A Primer on Audio Mixing

Audio Mix
Audio Mix (Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu)

The music world is full of wannabe musicians, producers, and managers. It is no secret that it borders on the cusp of being the most dreamed-about profession. However, in the industry, there is one unsung hero that all the others must give credit to. That is the position of sound engineer.

The engineer is responsible for nearly all the success recouped by the artists, managers, and industry personnel. Why? Because without a competent engineer, the product would be a horrid mixture of sounds, ill-fated and tormenting. The engineer is responsible for making audio recordings, live performances, and the complete musical package sound like it should – pleasing, crisp, and beautiful to the ears.

As vital as the proper mix is, one would think it to be a difficult job. It is, however, not as taxing as one would believe. It only takes a bit of knowledge and practice. The first step in competent audio mixing is learning the proper terminology and components which are necessary.

What is Mixing?

Mixing audio is a two-fold process. First, it is the adjusting of sound levels in order to balance and equalize the audio levels. In doing so, you maximize the ability of all sounds to be heard without one overpowering the rest.

Secondly, mixing requires competence in taking that raw sound and tuning it – polishing and molding it into a masterpiece that can be recorded and catalogued. This is called “mixing down.”

The Controls

Each channel on your mixing console has its own input and individual controls. These controls include, at the most basic level, the standard markers for low (bass), mid, high (treble), gain (power), and level (volume). By sliding these “faders” or turning the knobs clockwise (based on whichever version you have), you can manually adjust the levels for all controls, up or down.

Each model of mixing console also has a meter which monitors the “peak” of the controls. When “peaked,” the meter will indicate what is known as a “clip.” This takes place when levels are too high, giving the audio the potential of cutting out or causing irreparable damage to the sound, its quality, and the hearing of the music’s listeners.

Proper Levels

Adjusting Levels

Remember the pyramid of live sound when mixing. For proper depth, sound levels should be in the following order, from loudest to softest:

1. Vocals – loudest

2. Drums

3. Bass

4. Lead guitar

5. All backing instruments

6. All backing vocals

By keeping this simple formula it will be easy to achieve the proper levels. Usually there are only 1-3 ticks on the level dials between each input.

Once the sound is pleasing, it is customary to add effects into the mix, such as “reverb” (echo) to the vocals and “gain” (distortion) to the guitars, etc. These effects are based on the band’s and/or engineer’s preferences and can be altered in a number of ways.

It is only by experimenting that your sound will emerge. Every engineer is different, as is his or her sound style. Practice, find what is right for you, and develop your sound. It just might be the right one for the next big thing.

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This post was composed by Paul Worthy, a freelancer who focuses on music technology, musical instruments, onhold music, music lessons, music for business, and other related subjects.

JR Olson
J. Rex Olson is a freelance writer based in the greater metropolitan area of Seattle. He enjoys writing for the sake of writing, and likes to contribute material on a wide range of topics and issues. When not writing he loves playing basketball and taking in a symphony.

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