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The Best Way to Learn Mixing: Classroom Training or Hands-On Practice?

We've offered up many tips and guides here on the Sage Audio mastering blog, but each article almost inevitably ends with a final sentence instructing you that no matter what the “rules” are, you should always place more trust in your ears than in guidelines. This is because the art of recording is just that -- an art.

And as in any kind of art, there is no right or wrong, per se, but there most certainly are recordings that sound better than others. So, what is the best way to learn mixing? Because there is no “correct” way to mix a song, is it best to just sit down at a mixing board (or computer keyboard) and begin mixing with no further instruction? Should you take a slew of instructional classes before you ever adjust a volume?

Well, just like in mixing itself, there is also no right way to learn mixing, though there is a pretty clear consensus that the best method is a mix of learning theory and learning by doing at the mixing board.

Learn the Basics Before Getting to Your Mix

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These tips apply whether you are hoping to start a career in the audio industry, or if you just plan on mixing your own projects in your home studio. The first goal is to learn the basics of the recording process before you actually start to mix.

In addition to learning how to actually operate the equipment you’ll be working on, you’ll also want to get a good idea of how the mix signal chain works, and what each plugin does for you mix. This kind of information (and other basics) can be learned in a classroom setting or from someone who has experience in mixing. Today, you can also find many helpful articles and videos online (and at the risk of shameless self-promotion, might we suggest delving further into our aforementioned blog ?).

Another great thing to learn (that many mixers neglect in the early stages) is the technical side of EQ and compression. These are two of the most important elements of a mix, yet many come into the mixing process know very little about the technical side of either. While trial and error during mixing sessions will give you a good idea of how these tools work, learning about what to do with different frequencies and what compression actually does will give you a great head start in the mixing world.

Practice is Key

Though you need to learn the basics, the most extensive learning will come when you actually begin mixing. Once you have a good grasp on the concepts, it’s time to put them into practice. And the only way to do that is just that -- practice.

When you begin mixing, it’s like you’re in one long continuous class where you’ll forever be testing, experimenting and learning. You could say practice makes perfect, but since there’s no such thing as a perfect mix, the art of mixing is an ever-evolving process. For those that are really passionate about mixing, this is the allure of the industry that you’re always reaching for that next level of sound in your mix. And in the meantime, you are always learning.

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