First things first, you have to understand what a mixing engineer really does. A mixing engineer puts different sonic elements (AKA audio) together in order to make a complete rendition of the audio. Whether the final rendition of the audio is of a recorded or a live piece, the outcome must possess a good balance of properties, such as volume, pan positioning, and other effects, while eliminating any other frequency that disturbs the quality of the sound. These irritating frequencies can comprise the quality of musical instruments or vocals in a band or orchestra, dialogue, or even a foley in a film, and more.
You have to understand that a mixing engineer is a scientist and an artist simultaneously. As a mixing engineer, you should use the rules that govern the physics of the sound to shape and improve a sound that is desirable and sweet to the eras but also unique and authentic.
Use your eyes and ears
Some people might argue that in mixing, you should totally rely only on your ears. They couldn’t be more Wrong, no matter how much you have trained your ears, no matter how much of a perfect hearing you might have, your ears can not capture everything. The human ear is limited to only a certain number of frequencies, But just because we can’t hear some frequencies doesn’t mean that they are not there. There are frequencies that we cannot hear. They are often the ones that disrupt the quality of your mix or sound; that’s why it’s crucial to use your eyes and your ears. With today’s technology, many mixing and audio engineering tools provide a visual spectrum of the sound and its waveform.
Analyzing the waveform of audio is one of the most important jobs of a modern mixing engineer whose mixes stand out not only in quality but also in creativity.
Analyzing is probably the most dangerous job of a mixing engineer. Because if your analysis is wrong, the damage you can to the audio can be severe. Just like a doctor, you should analyze the sound, which is your patient, and prescribe its necessary treatments. You should place your analysis based on the source of the sound, the style and genre of the sound and the genre and the style which you are going to work in, the tool that was used to record that sound, and the criteria’s that the audio possesses or lacks in having.
For example, an electric guitar sounds different in every genre, you cannot mix the guitars in a Blues song just the way you mix them in Hard Rock, or you cannot mix a harsh vocal just the way you mix a pop vocal. Based on the style and the source of the sound, and the tools used to record that sound, there are certain frequencies that you should cut, boost, or emphasize. For example, some instruments are midrange instruments, meaning that their highest quality and their most clear sound are in the middle of the frequency spectrum. Therefore, they should be placed in the middle of the frequency spectrum. Consequently, the high and low frequencies of that instrument should be cut out because otherwise, they would occupy a space that belongs to another instrument which a high range instrument in nature, ultimately it leads to a muddy, dirty, and distorted sound that takes away the listeners ability to hear every instrument and make your ears bleed.
Identifying the most important elements of the sound is very important. Each sound is unique in nature, style, and the tools that it was recorded with. As a mixing engineer, you should be able to identify the elements that make every sound unique and determine whether they should be emphasized or cut out. For example, you should find out if someone’s vocals have a specific color in it; if yes, then should you emphasize on that color, or should you cut it out? If not, should you add some color to his/her voice in the mix?
your final mix as a whole is consistent with many layers that are put on top of each other like a cake, and just like a cake, some layers are thinner, and some layers are thicker to emphasize the main taste of the cake. In a mix, some layers are meant to overlap each other, and some don’t, some layers are meant to be buried deep in the mix, and some layers must stand out, they are the main focus of the mix. Arranging these layers properly is where your artistic skills and scientific knowledge comes in because if the layers are arranged properly, then the outcome will certainly be beautiful even if the source of the audio has poor quality, but if the layers are not arranged properly then the outcome will be extremely painful to listen to.
Balancing the mix
If your mix is not balanced, not only will you have severe problems in the mastering phase, but also it will sound like a chunk of rumbles.
In order to balance your mix, you have to first assign each of your layers/audios it’s specific space and frequency range, so they do not occupy each other’s space or a space that doesn’t belong to them. Second, you should adjust the volumes of your layers so they would overlap or cancel each other, now you have to bear in mind that these adjustments should be based on the nature of the sound, frequency range, style, genre, and your intended purpose for the final outcome otherwise the outcome would be catastrophic.
Don’t trash your mix
in recent years due to the saturated use of modern technology in the music industry and sounds becoming tighter and cleaner, some argue that music has lost its originality and instruments sound more artificial and less real. Therefore some people have gone to lengths to mimic the old ways and use the traditional method in an attempt to make their sounds more natural and realistic. However, making the instruments sound natural doesn’t mean lowering your quality or using low-quality sounds. People often mistake that in order to make a natural and realistic sound you have to lower your quality and produce sounds that resemble the sound quality of the 60s, they couldn’t be more wrong, you can and should use the modern tools at your disposal to create a natural and realistic sound without compromising the quality of your mix.
