How to Mix a Song In Just 3 Strangely Simple Steps

Overwhelmed by the seemingly endless process of mixing? Feel like you have a load of tips and tricks, but no idea how to actually mix a song? You’re not alone.

In this video, I’m going to break down the entire music mixing process into just 3 simple steps, so if you want to learn how to mix music like a pro, keep watching.

Mixing isn’t a vastly complex process. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

The trouble is that there’s so much information out there, but a lot of it is complicated and irrelevant.

But this isn’t the stuff that really matters.

When you focus on the core tools, and focus on the 3 simple steps that you’re about to learn, you’ll soon figure out how to mix a song to a professional standard in no time, without wasting years on the non-essentials.

Watch now if you want to find out what those 3 steps are.

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Overwhelmed by the seemingly endless process of mixing? Feel like you have a load of tips and tricks, but no idea how to actually approach a mix? Well, you are not alone. In this video I’m going to break down the entire mixing process into just 3 simple steps. So, keep watching if you want to learn how to mix like a pro.

Rob here from musicianonmission.com and after 12 years of mixing I want to make something very, very clear. Mixing isn’t a vastly complex process. It’s not easy but it’s simple. The trouble is that there’s so much information out there and a lot of it is complicated and irrelevant. You get a lot of advice that sounds something like this: engage your high shaft boots at 10K searching 4K on the snare and use a mid-side EQ to enhance the width, but this isn’t the stuff that really matters. When you focus on the core tools and pay attention to the 3 simple steps that you’re going to learn in this video you’ll soon figure out how to mix songs to a professional standard without wasting years on the non-essentials.

So, stick around if you want to find out what those 3 steps are, but before we dive in I want to make sure you download the free mixing cheat sheet that I put together just for this video. It includes a step-by-step checklist that’ll guide you through the mixing process, so you can focus on the music. It’s completely free so just head to the link in the description enter your details and you can download that for free.

So, if you want to learn how to mix a song just remember these 3 simple steps, balance, fix, enhance. Just remember those and that’s going to help guide you through the process. Now, we’re actually going to start a tiny bit before that because they’re the 3 steps in the mixing process, but we also have a step-zero that comes before you even start mixing. So many people miss this step but it’s absolutely vital to the mixing process and that’s preparation.
So, in this first step or step-zero you want to organize your tracks, clean everything up, add color codes, make sure everything is in the right order and then you want to start creating group busses, so you create one channel, one aux channel, effects channel, groups channel whatever it’s called in your door; for the vocals, one for all the guitars, one for all the drums so then you’ve got a few group channels and then you want to create a sub-mix buss maybe and just generally prep the mix in terms of organization. And then, what you want to do is go through and check the gain of each channel, make sure nothing is clipping, check for any weird missing, tracks missing, audio files even do some preliminary EQ. So, if you notice any really bad room resonances on a vocal for example, you can just sweep around to find them and then notch them out, so you’re kind of cleaning everything up so that when you start the mixing process everything is good to go, because you want to spend as little time on the mixing process as possible. Every second you spend mixing is a second you’re becoming less objective and you’re getting used to track, so that’s valuable time. So, you want to prep as much as you can.

Let us jump into logic now, so I can just show you a brief example of how that might look. So, this is a mix that’s about to be started. I’ve just finished preparing it and I’m just going to quickly show you the kind of things I’m doing. So, first of all you can see everything is clearly labeled, everything is in the order that I like to have it in. It’s up to you how deep you want to go with this, you could add images, you can change colors of individual tracks that kind of stuff but then in the mix window you can see I’ve got all my different colors for different channels, I’ve got reference channel, I’ve then got all my effects, buss is ready to go, I’ve got my group channels ready to go, all my routing is done, so all the guitars are getting routed to this channel and then that’s going out to the mix buss which is here, and I’ve got my mixers processing ready to engage and play around with. Then what you want to do is check your gain, so you want to check if there are any individual channels that are clipping and if they are you can just add a gain plug-in here and reduce them and let’s see how our groups are doing as well.

Okay, so we’re clipping here so what that means we need to reduce the gain on the groups as well, so we can just cut this by a few dB and I can just copy this, all of them, and now we should have plenty of headroom.

