Earlier this week I shared with you the first three critical steps to beginning a mix well in Part 1 of The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing. Today I want to keep things moving with three more important steps. And remember, these steps apply to newbie mixers as well as advanced mixers. So whether you’re brand new to this or just brushing up on your skills, this workflow will help.
Step #4 – EQ
If you were bored with the first three steps, today is your lucky day. After your monitoring, gain staging, and track volumes are set, it’s time to solidify the mix with your most powerful tool: EQ. The way I see it, nothing else you do in your mix has as much impact on your final sound as what you do with EQ. For better or worse, the majority of your mix’s sound comes from EQ.
The absolute best thing you can do here is to do all of your EQ work while in mono. This will force you to carve away until every track can be heard and felt, even when on top of each other. Keep EQing until you can discern every track in the mix easily and they all seem in balance. Once this is accomplished, you can pop the mix back into stereo.
Step #5 – Compression
A close second to EQ (in terms of importance) is compression. This is your companion tool to EQ. Where EQ cleaned up your mix and brought clarity to the tracks, compression will create power, impact, and energy. It is a powerful tool that can be easily abused. At it’s core, compression is nothing more than an automated volume fader. But in practice it can bring that studio “magic” to your mix.
I like to get my EQ right before I bring in compression. So I try to carve away all the stuff that doesn’t belong with an EQ. Then use compression to enhance what remains. The result? A mix that has both clarity and punch.
Step #6 – Reverbs/Delays
After your EQ and compression settings are in place you should have a pretty great mix. The only potential issue is that it might sound a bit too dry, like it was recorded in a small room, which if we’re being honest, most of the time is true of home studios. This is where some simple time based effects like reverb and delay can come in handy.
The goal is to now take this clear and punchy mix and put it in a common space. We want to give the illusion that we were a band that all recorded together in the same room. Sometimes a little reverb can glue your tracks together nicely. Vocal delays can also put your lead vocal in a magical place that sounds bigger than it does in real life. Of course, this step is very dependent on your personal tastes.