How to Mix Down a Song
Every musician goes through a different process when creating a
mix but generally the process goes through three stages: creating
the initial tracks, mixing down the song, and then mastering. Each
one of these stages is usually done by a different person, each
one a professional in their field. A musician will create the song,
a producer will mix the track, and a mastering engineer will master
the track to production quality.
With indie labels on the rise allot of these jobs are done by
the same person, you. I highly recommend hiring a mastering engineer,
if you can actually afford to do so. But like most musicians your
struggling, so lets get on with a few tips to help you create a
production worthy mix, on a musician style budget. In this article
we are going to cover mixing down your track.
Two of the biggest problems with mixes today are the levels of
instruments and muddying of frequencies in a mix. Lets go over a
few basic guidelines when mixing a track. There is a difference
to mixing levels on a software mixer as opposed to a 32,24 or 16
channel analogue mixer which can handle about +3 db without clipping,
this will vary on the quality of mixer that you are using. When
mixing with software the ceiling of your mix is 0db (no exceptions)
anything louder than this will clip the audio signal and cause artifacts
or bad distortion to your sound.
The following are only guidelines to what levels some of your tracks
should be placed at and these can obviously be altered as your mix
- The kick drum should be set to 0db this is the loudest sound
in music today.
- The bass should be set to -10db or a little bit louder.
- Your percussion should sit at -20db and keep your cymbal at
this level too
Now at these levels you should notice how loud and punchy your
song sounds when comparing your song back to back with a professionally
mixed CD. You should also notice that your percussion, although
sounding quiet, gives more drive to the song and a less quantisized
The human ear can hear between 20hz (low) to 20khz (high) illustrated
in the diagram shown above. Now we know the frequency limit in which
we have to span our instruments across, anything outside of this
should be eliminated with an equalizer. Proper frequency placement
is done by proper equing and instrument selection. In the song each
instrument should cover a different span of frequencies and peak
at varied frequencies. When mixes are done right each instrument
occupies its own frequency space without overlaying too much on
another sound, and that no peaks are canceling each other out or
causing severe muddying within a mix.
Onto adding effects to the tracks. You may have already added different
effects to each track when you were in the initial song creation
stage. Now during mix down you want to make sure that all of your
instruments sit right within a 3 dimensional space. This is achieved
by both panning the instruments and the added use of reverb on some
of the tracks. The bass and kick drum are usually centered and without
reverb. The high hats are panned to the right or left fairly hard.
Depending on the style of mix your doing may depend on the panning
placement of other instruments in your mix. A good tip is too cross
reference the seating arrangement of an orchestra and pan your instruments
accordingly as if you were hearing it from front row center. I have
also heard of specific note panning for pianos where each note is
panned high to the right and low to the left and the amounts vary
according to how high or low on the octave scale you are. As for
the use of reverb on a track please check out our article on "Using
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