Mixing is the most fundamental part of the production process – the stage at which the producer dictates what the listeners will actually hear. And it can make or break a track. After all, the best vocal in the world is useless if you can't hear it!
The secret to mixing is balance. If your bass is full, your track needs corresponding top end and a strong kick drum. But balanced doesn't mean flat. Mixes need stand-out elements, and the trick is learning which to accentuate – either by enhancing them, or by creating more space for them to breathe. Of course, once you have the balance, it's essential to give your mix that extra special something too, which is where clever processing comes in. At the risk of taking ourselves too seriously, we like to compare a great mix to a city skyline. Whether London, Paris or New York, skylines are generally level, with the mal occasional highlight. Show somebody a cityscape without highlights and it's just another skyline, but throw In the Empire State Building, London Eye or Eiffel Tower and it takes on a whole new persona. If every building was a hundred stories tall or some bizarre shape, though, you'd just be left with an unintelligible mess. And with mixing, if you try to make every element prominent nothing will stand out. Instead, make a comfortable bed on which to place a variety of distinct sounds and volumes, creating an interesting and compelling soundscape.
These color visuals are representations of particular moments in the mix. In order to represent a true mixing process, they would be flashing on and off to the music. Therefore, some of the visuals may look busier than the mix really is.
Of course, every song has its own personality and is mixed based on that. Therefore, don't assume that there is only one way to mix any style of music. These visuals are only a reference point from which you can begin to study what is done in mixes for various types of music.
With all this in mind . . . enjoy.
Hip Hop Mix
Generally a pretty busy mix with an 808 boom loud and out front. Note the fattening on the bass and the doubling on each of the keys. Note the delay on the synth and hi-hat. Especially unique is the doubling of the hi-synth with another instrument. The super high strings are flanged for a subtle, spacey effect. The snare is not very loud in this particular mix.
Hip-Hop Mix Visual Aid
Before we get into the actual mechanics of mixing, it's important to have some perspective on how this art has developed over the years.
It's obvious to just about everyone who's been around long enough that mixing has changed over the decades, but the why's and how's aren't quite so obvious. In the early days of recording in the 50's, there really wasn't any mixing per se since the recording medium was mono and a big date used only four microphones. Of course, over the years recording developed from capturing an unaltered musical event to one that was artificially created through overdubs, thanks to the innovation of Selsync (the ability to play back off of the record head so everything stayed in sync) introduced in 1955. The availability of more and more tracks begat larger and larger consoles, which begat computer automation and recall just to manage the larger consoles fed by more tracks. With all that came not only an inevitable change in the philosophy of mixing but a change in the way that a mixer listened or thought as well.
The most basic element of a mix is balance. A great mix must start here first; for without balance the other mix elements pale in importance. There's more to balance than just moving some faders, though, as we'll see.
First of all, there’s a difference between Mastering and Premastering: Mastering is a process, that matches premastered Audio material with the Demands of unified Pressing-Copying-Standards. Premastering is the process of finishing and polishing-up your mixdown… The tips I’ll give in this article are suggestions, as there is no general rule or recipe how to make things sound good.
Different mixers start from different places when building their mix. This has as much to do with training as it does with the type of material. For instance, most old-time New York mixers and their proteges usually start from the bass guitar and build the mix around it. Many other mixers work from the drum over-heads first, tucking in the other drums as they go along. Many mixers mix with everything up, only soloing specific instruments that seem to exhibit a problem.