Music isn’t easy to make, and there are many steps in creating a complete song. One such step is mixing, which is a process of adjusting and combining the individual tracks you’ve recorded into a mix. The process sounds simple enough, but how hard is it to mix a song?
Mixing a song is hard, and learning to mix songs well comes through trial and error. A large part of mixing songs well is listening. With experience, it becomes easier to hear what makes great music. Having good quality gear is helpful, but you ultimately have to learn and master mixing skills.
I’m going to go over what sound mixing is, how difficult it is to mix music, and what you need to know if you want to be a mixer. If you’re going to make a career in creating music or if you’re simply interested in music mixing, keep reading.
What’s Involved in Mixing a Song?
Sound or audio mixing is when a mixer takes various sounds and fuses them into one or more channels. For the sake of clarification, you should know there are four different steps when you assemble a song: tracking, editing, mixing, and mastering.
Tracking is when you’re recording sound into a digital audio workstation or DAW, and editing is when you change your music as needed. Mastering is the process of converting a mix into a completed song for listeners.
There are often many different sounds that go into a piece of music. The vocals (if any) and each instrument have to be recorded to become a part of your musical piece. You can record each part of your song with the multitrack recording method, allowing you to capture various sounds separately.
Once you’ve recorded each element of your sound, you can begin to edit. It’s possible to edit during the recording process, but modifying each sound should take your utmost concentration to ensure they sound perfect. You don’t want to make any mistakes while recording or editing, so it’s best to keep both of these steps separate.
The purpose of editing is to modify and perfect each sound. Although, editing each sound may not be necessary. If something sounds good, you can leave it and move to the next portion of the song. Overediting can leave your music lacking in natural flow and sounding too artificial and choppy.
Here is where we get to the actual mixing process. Mixing is where you’ll combine all the recordings into a right, left, or surround 2-track mix. Mixing takes more than simply mashing all the sounds together. The music has to be combined in a way that allows you to hear the instruments and lyrics clearly, without anything overpowering everything else.
What Makes Mixing Songs So Hard?
Too Many Unnecessary Tracks
The nice thing about modern song recording technology is that it makes it easier to record. DAWs allow you to capture multiple tracks at once, but is this a good thing? As it turns out, probably not.
Before the 1950s, you had to have the singers and musicians perform in the exact location all at once. As time passed, multitrack recording let people simultaneously record up to 32 tracks. Nowadays, you can record as many tracks as you want.
However, unlimited multitrack recording is kind of a distraction – you can record whatever sounds you want. Still, a lot of them won’t contribute anything to the song you’re trying to make. Many mixers suffer from having too many options, and most of what they record is completely unnecessary. The other problem is packing too many tracks into one piece and ending up with a muddled mess.
For example, a mixer can record cellos, guitars, drums, harp, and even get their friend with the super amazing voice. But when it’s time to mix, there’s too much extra “noise” getting in the way of the incredible song underneath.
It’s important to keep what’s vital to your song. Having too much to mix can result in a session taking much longer than necessary.
It can be very hard to come to terms with the fact that you’ve got too many tracks at your disposal and to know which ones are useless. You can get help gutting your plethora of tracks from someone, but you’re the only one who can decide to ditch them.
Not Enough Experience With Mixing
“What kind of gear do I need?” is a common question beginner mixers have when starting. The question isn’t a bad one, but it doesn’t cover the real issue at hand, as equipment doesn’t compensate for lack of experience. The fact of the matter is that you can build a studio for under $300. For example, you can buy a DAW like the PreSonus AudioBox USB96 for less than $100.
For more information, check out my article about whether all DAWs are the same.
Recording studios don’t have to cost thousands of dollars; what you need is the know-how to mix songs properly. Becoming a good mixer takes time and effort to develop, even with a natural aptitude for music mixing. Ultimately, you’ll need to spend a lot of time learning the subtleties of the art of mixing.
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Tips To Become a Better Mixer
One of the best things you can do to become a better mixer is take a day off from making your song. That is to say, after you’ve done all the tracking and editing, wait at least a day before you do the mixing.
You might feel invigorated and pumped to continue, but taking a step back from your music can help it sound better. Use the time away from mixing to organize music files, clean your instruments, or anything that gives your ears and mind a break from the song so you can have a fresh perspective later on how it should sound.
Another way to get better at mixing is to pretend you’re mixing for somebody else, like a client. One part of what makes mix engineers good at what they do is merely doing an assignment given to them by a client. They don’t have any real attachment to what they’re making, and so it’s easier for them to do what’s best for the song.
Mix engineers working for clients have to be objective and clinical, and that’s something that can help you improve your music. Objectivity can allow you to ask the important questions, like “can the vocals be heard clearly? Or “are the levels loud enough (or too loud)?”
Another general rule of thumb for mixing is to have a concrete idea of what you want to do. It’s common for even experienced mixers to get caught up in their work and lose track of what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s best to plan what kind of sound you’re going for before you begin mixing. That way, even if you end up changing your plans a bit later, you’ll have at least started with a blueprint.
Check out: The 6 Best Mixing Plugins
There’s a lot involved in making music in general, and mixing a song can be incredibly difficult. A huge problem many people have when mixing is not being able to choose between all the tracks they’ve recorded. It’s also important to practice mixing as often as possible.
Mixing a song requires having the strength to choose between recorded tracks and the willingness to get better. It’s not a matter of having expensive equipment. Remember that experience and determination are key if you want to become good at mixing songs.
- The Recording Revolution: One Huge Reason Mixing Is Hard For You (And What To Do About It)
- Landr: Hard Truths: The Only Way to Get Better at Mixing Is Practice
- The Recording Revolution: Why Gear Is Not Your Problem (Or Your Solution)
- The Recording Revolution: Two Singer-Songwriter Studios For Under $300
- Izotope: 5 Tips for Mixing Your Own Music
- Waves: Making Music: The 6 Stages of Music Production
- Wikipedia: Audio Mixing
- Wikipedia: Multitrack Recording
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