Introduction to Music Production 13 – Mixing
Mixing is a process in which you take all of the separate elements in a song and ‘mix’ them together to create a cohesive, balanced, clean song.
The process consists of effect processing, stereo panning, and volume to achieve a clear final result. There are a few different schools of thought on mixing.
Let’s start with the ‘Bottom-Up‘ method. This method is great for music that has a driving rhythm (i.e. Latin music, EDM, Dance music, Disco, and more). It begins by only listening to your bass drum and slowly mixing in and processing your percussion elements one by one until you have a solid percussion section. Next, add in your bass(es) and solidify your rhythm section. Once your rhythm section is mixed, add in your midrange sounds one by one, then your high frequency sounds, your ambience, and finally, your vocals (or lead instruments). In my opinion, this method gives a good framework for more instrument-rich and channel-heavy mixes.
The ‘Top-Down’ method is exactly the opposite direction of the bottom-up method. In this method, you will start by placing your vocals (or lead instruments if no vocals) in the mix, and slowly mixing in major elements one by one. You will end up at your percussion. This method is great for singer-songwriter music, folk, acoustic, and other more vocal/lead-heavy music that does not necessarily have a powerful rhythm section.
Ultimately, you can mix any way you want. The ultimate goal for mixing is to achieve a clean, cohesive, balanced song that is prepared for mastering. Your overall peak should be at approximately -6 dB to leave ample headroom for mastering. To achieve this peak, you will want to keep your individual channel peaks lower (but leave your master channel fader at 0dB), and not use a limiter to force the mixdown to peak properly. To some people, mixing happens as they are producing music. For others (like me), I like to keep each step of the production process separate because each stage uses different parts of the brain.
My process looks like this:
- Composition: I frame out my track, write melodies/harmonies/progressions, do some recording, and establish the general ‘vibe’ of the track
- Production: I make each instrument sound good on its own, I finalize recordings
- Mixing: I make all instruments sound good together
- Mastering: I finalize the overall frequency balance and stereo width of the song to make it ‘commercially viable’