If a song was a present, then mixing would be arranging all the items in the box and mastering is wrapping the gift and making it perfect for its final presentation. After recording a piece of music, you need to "mix down" the audio tracks. Mixing and mastering include setting the right levels for all the instruments, adding effects and making the music ready to put onto an album. Modern digital audio technology makes it easy to mix down songs and end up with an effective balance of sound.
One of the most important things you can do during your mix-down is to get all the levels where you want them. For example, you don't want the cymbals to overpower the lead vocals. In general, vocals should be in the center. Think about panning (which side speaker the sound comes out) and where you want to hear different parts of the band or ensemble. Vocals and bass should be centered, but most drums and rhythm guitar should be panned to one side or another. Listen to the mix and look at your master output. You should not see peaks of more than +3 decibels (dB). If it goes above, you are pushing the sound too hard, and you may end up with clicks, pops and other imperfections in your mix.
Adding effects is an essential part of mixing. Use a gate to get rid of additional hiss or noise coming from your instruments and a compressor to help balance the song. The compressor helps get rid of the raw edges and makes the sound more uniform. Add effects like reverb to give the mix some depth and space. Also consider effects like delay, flange and chorus. There are other plug-ins you can use as well, like saturation, which can give you more warmth and harmonics when other effects aren't suitable.
Subgroups and Buses
Use groups and buses to set effects for a group of tracks. For example, you may want one type of reverb for the guitars and another reverb for the vocals. You can group the guitar tracks and send them through a bus to get one kind of reverb, and send the vocals to another bus to get the other reverb. You have more control over your mix if you use groups and buses.
In general, you don't want to get too complicated with your mix. Quite often, you will find that less is more. If you took care when recording, your mixing process will go much smoother. Mastering involves taking your mix down to a single stereo track and will include yet another round of compression and equalizing. Put your mix on a CD and listen to it through your monitors, car stereo or other location. Write down a list of any imperfections or things you want to fix. You may need to go through several mixing sessions before you have your finished product.
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images