What is mixing?
Balance, clarity, punch and power - this part of the music production can make or break a record. A great mix makes a song come into its own, connect with the listener and convey the message and feeling as accurately as possible. A great mix is also one that is as exciting and compelling to listen to, technically, as the song itself, and to achieve that it is extremely important to have proper source tracks to work with in the mixing stage. You can only polish so much - so don’t skip ahead!
The first rule of mixing: If it sounds good, it sounds good!
Second rule of mixing: If it sounds good... it sounds good!
The mixing process itself can be divided into three basic steps: Preparation, balancing and polishing. Preparation involves setting levels, panning tracks, maybe adding effects and other tasks that need to be done before actually mixing the song itself. Balancing involves getting the levels of the different tracks to sound good together. This is when you will make decisions about how loud each instrument should be, and which instruments will be panned where. Polishing is the final step in the mixing process and involves adjusting and automating effect sends, levels. Crafting a mix is not an easy task, but it can be done by following a few steps:
Creating a Concept
A concept is the idea or story behind the record, it gives your work direction and will help keep you on track with your mix. It helps you to focus on what’s important and what isn’t, and it helps you to decide what kind of feel or mood would fit the song best. Try to imagine how the song would sound if it was played in a club or on the radio - does it have potential? A great way to create a concept for your record is by making a mood board. A mood board is a collection of images that represent the song and its concept, it can be anything from magazine cutouts to photos of your favorite artists.
Setting the Stage
Before you start mixing, make sure you have everything set up properly. Make sure your monitors are set up correctly, and that they are calibrated properly to your room (if possible). Make sure you have the right plugins installed and that they are working correctly. Listen to your favorite music - somthing that you know well - and listen to it while setting up your mix environment so that you can quickly identify any issues with your room or equipment.
The Mixing Process
Set Initial Levels: Before you start mixing, make sure all your tracks are at a healthy level. If the audio signal is too low you'll have noise (bit quantization and/or dither) and if it's too loud, you'll hear clipping and distortion. Once all the levels are set, pan each track to an appropriate position, making sure stereo tracks are in fact stereo and not accidentally set to mono. You can check the panning visually by looking at where it is panned on your computer screen, or use your ears by turning off all tracks except one (yep, the 'solo'-button is cool for that) and you should be able to hear a distinct difference between left and right channels and feel that the sound has width, as if the sound comes from not only the speakers, but from in between and maybe even beyond you speaker positions.
Add Effects: Any effects that you want to add should be added now. For example, if you want to add reverb or delays, do it now.
Automate Tracks: Automating tracks involves adjusting level or other parameters for each track in the mix over time. For example, if you want your kick drum to get louder as a song progresses, you would automate its volume so that it increases as time goes by. If you're not familiar with automating tracks, don't worry about it too much. You can skip it for now and come back to it later (if you're not familiar with automating tracks, here is a good tutorial on how to do it).
Balancing: Prioritize your material! The important stuff (like vocals) should be up front, loud and clear and the less important should be kept at a level where it does not interfere and distract. Adjust the levels of each track relative to one another in order to achieve the best possible sound for a given song. What's the best sound? That's depending on genre, and you'll need a reference tack - check out the next point:
Use a Reference Track: For every song you mix, set a reference track that represents what you want your song to sound like. I recommend finding songs that are similar stylistically and mixing those instead of trying to mix every genre under the sun. Don't be mixing in the blind - seasoned pro mixers use reference tracks all the time because it works.
Use Your Ears: Use your ears and have an opinion what you hear! If something sounds bad, change it. If you create something that you think sound amazing, don`t touch it - leave it there and don't be afraid to!