Tutorials / 25 August 2020

A beginner’s guide to mixing music

Guide to mixing on BandLab

Mixing – one of the “dark arts” of music production. It can be time-consuming, but mixing your music well can mean the difference between a track sounding weak, or sounding full and professional.

“Music is not math. It’s science. You keep mixing the stuff up until it blows up on you, or it becomes this incredible potion.” – Bruno Mars

Like a musician training their ears, the art of mixing can take years to perfect. There are however some simple habits you can get into that will improve your sound instantly.

Levels

Mixing levels on BandLab

Why is it important?

Imagine if you went to see an orchestra and every performer played at full volume. They probably wouldn’t sound good.

When you listen to different genres of music, importance is often given to different parts of the track. It’s called mixing because like mixing a cocktail, there’s a sweet science to it and if there is too much of any element, it can be overpowering and affect the rest of the mix.

Get a piece of popular music that sounds similar to yours and drop it into one of the tracks on the timeline. Make sure it’s the same as the genre you’re looking to create. Now go through each part and compare every element. Does the beat sound as punchy? Do the vocals sound as clear? Is there anything missing? Go through every sound, comparing and matching each part as closely as you can.

Mixing tip

Make a new revision of your piece and start with all of the volume faders on zero. Attacking them one at a time will really help you hone into each sound and mix each instrument properly. You can try soloing each track too to ensure there aren’t any unnecessary distractions.

Panning

panning on bandlab

Why is it important?

Think about when you go to a gig. Are all the bands right in the center of the stage? Unless it’s a solo artist, usually not.

If the performers were all in the middle, the sounds would all compete with one another. Without any panning, this is exactly what’s happening.

Panning will make it easier for each of your instruments to be heard, giving each room in the virtual space. With panning, you can move the instruments that are being played from the far left, to the far right in speakers and headphones, without dropping any volume.

The simplest way to approach panning is to imagine you are at a concert and each of the tracks is being played by a musician on the stage. Where do all of your instrumentalists go? Is your guitarist on the right, your pianist on the left and your singer in the middle? How about backing singers?

Mixing tip

Draw your band on stage on a piece of paper and then pan all of the instruments using this as a reference point. This is for you to notice that the tracks now have much more space and can be heard more clearly.

Reverb

MIxing reverb on bandlab

Why is it important?

A clean sound without any reverb can sound a little fake. When you hear instruments played live, you hear the instrument and the reflections off the walls around you. Think about when you sing in the shower, the church, or shout in an open field.

Applying reverb to each track will give you an opportunity to play with space. In simple terms, if you are looking for a sound to be close to the listener, then just a very small amount of reverb is required. If you want an instrument to sound a further away, then apply a more reverb.

Read more: Learn about effects: Reverb

Mixing tip

Just remember, anything you apply will have an effect on the other sounds in the mix, so be mindful of this when you are applying effects. Use the solo button to listen to each instrument on its own, then flip to the full track to see how it sits in the mix. With reverb, unless you are Phil Collins, less is definitely more.

Our advice? If you’re at the start of your mixing journey, try not to spend too long on it – it can really be a bit of a time stealer. Treat mixing and mastering like seasoning your food. Apply them quickly, add them at the final stage of your process, be sparing, and use this as an opportunity to let all the ingredients sing.

Mix on BandLab

Read more: Pro tips for mixing hip-hop vocals

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