How to Mix Start to Finish Published in Mastering

When mixing, start by organizing your session into color-coded groups with respective bus outputs. Then get a rough level with your faders and with panning, before equalizing, compressing, saturating, processing your busses, and introducing temporal effects, like delay and reverb as inserts or as additional sends.

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Start with Proper Routing

For this video, I’m giving a more generalized overview of mixing, so if you want to look at specific topics in more detail, I’d recommend looking into the hundreds of other videos we have on mixing and mastering.

When I start a mix, I set up my routing first so that I can get organized and improve my workflow. I start by grouping and color-coding similar instruments together, before changing their outputs to various corresponding busses, which then go to the stereo output.

Now that the session is organized, let’s take a quick listen to the track we’re working on today, and keep in mind I still need to adjust my levels.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Get Rough Levels with Faders

After I have my session routed the way I want, I like to get a general idea of how the instruments are going to sit in the mix. To do this, I’ll use my individual instrument channel faders to change the level and achieve a temporary balance between everything.

Although these levels will need to be readjusted later, this gives me a better understanding of the desired sound, which will help me next chapter when I start to add processing.

Additionally, I’ll use panning on similar instruments to create width and provide more room in the center for more driving instruments.

Let’s take a listen to how the mix is sounding now that it’s a little more balanced.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Utilize Corrective, Mainly Subtractive EQ

Next, I’m going to introduce equalization to various instruments - mainly as a way to attenuate aspects of each signal I don’t want or don’t like. For example, on my vocal, I’ll introduce a high-pass up to right before the fundamental, and dip some of its sibilance.

Or maybe on the acoustic, I’ll cut to right above it’s fundamental to clear out some space in the lows. Next chapter, we’ll take a closer look at our kick and bass and how to equalize those, but for now, let’s take a listen to how some corrective EQ improves the mix.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Separate Kick and Bass Instruments

Low-frequency instruments are difficult to mix, but one thing that really helps is finding the fundamental of the kick drum, and attenuating that frequency on synths, basses, and 808s. In this session, the kick’s fundamental is roughly 45Hz, so I’ll dip that on my other low Hz. tracks.

Additionally, you may want to dip the second-order harmonic on an instrument - for example, if my 808 and synth are overlapping, I’ll choose which one to prioritize and dip the second-order harmonic on one.

Let’s take a listen and notice that the kick has more room, and the lows sound subtly more balanced.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Use Compression and/or Saturation

Compression and saturation control the dynamics of a signal but in slightly differing ways. For example, I might add compression to my kick and utilize a super quick attack and release to distort the kick's transient and make it stick out - or I could saturate the bass to change its timbre.

Furthermore, I could compress the bass synth and side-chain my 808 to duck the bass when the 808 is present.

How you compress or saturate is an incredibly complex topic so I can’t delve too deep into it here, but let’s take a listen to the differences that these processors made to the mix.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Expedite Processing with Channel Strip

If we have an instrument we know will need a fair amount of processing, we can use a channel strip plugin to combine multiple forms. For example, I’ll use the PSP Infini-strip and try out the rock vocal preset on the lead, then adjust the settings as needed.

Even if this isn’t exactly what I want, I can make small tweaks to find what works best, and ideally, speed up the time it takes to mix.

Let’s take a listen to this strip on the vocals.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Start Processing Busses

So far I haven’t performed any processing on the busses, so let’s start making similar instruments feel cohesive. For example, I’ve mainly left my BGVs alone, since I didn’t want to spend a lot of processing power on them - so let's collective EQ and saturate them on a bus.

Similarly, I can use collective compression or saturation on my drums to get an aggressive sound, and then use additive EQ to shape the overall spectrum of each bus.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Introduce Temporal Processing

We can start adding reverb and delay, either as sends or as inserts - I’ll send my lead vocal to a delay and utilize 1/8th note delay on the left channel and dotted 1/8th note on the right. On another send, I could add both short and long vocal reverb.

Like compression and saturation, this is a very complex topic, so I can’t cover everything here. But know that once your dynamics are controlled, and you’ve begun to process your busses, you’re at a good point to start adding in time-based effects.

Additionally, if you use auxiliary channels for your temporal processing, be sure to change their output to the corresponding bus. For example, if it's a snare reverb track, route it to the drum bus.

Let’s take a listen.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Optional Resonance Reduction on Vocal

If your vocal just isn’t sitting right, it may have some unpleasant resonances - when that’s the case I like to use soothe 2 to attenuate any unwanted resonances and help the vocal sit back in the mix a little. I usually only want to attenuate by a few dB.

Also, I usually process almost the full spectrum.

Let’s take a listen to the difference this processor makes.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

Re-adjust Faders, Optional Gullfoss Bus EQ

Now that all of our processing is complete let’s adjust the channel faders to get a good final level. If we want to adjust the level of an entire instrument group, we just need to adjust the corresponding bus fader - additionally, these bus faders can be easily automated.

Lastly, I like to add Gullfoss EQ to my busses and use very subtle settings - sometimes I put them at the end of the bus’s chain, and sometimes at the beginning. It all depends on what sounds best.

Let’s take one more listen to the mix with all of the steps that we’ve discussed included.

Listen to an Example ➜ YouTube Link

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