This sequence of four blogs will look at four aspects of music production that are crucial to understand in order to achieve a professional sounding mix and what audio tools can be used to affect them.
With so many different music software programs, effects, processors, virtual instruments and various hardware equipment, the world of music technology can seem like a confusing place. It’s not easy to know what audio tools to learn or use when producing music. I know when I first started making music I wasn’t sure if I needed to use a specific audio effect, processor or piece of hardware to make my mix sound professional.
It’s often the case that music tech knowledge is acquired through various processes such as; academic study, practical trial and error, working with others, watching online tutorials or even reading textbooks (those strange things that existed before the internet!).
All of these discoveries and process formations help shape an individual's workflow and contribute towards establishing a style of producing or rather a characteristic ‘sound’ of a producer.
There is no right or wrong way to go about developing your own workflow and what I have come to realise is that you don’t need to spend huge amounts of money on the latest equipment, buy a specific compressor or EQ to achieve a mix that is comparable to something you would hear on the radio. In fact, a lot of music software comes with processors and effects that are more than good enough, as long as you know which tools to focus on and how to use them. I also believe it's as important to understand how; volume balance, stereo image, frequency and sense of audio depth are fundamental to achieving a professional sounding mix.
Before we looks at these four aspects and audio tools used to shape them I think It’s important to define what a ‘mix’ is, I find this description useful:
"Audio mixing is the process by which multiple sounds are individually processed and combined into one or more channels. In the process, a source's volume level, frequency content, dynamics, and panoramic position can be manipulated and enhanced. Also, various effects (such as reverb/delay) may be added too".
Traditionally mixing is done as a separate process after all the recorded audio and MIDI information had been captured and placed on individual tracks of a DAW or mixing console, where various audio processing and effects can then take place.
One process that occurs during the mixing stage is the ability to alter the audio level of individual tracks through the use of a volume fader. Volume faders found on most mixers and within a DAW can be controlled by using a mouse to click on the fader and drag up or down to increase or decrease the volume of individual tracks.
They are the most important tool to control the volume balance of your music and a crucial step in helping to shape the overall sound of your mix, as the choices in deciding what blend of volume levels to use of the different recorded sources will help define the character of the track.
Another important tool that can alter the volume level of tracks is a compressor. Compressors are dynamic processors that reduce the dynamic range (the range between the loudest and quiets part of an audio signal) of a sound, they are often used to reduce audio peaks of recorded material, by a user set threshold, so that volume of a track is more consistent.
Logic Pro X Volume fader
When making decisions about mixing volume levels or use of compressors, it’s important to take into consideration the characteristic of the genre you are working in. For example, Pop music tends to have Vocals louder in the mix compared to other instruments, Dubstep would give prominence to bass sounds and drums whilst a House record might give prominence to the kick drum as it’s a focal point for a DJ to use when beat matching.
To create a balanced mix it’s important to combine the volume level of individual tracks within your music project so that they compliment each other and achieve the desired outcome in terms of what sounds you want to be louder or quieter in the mix
Keep an eye out for the next blog of this four part series that will look at the Stereo Image of a track and what tools can be used to affect and create it.