Is Mixing Music Technical or Artistic?

mixing music
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mixing music
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Photo credit: Erwi

Mixing music can feel overwhelming to those who haven’t ever tried it. And that makes sense. It involves lots of tools and settings and technical stuff. But is mixing also an artistic endeavor?

The Importance of Both

So is mixing music more technical or more artistic? Short answer: it’s equally both. It’s important to know the technical aspects of EQ, compression, phasing, etc. But once you know those things, you can really get into the creative side of mixing music. You can start doing what you want to do even if it’s not technically “right.”

The Technical Aspects of Mixing Music

Here are the main technical aspects of mixing that you should know before you get all artsy with it…

Equalization

Equalization (AKA EQ) is a must-have tool for mixing. It basically lets you control the frequencies in a sound. Here’s a simple breakdown:

Frequency bands: sound is made up of different frequencies, like high-pitched tones (treble), mid-range tones, and low-pitched tones (bass). EQ divides these frequencies into bands, each representing a specific range.

Boost and cut: using these bands, you can boost (increase) or cut (decrease) the volume of specific sections of frequencies.

Q Factor: controls the width of the frequency band you’re adjusting. A narrow Q focuses on a specific frequency, while a wider Q affects a broader range.

High-pass and low-pass filters: high-pass filters allow higher frequencies to pass through, cutting the lower ones. Useful to remove unwanted low-frequency rumble. Low-pass filters do the opposite, letting lower frequencies pass and cutting higher ones. Useful for taming excessive brightness.

Shaping sound: EQ helps shape the overall tonal balance of your mix. It’s like adjusting the bass and treble on your car stereo, but much more precise.

Fixing issues: EQ can help fix problems like muddiness, harshness, or imbalance in a recording. Ideally, good engineering and production would avoid these problems. But EQ can help if needed.

Creating space: EQ is a powerful tool for carving out space for different instruments in a mix. By adjusting the frequencies of each instrument, you can make sure they complement each other rather than compete.

Just remember, while EQ is a powerful tool, it’s important to use it intentionally. Overdoing it can lead to an unnatural or unbalanced sound. A good mix often involves a delicate balance of EQ adjustments to enhance the clarity, warmth, and character of each element in the music.

Compression

Compression helps control the volume of sounds, making the dynamic range sound more balanced. Here’s a breakdown of compression…

Dynamic range: if you have vocals that go from whispering to shouting (AKA dynamic range), compression can help maintain a consistent volume by reducing the loud parts and making the soft parts sound more prominent.

Attack: a setting determines how quickly the compressor responds to a loud sound. A fast attack catches sudden peaks, while a slower attack allows some transients to pass through before kicking in.

Release: controls how long it takes for the compressor to stop reducing the volume after the loud sound has passed.

Threshold: is the volume level at which compression starts to kick in. If the sound goes above this level, the compressor starts working.

Ratio: determines how much the compressor reduces the volume once the sound exceeds the threshold. For example, a 4:1 ratio means for every 4 dB (decibels) above the threshold, the compressor allows only 1 dB through.

Remember, just like EQ, compression is most effective when used subtly and with a specific purpose. Too much compression can make a mix sound lifeless or unnatural. The goal is to find the right balance that enhances the overall sound without sacrificing the dynamics and character of the music.

Phasing

Phasing in music happens when two or more audio signals that are very similar in frequency interact with each other in an undesirable way. This interaction can result in a phenomenon where certain frequencies reinforce each other, while others cancel out.

If the peaks of one wave align with the peaks of another, they add up and get louder (constructive interference). If the peaks of one wave align with the troughs of another, they cancel each other out (destructive interference).

Phase shift happens when one of the signals is slightly delayed compared to the other. This delay causes the peaks and troughs of the waves to align. You don’t want this. It can lead to a thin or hollow sound.

Usually, phasing happens when you’re recording in stereo with two microphones. And the distance between the microphones can create phase issues, usually in the lower frequencies.

If you realize there’s a phasing issue during the mixing process, you can adjust the timing or alignment of the audio signals with a phase-correcting plugin or potentially by flipping the phase of one of the signals.

The Artistry of Mixing Music

Once you know and are familiar with the technical aspects of mixing music, you can explore the artistry of it. You have to know the rules before you can break them.

Making yourself feel something

@greazywilmusic #stitch with @Beat Kitchen Production School #mixing #greazywil #music #artist #engineer #producer #mixer #songs ♬ original sound – GreazyWil


Making music is all about making you feel something. If it makes you feel something, it will make other people feel something. So if you approach mixing music with this mentality, you’ll be thinking more like an artist. Make mixing moves because it makes the song more impactful, even if it doesn’t include all the “right” steps or processes.

“If it sounds good, it is good”

You may have heard people say, “If it sounds good, it is good” or “Just use your ears.” But the thing is, these phrases are only helpful for people who are familiar with mixing. If you’re new to mixing music, these are not helpful pieces of advice.

First, you need to learn the technical aspects of mixing. Then, once you know the general concept of mixing, how to use the tools, and what actually sounds good, you can start to tell yourself, “This sounds good, so I’m not going to mess with it.”

One way to speed up the process of knowing what sounds good is to use reference tracks. This is when you listen to songs that you love that have been produced and mixed by experts. By listening to these professionally mixed tracks in your own mixing environment, you’ll have a better idea of how to make your mix sound good.

When it comes to mixing music, it’s all about finding the intersection of the technical and the art. It starts with knowledge and it leads to artistry.