The internet is awash with mixing tutorials, with most catering to niche audiences. However, this one you’ve stumbled upon is uniquely tailored for beginners. Especially the ones who type “how to mix music” in their search bars, and feel completely overwhelmed. In this article, we aim to offer a straightforward introduction to music mixing, geared towards the layperson. We’ll also cover how you can get started with audio mixing in BandLab.
What is audio mixing?
Imagine just finishing the recording of your song. Now, you have a myriad of audio tracks: a sampled drum loop, synthetic percussion, five synth layers, several guitars, a bass, a lead singer, and a multitude of background vocals. The twist is that your audience will never hear these tracks individually. When they hit play on Spotify or Apple Music, they’ll experience a single stereo file, known as the “mixdown” encompassing all of your tracks.
So, you’ve got your marching orders: you have to make all those individual tracks listenable as a single stereo file. The principle is simple. But like all worthwhile endeavors, it requires honing your skills and dedicating yourself to the craft to do it well.
What do you need to mix music?
In audio mixing, it’s important that you trust the tools at your disposal.
1. A reliable playback system: The most important tool to have is a playback system that you know to be accurate, or at the very least, familiar to your ears. This playback system could be a pair of studio-grade headphones or a pair of studio monitors. It’s important that this system is studio-grade. You can’t mix a song on Beats headphones and expect it to sound good, as consumer-grade headphones have their own sonic character that could influence your choices. Your monitoring system needs to be as accurate as you can get it.
2. A computer or phone with audio editing capabilities: Next, you need a medium that can play and edit audio. In the olden days, this meant a tape machine and a large-format analog console. These days, it just refers to a computer or phone that’s good enough to handle your audio, along with an app like BandLab.
3. Tools for basic audio mixing tasks: Next, you’ll need tools that help you accomplish the basic steps of mixing music. These include the ability to raise and lower the level of tracks, and the ability to move them from left to right in the stereo field (which we call “panning”).
In BandLab, you can raise and lower the volume of tracks using the faders.
Simply raise or lower those circled faders, and the associated track will become louder or softer as the case may be.
The pan knob is located here:
Move one of these knobs left, and the signal will drift to the left. Move it right, and the signal will move to the right.
4. Audio processors: These tools, such as equalizers (EQs), compressors, reverbs, delays, and modulation effects, help you shape the sound and add depth to your mix.
Equalizers are excellent for rebalancing frequency content. For instance, if your kick drum and bass synth occupy the same frequency range, it can result in a muddy mix. With EQ, you can selectively reduce conflicting frequencies in one instrument, making room for the other to shine.
Compressors, on the other hand, are effective in controlling the dynamic range of a track. They achieve this by reducing the volume of the loudest parts of the audio. Compressors prove useful for various scenarios, such as fixing inconsistent volume levels in a kick drum or smoothing out vocals that might lose clarity.
Reverbs are time-based effects that add a sense of space and atmosphere to your sound. When mixing music, these elevate the emotional impact of specific parts, evoke different genres, and enrich your overall track.
Delays introduce echoes and repeats to the audio, similar to the experience of shouting across a canyon and hearing your voice bounce back. In audio mixing, delays are employed to add embellishments to sounds, create depth, and enhance various elements of the mix.
Modulation effects encompass processes like chorusing, flanging, phasing, and more, which continuously manipulate delays and/or frequencies over time. These effects contribute to a sense of movement and depth in your music.
All these effects can be purchased at varying costs, or found for free in BandLab.
Within BandLab, you can locate your EQs in the Tone section of the effects menus.
Each EQ serves a specific purpose, and BandLab explains the function of each one in the menu. As for compressors, BandLab offers a diverse range of Dynamics processors, including utilitarian units like the DIGI Comp and emulations of renowned hardware compressors like the BL 1176.
Delays, Reverbs, Modulation effects, and Pitch effects are also available, and easily found in BandLab’s Fx menu. Simply select the effect you want to try and see how it complements your track.
What does a mixed song sound like?
In the world of professional music production, the producer usually sends the mixing engineer a “rough” or “reference” mix. This mix includes all the elements of the song but hasn’t yet been fine-tuned by the mixing engineer.
If we compare this rough mix side by side with the polished, finished mix, you’ll immediately grasp the impact of proper mixing on a song.
Luckily, we have a reference on hand. Here’s the rough mix for a song by Pete Mancini called “College Town”:
Now, let’s hear an excerpt from the finished, mixed version:
The difference is striking, isn’t it? One sounds like a mere demo, while the other sounds like a polished, professionally mixed track.
A few quick tips for mixing music
Mixing music is an art form that could fill books or even inspire entire universities dedicated to mastering its intricacies. But we can get you set up with a few basic tips to keep in mind when mixing songs in BandLab.
1. Levels and panning are more than half the battle
A lot can be done with the fader and the pan knob. In a BandLab track, you can take a raw sound from this:
To a refined version through simple adjustments like this:
You’ll notice a big difference with just panning and level changes.
2. Less is always more
When learning how to mix music, it’s tempting to utilize all these powerful tools at your disposal. But you may risk overcooking your mix through excessive processing.
Think of your tracks like ingredients and your effects like spices. While trying to create the best possible musical feast, overloading with too many spices in odd combinations will ruin the experience.
Instead, strive for simplicity. The more you do with less, the better and more natural the result will be.
3. Automation sells emotion
Automation is the act of drawing or performing a change into an element of the mix over time. You can enter automation mode in BandLab by clicking the “A” key on your keyboard. This opens up automation lanes for all your tracks, allowing you to modify every parameter in real-time.
How is this related to emotion? Imagine your song’s final chorus needs to be truly impactful. By raising all the instruments by 1 decibel right when the chorus hits, you can easily achieve that heightened emotional effect.
In mixing, various tools that can sidestep the need for automation. For instance, compression can help regulate volume without manual adjustments. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid automation, because it’s the most human aspect of mixing. Automating a parameter is as close to playing the mix like an instrument as you can get.
Automation’s inherent humanity makes it one of the most musical aspects of mixing – if you know how to wield its power.
4. Maintain a solid objective
Every song has a purpose, and each moment within that song weaves a unique narrative. When mixing music, everything you do should serve that story and purpose. Avoid adding unnecessary bells and whistles just because you can, as it may overwhelm listeners.
Take a moment to listen to the tracks while keeping a notepad in hand. Jot down what you aim to achieve with the mix. This will help you maintain a solid objective throughout the process.
5. Everything boils down to time, pitch, and amplitude
When learning how to mix music, just remember that everything you do revolves around three core aspects: amplitude, time, and pitch. Amplitude synonymous with “volume,” represents the intensity of sound. Pitch is the frequency makeup of every sound you hear. Time, well, is simply time.
EQs are tools that manipulate the amplitude of specific frequencies, effectively serving as controls for individual pitches.
Panning knobs adjust the volume distribution between the left and right speakers.
Compressors dynamically alter amplitudes over time, regulating the volume and shaping the sound.
Reverbs and delays are time-based effects, allowing moments to linger longer in the mix, adding depth and atmosphere.
Modulation processors combine constant changes in amplitude, pitch, and time to produce evolving effects.
Once you internalize that mixing primarily involves working with amplitude, time, and pitch, the process suddenly becomes much less complex.
These tips may seem straightforward and philosophical, yet they hold immense importance. You can get started with audio mixing using what we’ve shared, but if you truly want to elevate your mixing skills, invest time in understanding the fundamental principles!
About the author
Nick Messitte is a New York-based writer, mastering engineer, mixing engineer, post engineer, composer, producer, musician, and weapons-grade plutonium smuggler.