What is Mixing?

Before I begin I just wanted to make a disclaimer. Most people to come across this article will more than likely know what mixing is.  However, I thought it was important to explain this because there still are a lot of people who want to know “What is Mixing?”.  I receive the same old question all the time “What do you do?” and you might be surprised that when I tell someone about mixing or my intentions of mixing, the most common responses are, “What is Mixing?”, “So you’re a DJ?” or “So you arrange songs?”.

Not always but sometimes a mix engineer’s job can involve some type of arrangement of the song or parts of the song, but to say that and Mixer arranges the song is nothing farther from the truth. And a mixer’s job never involves DJing, period. So with that out of the way, let me give you the simplest version (or mine anyways) of what mixing is.

So What is Mixing Exactly?

Mixing is the process in which all recorded elements of a song are blended together into one or more channels.  The most common is two channels, also known as Stereo. When we say “blend” parts of a song, it tends to be pretty vague because it can mean a plethora of different things and that is exactly the best way to describe mixing. You see, there are so many different methods, styles, tools, tricks and secrets to get to a finished product that the whole process is actually pretty vague. Put five competent mix engineers in a room then give them a song and all the tools they need. Then describe to them the style of mix you are going for and more often than not you will see five completely different ways of getting to the final product, even if all the mixes sound fairly similar. That is the beauty of mixing, there is no right or wrong way to approach a mix, but the mix that usually comes out on top is the one that moves the audience more so than any other.

Processing

So what are some of the tools we can use to blend a song together?

Compressors – These are used to change or sometimes enhance the dynamic content of a sound. You can even out the vocals or add attack to the drums
Compressing Vocals PART 1 (Sandpaper Theory)
Compressing Vocals Part 2 (Ducking)

Compressing Vocals PART 3 (Limiting)
Compressing Vocals PART 4 (Parallel Compression)
Equalizers – These are used to manipulate the frequency content of a sound. Subtractive usually tends to sound better when blending instruments.
Gates – Can be used in more than one creative way but are useful for filtering out any unwanted signal at a set threshold.
Pan Pots – These are used to set the position of the sound, in the song, from Left to Right.
Volume Faders – controls the amount of gain a signal has in a particular song. Usually the volume fader will make and element sound more upfront or more distant.

Effects

Reverb – Creates space or an environment around a dry sound.
Using Reverb on Vocals PART 1
Using Reverb on Vocals PART 2
Delay– Can be used to fill in space in a song, add rhythm to a sound, or be made to sound like a reverb when used appropriately
How to Use Delay Throws in A Mix
ModulationIs used to alter the sounds characteristic, usually through phase, time, pitch, and volume. Can make a sound seem less urgent and can be used to add excitement.

Using the mentioned tools we can create something known as the mixing “sound stage”. If you were to visualize the space between your speakers as literally a stage, than the “sound stage” is a visual representation of what we hear. What are the areas of our soundstage?

Height – Can be represented as frequency (highs and lows).
Depth – Front to Back perception of sounds
Width – Left to Right, Usually defined by Panning.

Now the last thing I wanted to briefly discuss was mixing goals. Every engineer has a list of his/her own goals that he/she wants to achieve, in a particular song. But I think some of the most basic goals that an engineer can start with are:

  • Overall Balance of all frequencies.
  • Set appropriate volumes
  • Have all elements sound like they were meant to be together
  • Have the star element touch the audience (usually lead vocals)
  • Never be married to any techniques or rules
  • Make the listener forget that there are speakers in the room, only sounds.

Anyways, this is as brief as it gets for someone who may not know about the mixing process and hopefully I answered the question “What is Mixing?”.    I think as time goes on and mixing becomes more relevant (thanks to the internet) than the question will be asked a lot less.

The next article will dive more into the meat and potatoes of mixing. And will appeal more to the person who wants to learn more about mixing.

Still Struggling with EQ?