes requested though essentially identical to WAV. Always deliver lossless mixes.

For digital distribution, MP3s at 320 kbps are standard. While an audible loss of high frequency content occurs, a 256-320 kpbs MP3 should retain enough integrity for streaming platforms. Avoid going lower if possible.

When delivering MP3s, ALACs and AACs >256 kbps are preferable for slightly better fidelity if client platforms allow them. Chances are they’ll get converted to MP3 downstream anyway. But start high quality.

Clients often request 16 and 24 bit WAV/AIFF files. 24 bit has more headroom and dynamic range, though exceeding 16 bit requires proper dithering to the target bit depth. Deliver in requested bit depths.

Some clients want WAV/AIFF files as 4-6 song albums in a single file. These “album sequence” files with desired track splits are common for digital stores. Song separations must match requested indexing.

Mastered for iTunes versions now require Apple Digital Masters (24-bit/48kHz ALACs with optional Dolby Atmos ADM file). Know these specifications inside out for today’s ecosystem.

Broadcast wave files (BWF) with embedded metadata like timestamps and descriptions are frequently requested for post, film and media use. Debug files thoroughly for synchronization issues prior to delivery.

Finally, always maintain your own backups of final masters and mix stems in organized audio vaults. Never rely on clients alone for preserving important audio work. Cover your own archiving.

Aim to deliver audio assets in every requested format readily to ensure clients can deploy your work immediately across the many platforms requiring specific specs. Mastering delivery best practices ensures your music gets heard in top quality.


Mixing is both a technical craft and creative art that brings recorded music to life. While there is always more to explore, following the core techniques covered in this guide will take your mixes to a professional level.

First, set up an optimal mixing environment including acoustic treatment, quality monitors, a versatile audio interface, and a comfortable workspace. Organize sessions efficiently and clean up tracks with editing. Balance levels, pan strategically, and EQ judiciously to create a balanced foundation.

Use compression thoughtfully across tracks and groups to add punch, gluing cohesion, and tame dynamics. Experiment with creative parallel compression to liven things up. Apply effects like reverb, delay and modulation to add depth and vibrance – but don’t overdo it.

Ride levels, pans, and effects actively through automation for transparent control over time. Drawfoundational changes, then record select moves in real time for natural expression. Processing and arrangement should evolve fluidly together.

Throughout the mix process, check your mix in mono and at different volume levels. Gainstage carefully to maximize clarity while avoiding noise and harsh clipping at each stage. Listen on different speaker systems to ensure translation.

Before exporting final mixes, create space with EQ, use surgical compression, smear reverb judiciously, and add light limiting. Loudness metering helps ensure streaming-ready levels.

Mixing is a lifelong journey of honing your ears, understanding signals, and learning how to bring out the best in music. But use these core concepts and tools covered to fast track your mixes to a radio-ready state.

Remember that mixing serves the song. Don’t lose sight of the big picture creative goals and emotional intent. Let musicality and dynamics guide your choices, not just technical perfection. Great mixing connects deeply with listeners.

With persistence and practice, you will develop skills to mix any genre intuitively. Constantly train your ears. Analyze professional mixes you love. Experiment boldly and keep learning. Most importantly, enjoy the creative process! Mixing is an incredibly rewarding craft when techniques directly translate into engaging musical experiences.

Final mixing tips and considerations

Mixing is a balancing act on many levels – technical, creative, emotional. Trust your ears but also lean on visual feedback from meters, spectrum analyzers, and session organization. Your eyes and ears together will guide the best decisions.

Make mixing an immersive experience free of distractions. Critical listening requires deep focus to catch subtle nuances. Give your full attention to evaluate the mix from different perspectives and make adjustments.

Don’t aim for perfection – aspire more for great musical moments, emotion, and vibes. Use your tools and techniques to serve the song rather than demonstrating technical prowess. Let the human connection lead.

Give your ears breaks to avoid ear fatigue leading to poor decisions. Take regular breaks during long mix sessions to refresh your perspective. Come back with “new ears” to catch issues.

Clean up as you go – don’t leave sloppy tracking artifacts thinking you’ll fix it later. Refine tracks between recording sessions for a solid foundation before mixing. edited

Mix as you record when possible to catch issues early. But also be open to reinventing tracks during mixing by processing and effects if ideas strike. Allow creative possibilities.

Collaborate with others and seek feedback from clients, colleagues, and fresh listeners unfamiliar with the project. Multiple perspectives provide valuable objective insight.

Remain open to learning new techniques but also confident using tried and true tools you know well. Both expanding your palette while honing favorites will improve skills.

Don’t expect to get mixes right quickly. Be patient and persistent. Allow time for revisions. Walk away when frustrated and come back refreshed. Mixing often requires many passes.

Above all, remember that mixing serves the greater purpose of connecting listeners with the music. Let this goal drive technical decisions, not the reverse. Mix from the heart.

With commitment to your craft and willingness to grow, your mixing abilities will progress exponentially. Mixing is a lifelong journey. Savor each milestone along the path. Keep listening critically, learning continuously, and mixing passionately!

Promoting importance of mixing in production

Mixing is a critically important stage in production, turning raw multitrack recordings into professional, release-ready songs. Despite often happening late in the process, mixing should be considered early when composing, arranging, and tracking.