Cool and once you’ve checked your gain the next step is to go through listen to each individual channel and see if there’s any frequencies, ugly room resonances that you want to remove from stuff in solo, because everything we’re doing now we want to do in solo. Once we’re in the mix we want to avoid that solo button, but to save time now on the vocal for example I can actually go through and find problem frequencies. So, here I just found some room resonances that I just wanted to notch out and I did that in solo by just boosting and sweeping around to find them, and you can do that as part of the prep process too.

So, once you’ve finished preparing your mix, and please don’t skip that process because it’s so vital, you’re ready to jump into the next step which the balance. And this is another crucial phase that people skip ahead because you want to get to the fun stuff like EQ and compression and using plug-ins, but this is where 80% of the mix comes from if not more. So, you want to spend a lot of time on this. And this is just volume balancing every channel, so setting the instrument levels in the mix. You bring up the most important thing first like the vocal, set that to zero, and then start bringing in everything around it. Bring up the faders one-by-one in order of importance, and then maybe bring in the guitars, and then the snare, and then you bring in the drums, and then add the bass, and you bring in everything one-by-one, and then you want to spend 10, 20, 30 minutes or more depending on the size of the project just adjusting the levels and making sure everything is at the perfect level before you move onto EQ, compression that kind of stuff because it’s so important to set a good foundation now. You’re going to have to come back and readdress this as you’re mixing, but you want to set a solid foundation.

So, I’m going to jump back into logic now to show you the best way to approach the volume balance and setting instrument levels. So, the next step is to balance and the way I recommend you do this is first of all drop all of your channels, so I can select all of them pull them all down to zero. So, let’s start with the vocals. This is the actual vocal channel itself, and then I’ve got that going through a buss so I’m going to set both of them to zero, and then we can bring in things in order of importance so then we probably want to bring all the back-end vocals up, and then we probably want to bring guitars up so you can grab them. And then we probably want the drums so you can pull them up, and so on and so forth in order of importance, and then you want to spend lots of time just making sure everything is at the perfect level.

So, you’ve prepared your mix, you’ve balanced it by now you’ve got probably a pretty good sounding mix. You’ve done a lot of the work at this point. So, the next step now is to go through and find problems with the mix and now you want to put on your problem solving hat. You want to start fixing things. You don’t want to just start doing things for the sake of it. At this point it’s tempting to start playing around with stuff and maybe you saw a video online that told you, you had to compress the bass guitar setting, okay well I’ve got to do that, and then you think okay I also read that I need to use delay on the vocal so you go and do that, but that’s not the way you want to approach mixing. Instead you want to approach it with a problem solving mindset. You want to have an intention with everything you do. You want to be reactive to what the mix is telling you, so you sit down after doing the balance go and have a break, come back and start listening for problems in the mix. Is the vocal nowhere near consistent enough, is it getting lost in certain parts of a mix, does the bass sound muddy and is it taking up too much of the low-end, does the snare not have enough body to it or is it too brittle and top-endy. You want to start thinking through the mix in terms of problems that need addressing and when you’re thinking about this you want to start with big problems first. You want to start with mix buss processing for example, where you say well the whole mix is sounding a little bit dull, so I’m just going to add a very slight 1 dB top-end boost on the mix buss itself, so we are doing these big broad sweeps. You’re starting with big problems, and then gradually we work towards the smaller problems for example, the snare you might hear that it’s got a bit too much energy around 2K and that’s interfering with the vocal, so then you get into these really small problems.

So, that step-2 is to fix and I’m going to jump into logic now to show you an example of how this would look. So, I just want to show you some examples of fixing in the mix and most of these plug-ins, most of what’s going on here is actually just fixing. And you’ll see that there’s not a whole lot going-on on individual channels. I’ve got some compression there, lots going-on on the vocal buss, and some effects here, just some heavy reverb effects, but mostly it’s all happening on the group busses and this is where I would do most of my processing. So, let’s look at something like the guitars, so here with this EQ my main focus is first problem solving, so removing low-end and all this muddiness that we don’t really need. Bringing out the aggression in the upper-mids because the guitars weren’t really poking through the mix enough and giving it that upper-mid presence I wanted, and then pull in the highs because that was just kind of taking up space in the top-end that I didn’t really need, and then here these cuts are because the guitars were really interfering with the vocal and they weren’t helping the vocals to come through they were battling in this space, so it’s all problem solving. Let’s just solo that, so this is without any EQ. Let’s bring that in. So, in solo they actually sound worse you could argue, but now let’s listen in the context of the mix, so this is without – they’re battling with the vocal, they are taking up a lot of space in the low-end, and then not really cutting through enough. Let’s bring that back in.

