Learning to mix

Last night I finished up the writing and recording part of my project, and today I have officially started mixing. My understanding of mixing is that you process and add effects to individual instruments in your song to make everything sound coherent and beautiful. You might have 3 tracks or 13 tracks or 30 tracks in your song when you start mixing, but afterwards you should be ready to condense it down into just two: a stereo pair, one for the left ear and one for the right. After mixing comes mastering, which is similar except that you work with those two stereo tracks, not individual instruments. Its purpose is optimisation: to give the song that magical oomph.

Both mixing and mastering are extremely creative, complex skills that take years and years to develop. I’m really excited to get started!

When mixing, it’s important to have a good set of speakers to monitor the sound. You want something that reproduces the music as honestly as possible: many speakers and headphones are designed to boost certain frequencies to make the sound more appealing. I’m going to have to make do with a couple of sets of headphones, one of which produces a notably bassy sound and the other which is a cheap set of earphones that I use to listen to music on my smartphone. It’s not great, and using headphones at all isn’t the smartest choice, but I’ll make do with what I’ve got. I’m going to learn so much and that’s what I’m excited about!

Let’s have a quick wee look at my timeframe. The plan looks like this:

Weeks 9 and 10: mixing each song (deadline: Wed 19th Mar)
Week 11: more mixing (deadline: Wed 26th Mar)
Week 12: mastering (deadline: Wed 2nd Apr)

It’s pretty vague. Having had an hour whizz past me earlier while I played with one effect applied to one instrument, I’m quite aware that you could spend forever mixing a single song. I’m only going to spend three weeks on four songs. And actually, to be fair to each song, I’m allocating a strict half a week to get a semi-decent mix for each song, and then I’ll spend the third week working on finer details that will no doubt come to my attention.

When I first started to learn about mixing, I kept hearing about compressors, limiters, EQ, reverb, delay, gates, filters, automation, and a ton of other scary words. Where do you even begin with all this stuff?! So for now I’m trying to look at it as being simply about volume. You might start by adjusting the volume of each track so that the right instruments stand out at the right times, and then you might look at EQ, or equalization, where you adjust the volume of frequencies within a track to clarify the sound. Then you might use a compressor to reduce the difference between the loud bits and quiet bits… it’s all volume.

This is going to be a whirlwind. Wish me luck!

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