To sell your music online it needs to sound the best it can, and that means getting it mixed, and then mastered. In our Ultimate Guide To Mixing we’ll take you through
What mixing is, and why you need to mix your tracks:
– How to add effects during mixing
– How to find the right mix engineer
– How to prepare your files for mixing
– How you can you learn to mix your music yourself
What is mixing, and do I need my music mixed?
Mixing is the professional audio process of arranging your music to sound like a finished record. All the songs you hear on the charts have been properly mixed by a professional mixing engineer. To best understand mixing it’s important to put it into context of the entire process of recording your music.
1. First step, you’ve written a song.
2. Second step, you record the song either at home, in a recording studio, or something in-between.
3. Once you’ve completed the recording stage of the process it’s time to get mixing.
Mixing in its purest essence is the balancing of audio levels of all the individual tracks (referred to as stems) of a song. If a song is comprised of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, then you have 4 tracks (stems) in the song. You may have made a general balance when you listened back to the song while recording. This is a great start but there is still work to be done. To really fine tune things you’ll want to hand it over to a mix engineer who can polish everything and make it sound as high fidelity as possible.
While music is completely subjective, in general a well-balanced song means you can hear all the parts of the song clearly. Lead vocals are typically upfront and clear so lyrics can be understood. It helps to visualise as if it were a live performance. The vocalist is typically up front and centre while the bass and guitar may be a step to the side with the drummer in back holding everything together. You want your music to sound like that when the listener closes their eyes and puts headphones on.
That said there is always room for experimentation if you want to give listeners a different experience entirely.
How to add effects to your music during mixing
Alongside balancing levels, you can add effects, equalisation and compression during the mix process.
Reverb, delay, and distortion are common effects used frequently in music. Making your vocals sound underwater, in the back of a concert hall, or coming through an old radio box all are things you can do to make your music cinematic and exciting. Delays can make one drum hit explode like it’s falling down a canyon. When thinking of distortion think of hard rock guitar like Metallica and AC/DC.
Humans can hear frequencies from 20Hz – 20,000Hz. This wide spectrum encompasses all instruments and vocals. In mixing, you can balance the equalisation of the music to get rid of buzzing amps, air conditioning that was left on in the room, strange hums and all sorts of audio distractions.
Audio signals can cover a large dynamic range. Very quiet sounds can suddenly become very loud. Compression will flatten the dynamic range in a way that will make the recordings sound natural and pleasing to the ear. Our ears compress sounds we hear in the real world, so we need to use compressors in the recording process to imitate this process.
How to find the right mix engineer
So, you’re ready to hire a mix engineer. How do you find one? One of the best ways to find a mix engineer is by reading the credits of an album you love the sound of. Spotify, Wikipedia, and websites like allmusic.com offer ways to read the liner notes and find out who mixed an album. Don’t forget the old-fashioned way of reading the back of a vinyl or CD as well.
A quick Google search and you’re likely to find out the names behind your favourite records. Spotify’s EQL initiative has created a great list of female mix engineers for hire to help create a more equal gender representation behind the music.
Alongside finding your favourite artist’s preferred mix engineer, you can use sites like SoundBetter to browse a huge selection of mix engineers available for hire. This includes GRAMMY-award winning engineers as well as those just starting out who offer more affordable rates. Simply make a proposal and the mix engineer will accept the job if it’s to their liking. Prices vary widely depending on the experience of the engineer. Expect to pay as little as £50 and up to £1,000/song.
Online services are offered from world-class studios like Abbey Road who have online mixing available from £250. They give you access to the same engineers who worked on music by Ed Sheeran, Paul McCartney, and many more.
Don’t forget that your local recording studio will likely have contacts with great mix engineers that work at the studio frequently. Give them a ring and ask if they recommend any mix engineers.
To learn more about mixing read our interview with The Killers producer and acclaimed mix engineer Jonathan Rado
How to prepare your files for mixing
File delivery to a mix engineer usually requires the person that recorded your music to ‘bounce’ (export) your tracks individually into a folder where each instruments’ recorded file can be seen in a high-quality format like a .WAV. Mix engineers may use Pro Tools, Logic, StudioOne or various other DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstation) so they will request the audio files instead of the DAW session.
Can I learn to mix myself?
One reason most artists have others mix their music is because it’s sometimes hard to make the best judgement on something so personal to you. If it took you days to nail that guitar solo, you may be inclined to make it the loudest instrument in the mix whether or not that’s the most enjoyable listening experience for your fans. Having an outside look is a good way to get valuable feedback to make your music better.
That said, it’s not for everyone to hand over your creative projects to others. For those who wish to complete the process themselves they’ll be joining a long list of proficient musicians like Jacob Collier, Tame Impala, and Imogen Heap who are famous for mixing records they wrote. Not only will you be able to mix your own records but you can also pursue a career path alongside to mix for others.
Abbey Road Institute is a program designed by a team of specialists, industry experts and the team at Abbey Road Studios to teach the next generation of producers and mix engineers. Learn to mix in the room The Beatles, Adele, Pink Floyd and countless others recorded over the years. Alongside formal education, sites like Mix With The Masters offer online tutorials from industry leaders who have mixed tracks for the likes of Billie Eilish and Coldplay. Lastly, you can grab books by engineers like Abbey Road Institute’s Carlos Lellis or Bobby Owsinski’s Mixing Engineer Handbook. Happy mixing!