So, that’s just an example of problem solving and that’s what most of the mix is going to be. And then you’re ready to move onto step-3, which is to enhance the music. Because by now you’ve got track that sounds good, you’ve fixed any problems, but for a mix to sound modern, for a mix to sound exciting it needs to be hyper real, it needs to sound larger-than-life, we don’t want to just make it sound natural we want to make it sound professional, we want to make it sound exciting. So, don’t make the mistake here of thinking that you’re job is to just enhance the mix and start using cool effects and weird plug-ins to enhance the mix and show off as a mixer because that’s not what you’re trying to do. What you’re trying to do is enhance the track. You’re trying to think how can I make this track better, how can I bring out the emotion of the vocal, how can I bring out the excitement of the chorus, how can I enhance the space and the width of the mix to enhance the feeling of immersion. So, you’re trying to enhance the mix, but your main aim is trying to enhance the music and make the track better. This is where you start to think about the things like automation and combining those two for spot effects where maybe just one word on the vocal has a huge reverb on it or a huge delay coming out of it, so you’re combining automation and effects, and you’re also then thinking about how can I enhance the width and how can I make this sound even better, how can I make it sound big, and powerful, and clear, and bright. So, this is going to involve lots of different things.

I’m going to jump into logic again now just to show you an example of enhancing the track by enhancing the mix. And now just a quick example of enhancing something to make it sound larger-than-life and put more emphasis on it in the mix, and we’re going to look at the vocals here. So, this is the vocal channel itself. I’m doing all the processing on a separate buss, because I’ve got loads of automation here and I want to add compression after this, and this is all happening on volume fader. So, then it goes down here, it gets automated, and it gets sent out to this channel which is where a lot of my processing is. So, let’s listen to the dry vocal mixed after the problem solving period, but let’s just bypass all of the effects this time. So, this is just the dry vocal. This is in the mix. Okay, so it sounds good, but it’s kind of boring. It sounds dry; it doesn’t really sit in the mix. And now let’s bring in – I’ve got some subtle chorusing here that’s just very, very subtle, and then I’ve got some stereo slap-back delay, I’ve got a mono delay that’s been automated, I’ve got a that – so we’re going to leave that off because that’s like a long reverb throw, and then I’ve got reverb on the vocal as well, so now let’s listen. So, very different. Let’s listen in the context of the mix. So, what I want you to pay attention to in particular is that that delay that’s filling this gap here, because we’ve got this gap between phrases every single time and musically it’s kind of boring. There’s nothing really going on, but I don’t want to add in another part, so instead we can just use a delay to fill that gap and that’s actually been automated. If I go here to the mono delay you can see the send is going up and down. Have a listen again and watch the send and listen for the delay. Can hear that, so on the words ‘down below’ that’s all I’m sending. So, they’re the kind of things you want to be thinking out. Again there are so many examples of this throughout, but just wanted to give you a specific way that you could enhance your mix.

So, that’s it 3 steps; step-zero which you can’t forget is to prepare the mix, but then when you start the mixing process step-1 is to balance the mix, set the instrument level. Step-2 is to fix problem solving, start big and end small. And then step-3 is to enhance the music, enhance the track itself and make the mix sound larger-than-life. So, just follow that process whenever you’re mixing and I really recommend you go and grab the checklist I put together for you and the cheat sheet. It’s only one PDF and that’s going to actually take you through this, give you some specific points to check off as you’re mixing, it’s going to help you recap everything you learned here, so you can actually go and apply this, get it right, and start improving your mixes today. So, make sure you download that, it’s completely free, go to the link in the description. I’m Rob from musicianonmission.com and I’ll see you next week.

 

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