Mixing concepts: basic volume leveling

I think I’ve lost track of how many types of posts I have on this blog. As it grows, I keep in mind that I only have one article that extensively goes into the art of mixing music. I avoid the topic on purpose because I believe that there are thousands of different ways to mix everything. I’ve watched many youtube videos telling people how to “mix rap vocals” or “mix like the pros do”. I doubt we’d be able to pull off the latter without a team of decorated engineers in our arsenal. Mixing a song and making it radio and TV – ready isn’t simple.

What I will comment on today is getting a decent balance with regards to where all your sounds sit. This is a very vague concept to explain with words and it is one that is overlooked in most tutorials that I’ve watched, but I will try my best to explain it here. Maybe one day I’ll get behind a PC and throw together a video tutorial or two on the subject.

I see trigger happy producers whipping out 5 compressors and 3 eqs  before thinking about using the volume knob! It’s a simple habit to get into that can be implemented right from the jump when trying to mix a beat or vocals. Believe it or not, but I rarely sit down to mix a beat. The mix comes together while I’m still making the beat. This adds a few extra steps to the process but it saves you so much time when you look at the bigger scheme.

Realise that when you add sounds or vocals to a mix, they take up space. Think of it like trying to fit people into a car; the more people you try to fit in, the more cramped the car will be. Understanding that there is a finite space for your sounds to fit will already make you more weary when toggling the volume knobs. You’re better off being tentative and starting off low than trying to pump the volume knob right from the onset. When I mix beats I rarely look at meters. I don’t look to see if things are yellow, orange or red. I use my ears for 98% of what I do and because of this, I went and got a decent pair of studio monitors because I have no formal training.

What about theory?

I’m not going to tell you that you need to set things at certain numbers as a rule of thumb again because I feel like the less rules there are, the more creative license you have to mess about and explore different techniques. There are the obvious things that one needs to remember like in hip hop; people want to hear a kick and a snare that have body and are able to contend with a vocal that is clear and audible. Most hip hop songs are driven by the low end sounds like the bassline and the kick so be extra careful when you do the volume balance on these. Make sure that you have enough space in the beat for vocals. It’s useless having 7 synths, strings and a midrange singer all in the mix trying to compete for space in the mix. Things will start to sound distorted and terrible. I hear a lot of songs that have this error. An element will need to dominate and depending on what you’re going for, you will need to make decisions as to which volumes are where. It’s a tricky game to play because you have to constantly be thinking of what you might want the final product to sound like, but as i said it is a process that saves you a stack of time and frustration when you have all the stems and you are trying to mix an entire song.

So as a take home message, try to keep the mixing in mind right from the get go. Make sure you know what you want to stand out and what you know can live in the background and still be heard. This is important to understand as you will be in a better place when trying to apply your compression and eqs later on.

For more on mixing, stay away from those YouTube tutorials that claim they teach you the right way to mix.

Keep inspired

If you have any queries regarding mixing, you can refer to more articles in this blog. I will definitely be adding to my tally of mixing articles in the near future.



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