Analog or digital?
Honestly, it really depends on your taste and what you’re looking for. Over the recent years, due to the expansion of modern music, some people have turned significantly to analog gear due to the warmth, color, and flavor that they give to sounds, which are honestly quite beautiful. However, analog gears are expensive, and the good ones are extremely rare, so not everyone can afford them, and if you’re a home producer, you cannot pile up all those gears in your home; it’s just not convenient. Therefore many companies have tried and are still trying to invent modern tools or plugins that can mimic the sound of analog gear, and as a result, many plugins are made which are modeled after the real analog gear, some of them even sound really good and almost sound like the real thing, but you have to understand that plugins only mimic the analog gear up to 60% because the sound that the analog gear produces has an infinite number of possibilities due to it actually having gears and tubes and the electricity that runs through them, for example, the sound that an analog gear produces when you have just turned it on has different characteristics than the sound it process after an hour because it’s heated up. However, plugins have a limited amount of possibilities in the sound they make because they are programmed to.
But if you use your artistic skills and scientific expertise, you can still do magic with that 60% in your hands. Not having analog gear shouldn’t stop you and is no justification for bad quality. Many award-winning producers have set aside their analog gear. They are using the plugins, which are modeled after them simply because they are just more convenient. They still can produce beautiful records using that 60% because they know how to use it to turn that 60% to 100%. Yes, you can turn that 60% into 100% if you use your artistic skills and scientific expertise properly.
Yet unfortunately, some people have adopted the tendency to add noise and unreasonable distortion to their sounds in an attempt to produce an analog sound. You have to understand that when you add noises and distortions intentionally, those noises and distortions are not organized; they are not programmed. They cannot attach themselves to your original sound and blend in; they would only damage your sound and lower your mix’s quality and clarity.
4 Horsemen of mixing
The main tool of a mixing engineer is the equalizer, which changes the relationship of each audio frequency to another. You can boost and emphasize on the frequencies that are essential for the existing instrument or simply boos the frequencies that you think are sweet to the ear or cut specific frequency ranges within each track that conflicts with other tracks or are annoying to the ear. You can give each instrument its specific frequency space or get creative with it and use it as an effect to completely transform a sound. Using an equalizer, you can make a sound either extremely beautiful or absolutely unbearable.
Compression reduces the range between a signal’s lowest low and highest high. In a simpler manner, compression brings up the lowest sounds that can barely be heard and lower the highest sounds that damage the quality and are annoying to the ears and creates an almost even sound. Most compressors have controls such as threshold, attack, release, and ratio. Using these controls, you can drastically transform the presence and the feeling of your sound, but if not, these controls are not adjusted properly, or they are adjusted to the extreme levels, you can destroy your mix.
(Left/Right) panning means spreading the sound field out, creating a space for the sounds they don’t have. Some sounds are meant to be Mono, and some sounds are meant to be Stereo if these rules are not observed. The outcome will catastrophically suffer from low quality and low standards. Therefore, you should be very careful to keep which sounds as Mono and which sounds as Stereo because since the final rendition of your mix must be Stereo, any failure in such regard would damage your final mix catastrophically.
The panning doesn’t always involve only left and right. It can also be used as an effect to create certain moods and space transformations in your track or even to emphasize a specific subject.
You must bear in mind that although making a stereo track out of a mono track has become easy due to the modern-day technology failing to do that properly would damage the overall balance of your mix and ultimately the final rendition of your mix.
reverb / delay:
is created when a sound or signal is reflected from a surface. It causes numerous reflections to build up and then decay as the sound loses its energy and disappears in the space. In a nutshell, it’s the sound you hear when you are sinning in the shower. These days many plugins can create realistic reverbs and echoes as if you are standing in a real chamber or hall. Reverb is used to create and give a sense of space and width to sounds. Still, if not used properly and correctly it can create poor quality mix as if people are listening to your mix in the shower or underwater. Still, if you use your artistic skills and scientific expertise it can make a huge difference in your mixes. A beautiful reverb can put you miles ahead of your rivals and make your records everlasting.
is a processing technique or an effects unit/plugin which records the input signal of your audio and then plays it back again after a period of time, that time can be set based on your desire, and certain changes can be made the recorded audio based on your adjustments. The delayed signal may be played back only once or multiple times to create the sound of a repeating, decaying echo.