Beginner's Guide To Mixing Music In A Home Recording Studio.

Beginner’s Guide To Mixing Music In A Home Recording Studio.

In this article, I am going to give you a beginner’s guide to mixing songs in a home recording studio, and do hope you will benefit from this lesson.

So you’ve got your own small home recording studio set up, and bit by bit you are beginning to master the art of music production, and producing high quality music.

And before the final process of music production which is mastering, another process you must undergo is known as mixing.

What is audio mixing?

Audio mixing is defined as the process whereby several tracks are combined together to form a cohesive song.

These songs are often times combined to form a mono, stereo, or even surround sound production.

During mixing, the relative levels; usually called volumes are adjusted and balanced while several processes like equalization and compression are commonly applied to individual tracks or groups of tracks, as well as the overall mix.

The purpose of mixing a song is to ensure that individual instruments or vocals do not fight for space with each other.

Consequently, mixing a song largely depends on the music genre and the types of instruments you use.

In professional recording studios, audio mixing is often done by a sound engineer who has good ears for music.

But in this digital age, where lots of artists have their own home recording studios; mixing songs can be done by a beginner who has taken it upon himself to study and practice the art.

Below are therefore the task involved in mixing music.

1. Adjust the volume of your tracks.

You can adjust the volumes of your tracks either individually; or group them according to the levels you want them to sound in the mix.

For example, you can wish for a high hat to sound a bit higher than other instruments; or for the bass to punch through the whole mix.

You achieve this by bringing the volume up after you have compressed the bass to get the fatness you want.

2. Equalization.

There are 3 main reasons why equalization is used during the mixing of songs in a home recording studio and they are:

  1. To correct problems that occurred during the recording process,
  2. Gain clarity and improve the instruments,
  3. To create more room and balance for each of the instruments including the vocals.

If you want to eliminate unwanted low ends in any instrument, you can use the high pass filters as seen in the diagram below.

And for the relatively high disturbing frequencies, you can apply the low pass filters.

Frequencies above 8 kHz for bassy instruments are generally not audible enough and they are fond of adding extra noise to the song, so filter them out.

While mixing the drums, make sure you pay attention to proximity effects, if the bass is too heavy then roll off some of the low frequencies.

If you want to create space in the songs during mixing, you can use an equalizer to balance the frequencies.

3. Compression.

The purpose of compression while mixing songs in a home recording studio is to reduce the dynamic range of the audio signal.

Compressors act like automatic volume knobs that turn down the volume of a song when it gets too loud, as well as turn it up if it gets too low.

But before you attempt to use a compressor, make sure you understand what its parameters do. That is to say, you should not use a compressor unless you identify an issue in your song you know the compressor will correct.

Most especially, be mindful of how you use an external compressor on a DAW, because if it doesn’t understand the compressor well it will end up messing up the whole song for you.

It is always advisable to use an inbuilt compressor for an audio station.

Unless you see it as necessary, keep the default settings when using a compressor, but if the need arises to do some tweaking; you can play around with the settings below.

Recommended Settings for Transient Compression

The settings below can be used if your snare track hits too hard, or your bass has too much “slap.” 

  • Attack: 1-10 ms
  • Release: 25-50 ms
  • Ratio: 2:1 (Low) to 10:1 (High)
  • Threshold: Let your threshold be set below the level of the peaks you want to make thick. The exact level however depends on how much gain reduction you need to apply.

Recommended Settings for Delayed Compression

If you are mixing a song in which the kick and snare, the two most prominent elements in the mix, are not present and impactful enough, then use the settings below.

  • Attack: 100+ ms
  • Release: Variable based on song tempo.
  • Ratio: 2:1 (Low) to 10:1 (High)
  • Threshold: Let your threshold be set below the level of the peaks you want to make thick. The exact level however depends on how much gain reduction you need to apply.

Recommended Settings for Glue Compression

The settings below can be used if you want to create space in your mix.

  • Attack: 10-30+ ms
  • Release: 10-30 ms
  • Ratio: 2:1 (Low) to 4:1 (High)
  • Threshold: Set your threshold so that you’re only applying 1-2 dB of gain reduction.

4. Reverb.

Reverb is used to create more space or room when mixing songs in a home recording studio.

You don’t want your songs to sound as if it was recorded in a small home recording studio; do you?

Now if you want your song to sound as if you recorded it in a multi-million recording studio, then you have to use reverb.

There are lots of settings that come with reverbs; you can use them according to how you want your song to sound.

Some of the settings are Room, hall, church, acoustic room, etc.

Whatever sounds right when you listen to each of these settings when applied is what settings you should use in your mix.

5. Panning.

Panning is used to defining where you want each individual instrument to stay.

Think of panning as a stage performance setting where all the players, singers, and backups all occupy or have a position.

Use this knowledge to pan your instruments accordingly.

The only instruments you should not pan are the bass and kick, as well as the lead vocals.

6. Automation.

Automation means having a DAW automatically perform certain tasks in the course of time, especially moving knobs, faders, and switches for you.

The main reason why you use automation during mixing is to adjust the volume of a track. For example, it will allow you to fade or reduce the volume of certain instruments during the hook, or verses.

What you should automate?

You should automate almost anything! Automation can help you to automatically adjust all kinds of parameters: volume, panning, sends, faders, etc. on any track in your workstation.

You can even automate changes to settings inside the plug-ins. Below are some ideas for when you should automate.

  1. Automate an effect bypass on and off in certain sections of your song. This is really helpful if your purpose is to create a delay or a long reverb tail only on a couple of of specific words to help emphasize them.
  2. Automate individual plugin parameters. You can use this when creating EQ filter sweeps, or when you are altering the delay feedback amount in a certain part of your song.
  3. Automate a VCA or a bus that helps to control the level of a group of instruments at once.
  4. Automate the master fader to create a smooth fade-out at the end of your song.

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