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How to Mix Music: 7 Tips for Beginners
Do you want to learn how to mix music but don’t know where to start? Do you want to be one of the next great video game composer? You don’t need years of technical music knowledge to mix and master a track, just a good ear, and a computer program.
Your Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) is your key to mixing your own music, even as a beginner. Ableton Live comes highly recommended, Serato and Traktor are great options as well.
Learning how to mix music takes focus, patience, and organization. Luckily, we’ve picked up a few techniques for mixing music for beginners. Follow these 7 tips and in no time, you’ll be mixing music with the best of them.
1. First Steps in Learning How to Mix Music
Whether you’re making pop music, recording live bands, or heavy synths, organization and simplicity are key when mastering tracks. You want to scale down your workspace as much as possible.
If while you’re working on your track, you may have some instruments you set off to the side, or don’t have many functions in your song; remove them.
Also, categorize all your instruments into different groups called busses. Generally, you’ll have 4 or 5 but could have many more depending on how many instruments you’re using.
The most common busses are bass, drums, synths, leads and vocals. There are many benefits to using busses to place an effect on the entire group, not only one instrument at a time.
This allows you to add settings and compress the groups as you see fit. But more on that in a bit.
2. Gain Staging
When mixing a track, one of the first things you want to do is adjust the volume on the instruments until they are all in the same range. This is called gain staging, the process of managing the relative signals in your mix to reduce noise and distortion.
You should also go through each buss and determine the sound level of each instrument group you have. Perhaps you want the guitar to be a little louder than the drums, or vice-versa.
Gain staging is an important and early step in the mixing process. Doing this first allows you to further add more dynamics via volume without compromising the quality of the mix.
Every instrument has a pitch that will fall into the low, mid, or high frequency on an equalizer panel. Generally, bass will fall in the lower frequency whereas horns, guitars, and piano will be in the higher ranges.
When EQ-ing your tracks, you want to remove any unwanted frequencies and make sure your instrument is not outputting any frequencies out of their range. For example, you want the bass to only output low frequencies, and not take up any high-frequency space.
This gives your instruments full range of expression without any unnecessary distortion. It helps clean up the outlying frequencies to give the highest quality sound possible.
Compression is the process of simplifying your track to create cohesion. It lowers the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest part of your song. And brings movement and fullness to your track, which is a crucial step in the mixing process.
This makes the quieter frequencies louder and lowers the volume of the louder frequencies. “Use compression to add punch, warmth, and power to your mix.”
5. Volume Automation
This is where all your gain staging work comes back into play. Volume automation allows you to add dynamic to your different instruments and highlight one instrument at a time.
Perhaps you want your vocals to be spotlighted, then you have a saxophone solo towards the middle of the song. Volume automation is a technique that allows you to bring forward certain instruments while putting others in the background.
Many people believe this process should be done by hand by fader while listening to the song to give it a natural touch.
6. Return FX
Once you’ve got your track pretty close to where you want it to be mastering wise, you’ll want to add some extra effects. Adding an audio FX return allows you to add depth to your song.
Do you want your track to sound as if the band was playing the track right in front of you or are you looking for a bigger sound?
Pretend the instruments are placed as you would hear them live, picture the room and the depth of how far you want the sound to travel. This effect is done by placing a reverb on each bus or group to widen or lessen the sound range.
We’ve all experienced this technique for creating dynamic sound movement in tracks. Especially felt in headphones, panning is achieved when it sounds as if the sound is actually moving from your left to the right ear. Or when some instruments are playing in one ear, and others are playing in the other.
Panning adds what is called “stereo quality” to your mix. This gives you the feeling that you are actually sitting between two quality speakers, even if that isn’t the case. Panning effects are a must have in every mix and mastered track.
Remember, simplicity is key. You don’t have to move the sound “all around the room” per say, but you’ll want to add some depth and dynamic to your mix.
Practice Makes Perfect
As a beginner, you can certainly mix your own music but don’t forget that music mixing takes a lot of practice to master.
Now that you know how to mix music, you can begin to hone your skills and bend the rules. It will take a bit of time to learn all of the functions in your DAW and make beats that will hit. If you don’t have the time to create something from scratch, feel free to look at Pop Beats and download a beat that entices you, then proceed to mix your music.
Looking for more great remixes to get ideas from? Listen to the top ten video game remixes to get some inspiration.
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