Making good music often involves multiple moving parts, and many people can be involved in the creative process. From the vocalists to the drummers, to the bass guitarists, and more, music is built on layers and layers of beautiful sounds that soon come to create a cohesive whole; a song.
But how do you possibly mix together these layers in a way that is cohesive and pleasant to the ear, without sounding like a horrific cacophony? This is where the all-important audio mixer comes into play, to blend those separate layers into what we recognize as a song.
But what actually is a mixer, and what does mixing actually entail? What’s involved in the process of mixing a song, and what do you need in order to do it? This will soon be a question of the past, as we are going to explore the world of mixing, and what’s involved in creating a hit song!
What Is Mixing?
With the invention of Multitrack recording in 1955, the production of music changed significantly across the World. The process of multitrack recording allows artists to record every single element of a track, (the vocals, the drums, and the harmonies) separately, to then be layered on top of one another and mixed together.
This made the process of creating music easier, as each element of the track could focus on being its best, before then being blended with the other elements. The more difficult part comes later when the mixer then has to find a comfortable blend between the elements, to create a cohesive product.
Multitrack recording is still used today, thanks to the ways in which it makes music production easier. The modern mixer takes all of the elements of a song and finds the best way to balance them into a harmonious collective.
This involves processes such as Equalization, which involves playing around with the sound frequencies of each element, in order to make them sound louder or quieter. If a certain part of the track is too quiet or too loud, this can be changed easily using computer software.
Mixers also make use of audio panning, which causes separate elements of the track to head to certain sounds of a sound system. For example, when you are listening to a song through headphones, certain elements of the song might only play in one ear.
What Is Involved In Mixing?
There are multiple steps involved in the process of mixing a successful music track. These steps can be done in any order, or certain steps may be skipped entirely. The first crucial step in mixing a song is to find the arrangement.
You need to have a good idea of where each element of the song will be, and how you want the song to play out. Luckily, you’ll most likely have this worked out from when you or your band first wrote the song.
Leveling is another important step of the process. In most songs, the aim is to create a harmonious balance between all instruments and vocals, so that certain elements aren’t oppressively loud in comparison to others.
Leveling simply balances the volume of each element. Compression is also useful here, as it allows the mixer to easily control whether an instrument is louder at one point in a song, or quieter at another.
The mixer can also create a sense of space with the music, by using reverb, which can create echoing sounds to make instruments or vocals sound as if they are actually present to the listener.
Equalization is then used to solidify the balance between all elements in the song so that the song can be more easily edited and manipulated without risking the elements moving into chaos. Panning can also be used to create wild effects that enhance the sense of space within a song, to make sounds appear on either the left or right audio channels of any sound system.
When a mixer is exporting their song, upon completion, they will usually seek to ensure that the final track does not exceed certain audio levels, so that any other finishing touches can be added later without hassle, and without risk of ruining the track.
What Tools Are Used In The Mixing Process?
Nowadays, mixing is mostly tackled through the use of specially designed computer programs that make it easy to keep track of every element at one time, and in one space.
These programs can be controlled via the computer itself, but very often well-trained mixers will make use of large mixing consoles that are complete with thousands of moving knobs and buttons to allow for complete control over the track.
Mixing consoles will usually have controls for reverb, equalization, compression, and panning. These can be controlled easily through practical manipulation of various knobs and buttons, to allow for perfect mixing at every step of the way.
These components usually number in the thousands, so mixers will have to spend many hours familiarising themselves with what each component means, and what they are capable of.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between mixing and mastering?
Towards the end of any mixing process comes the job of the mastering engineer. The mastering engineer can be thought of as an editor, someone who makes sure that the song not only is coherent but is also exciting and likely to become a hit.
Mastering engineers often seek to create the sense of a cohesive whole on the level of a whole album. They seek to make every track flow well into the next and seek to make the music sound best on every sound system possible.
Why is mixing important in music?
Mixing is incredibly important to the music-making process, as it makes all of your favorite songs pleasant to the ear, and cohesive as a piece of art. Mixing ensures that no matter how a song is recorded, it will sound amazing once released to the public.
What we’ve looked at today may make mixing sound like a simple and easy process, but it is actually a very difficult and time-consuming process that takes hours to master. Professional mixers very often have had professional training in being able to detect varying audio levels by ear, in order to mix elements efficiently.
Mixing involves having complete control over many moving parts, which makes it an intensive, and difficult job, but one that is highly rewarding, and that has led to some of our favorite songs ever!