The Perfect Audio Mix
There are 6 elements to mixing music that engineers and producers follow that make up the mixing process. They are Balance, Frequency Range, Panorama, Dimension, Dynamics and Interest.
Each one of these elements are just as important as the next. It should be noted that each process is important by themselves, but essential when together. Whether in a live environment or recording studio, following these 6 elements can help you achieve the perfect audio mix.
- Balance: the volume level relationship between musical elements. This is what the typical image of a audio engineer or producer does. Pushing up volume and pulling it down. This is actually just the beginning of the Process. It is extremely important to have balance in a mix. This is to say that everything appears to be at the same or appropriate level. Many amateurs will either skip over or spend too much time on this element. Some even call a mix done once they finish this step, this is a critical mistake and will only make the following steps more difficult or even impossible.
- Frequency Range: having all audible frequencies properly represented. This is a process that requires a keen ear and through understanding of instruments and the way they should sound. EQing is the boosting and cutting of frequencies to achieve the desired sound. One common mistake is to add EQ while recording, but this step is safer and more practical to add in mix down.
- Panorama: placing a musical element in the sound field. An easy way to describe this is where does the instrument come from upon playback. Think of listening to a song with headphones and hearing something that appears to go right through your head. This is achieved with panning and creates a stereo mix.
- Dimension: adding ambience to a musical element. This is where reverb, delay and other effects are added. In the Music industry this is often described as making a mix wetter. A Dry mix is a mix that is a raw recording without any other effects added. Adding dimension can make the space you are hearing the music in Larger, smaller, more open or confined.
- Dynamics: controlling the volume envelope of an individual track or the entire mix. Dynamics is where Compression, Gating and Limiting are added. What this does is keeps all of the sounds at a pleasant and appropriate level. In the instance of a compressor it will act as an autopilot on the volume control. Did you ever hear a song or performance, where one not just rings and seems louder than the others? This is where the compression kicks in to automatically bring that intensity down.
- Interest: making the mix special. The best way to describe this is to think of an emotional song. I’ll use, Celine Dion’s “My heart will go on”, since we have all heard it. We add interest by manually controlling swells and volumes to create more of an emotional response. Usually moving into key changes or choruses. Think of the part where she sings the “Near, Far, Where ever you are.” There are subtle things a good engineer or producer can do to make a mix more interesting and emotional. This is often over looked with amateur engineers, due to lack or experience and guidance.
With training and practice, you can learn this valuable skill. Even if you have a home studio, these 6 elements are essential and even missing one can make your mix sound amateur. This however is something you can’t learn through a video, but through hands on practice and guidance you can learn the skills of Award winning producers and engineers.