Many rookie producers underestimate mixing, thinking it is just a technical polishing stage. But the mixer’s job is far more creative and nuanced than just balancing levels and panning. Their tonal shaping and spatial placement choices enhance emotion and impact.

Great mixing engineers bring out inner details, excitement, and emotion within the music other ears may miss. They dynamically craft a listening experience with technical finesse and intuitive artistry. Mixing deserves recognition as its own creative craft.

The compositional and performance choices made when writing and tracking fundamentally impact the mix. Leaving adequate space in arrangements is crucial for clarity in the dense final mix. Tracking clean takes makes mixing much easier.

Recording quality source sounds with proper gain staging provides the highest fidelity elements to work with in mixing. Fixing mistakes or poor tracking during mixing limits possibilities. The better the raw materials, the better potential results.

Having musicians involved in the mix process helps balance technical polish and musicality. Mixers must interpret the artist’s creative vision, which benefits from direct cross-communication.

Allowing the proper time and budget for mixing is key. Rushing the mixing process results in less refined results. The final miles often make the most difference in realizing production potential.

A great mix can make an average song shine, while a poor mix can ruin excellent material. The mixer’s influence on how productions ultimately come across cannot be overstated. Their imprint is significant.

In today’s digital production world, integrated mixing skills are invaluable for any music producer to have. Being able to transition fluidly between composing, tracking, and mixing allows creating a unified production vision.

Don’t downplay mixing as just technical knob turning. When done creatively, it breathes life into music. The balance of science and artistry makes mixing endlessly deep, nuanced, and invaluable. Respect great mixing.

Encouraging experimentation and practice

Great mixing requires extensive experimentation and practice to hone your ears and handle complementary tools. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Play freely with sounds, channels, effects, processes – this exploration breeds mixing creativity.

Learning the science of frequencies, gain staging, compression techniques etc provides the foundation. But mixing artistry comes from freely twisting knobs and seeing what happens. Happy accidents often lead to signature effects and textures.

Don’t just stick to textbook techniques. Break rules deliberately to find what unique results unconventional approaches yield. Let your intuitions guide new pathways. Innovation comes from regular experimentation.

Set limitations to force creative solutions, like only using stock plugins and effects or mixing on headphones. Working within constraints pushes innovation. Limit your toolkit, then explore it deeply.

Analyze experimental mixes objectively later for what worked and what didn’t. Retain effective discoveries that could become secret sauce production tricks. Catalog inspirations for further development.

Stay relentlessly curious about sound and production. Seek out new styles, genres, eras to hear fresh mixing perspectives and ideas. Broaden your listening habits to expand your palette.

Don’t be constrained by genre conventions. Mix pop vocals with a gritty lo-fi edge, or try dense techno arrangements in an ambient dream-pop style. Blend influences fearlessly.

Let mixing experimentation influence songwriting and arrangement decisions too. Compose parts specifically to allow creative processing later. Writing, tracking, mixing can symbiotically inform each other.

Be bold and unapologetic with effects and tonal choices that excite you. Not every experiment will work, but your unique mixing vision will develop. Enthusiasm drives discovery.

Constantly train your ears by analyzing music intimately. Reverse engineer mixes by favorite producers to understand their techniques. Studying great records provides an advanced education.

Like any discipline, mixing requires ongoing practice and learning. Skills compound over time. Be patient on your journey. Keep an explorer mindset, practice passionately, and enjoy the joy in mixing every day.

More Resources:
Mixing Music: What is Sound Mixing?

Introduction to Ableton Live: Welcome to the Course | Part 1/25 | Erin Barra

Download Your Free Music Production Handbook Now:
Earn Your Music Production Degree Online with Berklee:
Watch All of the Videos in This Series:

In this video series, Berklee Online instructor ...
Erin Barra explores some of Ableton Live’s most powerful and useful functionality: sequencing MIDI programming, sampling, audio recording, warping and processing, looping, editing, mixing, performing, file management, and troubleshooting. She also delves into deeper topics such as Max for Live and automation. Meant to be a springboard for those who are new to Ableton Live and/or DAWs in general, this fundamental series will provide a strong knowledge base for using Ableton Live to take your musical ideas from conception to final recording. Erin Barra breaks down the many barriers of entry into music technology and encourages all those who wish to create fearlessly.

About Erin Barra:
Erin Barra is an educator, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and music technology consultant. She is an associate professor in the Songwriting department at Berklee College of Music and is one of the leading product specialists for Ableton. She works with artists and bands looking to integrate laptops and digital technologies into their writing, production, and stage setups, and has developed and taught several music technology curriculums.

About Berklee Online:
Berklee Online is the continuing education division of Berklee College of Music, delivering online access to Berklee’s acclaimed curriculum from anywhere in the world, offering online courses, certificate programs, and degree programs. Contact an Academic Advisor today:
1-866-BERKLEE (US)
1-617-747-2146 (international callers)

Erin Barra | Ableton Live | Max for Live | MIDI Programming | Sampling | Audio Recording | Warping | Processing | Looping | Editing | Mixing | Performing | File Management | Berklee | Berklee College of Music | Berklee Online
[+] Show More

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.