How to Make a Balanced Mix

 
How to Make a Balanced Mix

When making your mix more balanced, use a frequency and image analyzer to check if your mix is within a reasonable range.  Additionally, you can equalize your kick and bass’s fundamental frequencies, use various compression techniques, and equalize using reverb reflections to make your mix balanced.



Use Frequency Analyzer as Guide

Although we should always use our ears when mixing, our frequency analyzer can give us a good indication of a mix’s frequency balance or imbalance.  Low frequencies take the most energy to hear so these will typically be the loudest – and the curve will gradually slope downward from there.

Each mix will be a little different, but this is the typical pattern.  Also, keep an eye on 6 to 9kHz, since if you have excessive sibilance it’ll show up here.

Consider Stereo Image

Another tool we can use is an image analyzer – we typically want to see a fair amount of the signal in the center image or as a mono signal. This is going to keep the mix driving and focused; that said, we don’t want a completely mono signal, so use this and your ears to find a good balance.

If you’re finding that a lot of your signal is located on the sides, reconsider how you’re panning.  If this expansion is the result of phase cancellation over which you have little to no control, use a mid-side EQ on the offending instruments and attenuate the side image’s lows.

Bass and Kick Separation

Arguably the hardest section to balance in the mix is the low-frequency range – probably because it’s such a cramped space with multiple octaves spanning only a few hundred frequencies.  We need to separate our kick and bass tracks with some EQ to solve this issue.

I’m going to find the kick’s fundamental and boost it slightly – this will work well since the frequency of the kick usually stays the same unless it’s a tuned 808.  Then I’ll dip this frequency on the kick.  Additionally, I’ll saturate the bass instead of using additive EQ to amplify its fundamental since this will change when the bass note changes.

Bass and Kick Balance

With the kick and balance separated, let’s control their dynamics – typically we want our bass to be more controlled and our kick to be more dynamic.  To do this, I’m going to use low-level compression on the kick and bass, then I’m going to downward compress the bass.

I’ll use the kick as an external side-chain so that the bass is attenuated when the kick hits – I’ll do this by only a few dB.

Ensure No Excessive Overlap

If you’re the one producing or engineering the mix you’re working on, you’ll have more freedom as to what you can omit from a mix.  That said, some instrumentation may simply be incompatible – this is often a frequency overlap issue like with the kick and bass.

For example, say I have a bass part playing a higher octave and a piano or synth playing a lower – if these 2 can be separated we may need to delete one to keep the mix balanced.

Dynamically Control Vocal

Having a dynamically controlled vocal is important when making a balanced mix – more so than other instrumentation.  I like to use 3 compressors for this: peak down, RMS down, and low-level or upward compression – this controls the vocal from multiple directions and using different measurements.

I’ll set a quick attack for my peak down compressor to capture a lot of the vocal and compress by 3 to 6dB.  For RMS I’ll use only 1 to 2dB of attenuation.  For upward I’ll get about 6dB.

Try Soothe on Vocals

Although this isn’t my favorite plugin since it adds small but noticeable phase anomalies, soothe can be used on vocals to dynamically reduce resonant frequencies and balance it in your mix.  If you use this plugin, be sure to keep the depth pretty low and to use high-quality rendering.

By reducing resonants the overall spectrum will become more balanced, and give you a smooth vocal for the forefront of your mix.

Use Reverb to Shape Frequencies

Some of the spectral balancing of your mix should be left up to your reverb – this will give your mix more character while keeping it balanced.  For example, instead of boosting high frequencies on the snare, I could send the snare to reverb and boost the reflections’ highs.

So instead of the dry signal balancing the spectrum, we get some more interesting reflections filling in this space.

Check Mix Bus’s Image

Last up, let’s look at the image of our full mix – odds are some unwanted lows moved into the stereo image, so let’s use a mid-side EQ and attenuate the side image’s lows.  I’ll cut up to about 100Hz and then determine if more or less is needed.

Although I typically avoid processing on the full mix bus, this will keep our lows mono and the mix more focused.



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