Everything starts with a foundation. The theory of music mixing is the same as anything else. You build from the bottom up. You start with the foundation of a house before you insert the windows or the kitchen sink.
Similarly, you start with the foundation of your mix before you start adding automation and effects. Approaching your mix should be approached very similarly to building a house.
Start with the foundation and build from the bottom up.
Foundations of Music Mixing
In your particular mix you have to find the element on which everything else is built. This is usually the drum-beat, since the drum-kit supplies the backbone and rhythm to the song.
It can also be a sustained pad or a bass line. Whatever the thing is, make sure that it’s the most absolutely essential part to making your mix tight and strong. This is the reason why many engineers start by mixing the drum-kit and bass guitar. They want to have their mix built from the bottom up before they start adding in the décor.
Talking about bass-lines and low end. Frequency-wise, this is the absolute essential part of making your mix sound right. A floaty or thin low-end can compromise an otherwise great sounding track. Excessive low-end can cloud up the mix and too little bass can make the mix sound weak.
- Filter – Filter out everything that doesn’t need to be in the lower frequencies. Make sure everything that isn’t filtered below 100Hz has a right to be there. The area below 100 Hz is usually dominated by kick drum and bass only, but sometimes other instruments need a little extra weight if they are dominating elements of the mix.
- Equalization – By notching out competing frequencies between the low end instruments you can make everything sounds clearer. Boosting the kick drum at 80 Hz while simultaneously cutting that same frequency in the bass track can help sculpt out a space for each instrument.
- Side-chaining – You can tighten up the relationship between your kick drum and bass guitar by side-chaining the bass guitar to the kick drum. By ducking the bass guitar down a few dBs with each hit you can clean up the rhythm section quite effectively. Side-chaining can be used for a variety of different things, like side-chaining a 50 Hz sine wave for a thicker kick drum sound or tightening up your synth sounds with it.
Once you’ve gotten the building blocks in place you’re ready to start building. A common starting point after dealing with the low end and foundation is the vocal, since it’s such an integral part of the song.
You might want to add the rhythm instruments, like guitars and synths to strengthen the foundation as well. However you do it, just make sure that foundation is built and the low end is steady as a house. Everything after that is just decorating!
For more mixing tips like these, as well as an in-depth guide on planning the perfect mix, check out Mixing Strategies right here.