How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

To mix like a pro, you need to understand that the goal of mixing is to create the best soundscape from all of your inputs, tracks and samples to give each element room to complement each other, stand out where needed and create a piece that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Mixing is as much about subtracting parts than adding. So cutting signals, shaping frequencies to reduce unwanted noise and removing audible clutter is just as important as adding a whole range of processors and effects.

No matter how you get your sounds into your DAW, whether that’s through live recordings, direct line-ins, loops and sample sets or MIDI instruments, learning how to get the most out of your audio will help to take your project to the next level and give you a final product that’s creative, original and professional.

We’ve compiled 5 top mixing techniques to help you create better sounds, which can apply across just about every genre and style of music you can encounter.

Firstly, though, some housekeeping. Whichever software you prefer to use, remember to keep your house in order and work in a tidy fashion. This means colour coding your tracks so they’re easy to group and you can name your tracks, buses, inputs, sends and returns in a logical way. You should also save your files in their own folder and backup regularly.

Top 5 Techniques To Mix Like A Pro

1 - Check your levels

How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

Cutting out unwanted frequencies from tracks can lead to a cleaner, crisper sounding mix. Whilst this can be achieved with EQ, it’s best to start at the source to make sure you’re off on the right foot.

Your aim could be to make each part sound clearer and more defined, make individual tracks sound larger than life so your mix sounds huge, or just allow each element in your mix the space to stand out and shine.

What you don’t want is a lop-sided mix with some parts overpowering others. So, roll back the gain on your tracks by either padding or reducing the input levels at source to lower your risk of clipping and give yourself a bit of extra headroom to boost where needed.

The loudness wars are well and truly over so don’t fall into the trap that loud = good! Contrasting dynamics can create interest, excitement and anticipation in your mix that your listener will love. Don’t neglect some light and shade and boost your snare hits for added drive or cut your levels just before a chorus to maximise its impact.

Browse drum samples from Prime Loops here

2 - Plan your pan

How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

The best mixes allow each part, whether that’s an instrument or a sample, room to complement each other and stand out on their own merit. As a result, it’s incredibly important to plan your soundscape as you would with the rest of the arrangement.

Panning allows you to take full advantage of the stereo spectrum, freeing up space for your tracks to breathe.

Start by thinking about your most important element of your arrangement. If you’re mixing a pop song you’d likely place the vocals in the centre of the mix, or if you’re working on a project for a full band you might try and emulate a live set up with guitars, keyboards or piano panned hard left and right.

Or you can experiment with shifting across the stereo channel to add movement and excitement being as subtle as a Leslie cabinet or a big, sweeping Hendrix inspired flanging effect.

When we use stereo monitors for mixing, it can create an illusion of a phantom central speaker, when sound is equal in both speakers and can seem to shift depending on your physical position.

Yet, the real test of your panning skills is when you can drop your stereo mix into mono and hear each part with clarity, then you know you'll be on your way to be able to mix like a pro.

3 - Excel with EQ

How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

If you consider panning to cover left to right, EQ should cover top to bottom. However, if you’re struggling to find a breakthrough, try mapping out your mix on paper to give you a visual guide to how your parts are fitting together.

Each instrument type or section excels within its own dynamic range:

  • Sub bass - 16Hz - 60Hz - often felt rather than heard
  • Bass - 60Hz - 250Hz - the fundamental range of the rhythm section
  • Low mids - 250Hz - 2KHz - where your main instrument section sits (500Hz-1KHz can sound horn like if boosted too far, 1KHz-2KHz can sound tinny if boosted too far)
  • High mids - 2KHz - 4KHz - varying your vocal levels in this range can make it audible without having to change your instrument levels
  • Presence - 4KHz - 6KHz - ideal for adding definition to your mix. Boost this section to make your mix feel closer, or cut around the 5KHz mark to create a sense of distance
  • Brilliance - 6KHz - 16KHz - master this section to create and control clarity

As a rule of thumb, your vocals should maintain a steady level across the board and your rhythm section will always be in the lower end. The best producers start with the lower end first, setting a good level to build a mix up from there.

With EQ, find a way of sculpting the signals from each track so they’re not competing for the same space in the mix. Sometimes cutting can pay off just as well as boosting - if you do it in the right places.

Browse bass samples from Prime Loops here

4 - Control with compression

How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

Choosing to EQ pre or post compression can produce entirely different results. Generally, applying EQ before your compressor can lead to a warmer sound, whilst opting to add compression after, generates a clearer and cleaner result.

Either way, you want to even out your dynamic range and clear out unwanted frequencies, noise and audible clutter that can lead to a muddy or messy final product.

Experiment by compressing individual tracks, such as snare hits or cymbals, group together sections of the mix such as your entire drum section, or add compression to your entire project to tidy it up completely.

Whatever you do, remember to allow each track the ability to excel and stand out within their own dynamic range, using compression to complement your mix without debilitating the audio.

5 - Reference check the best

How To Mix Like A Pro: Top 5 Mixing Techniques

Whether you’re mixing in a state of the art studio, on a laptop with an old set of cans or in your spare bedroom, everyone’s set-up will be completely different and unique.

The best inspiration comes from research, so listen to a wide range of artists from different genres, experiment with new instruments or even download some unusual samples such as our world music or synthwave sample packs to break out of your usual listening routine.

Most importantly, play these back on the speakers or headphones you use to mix with and reference back to pick out your favourite nuances and techniques to use in your own work.

It’s also a good idea to consider your audience. Your listeners could be listening to your work on a car stereo, in a club, on a home assistant speaker or through a smartphone so make sure you’re set up to “wow” them with a mix that stands out across all devices.

Browse vocal samples from Prime Loops here

To recap

In a nutshell, the mixing process can be as laborious or quick as you’d like it to be. Some producers will spend a few hours to find a mix that suits them, whilst other projects can take days which all contributes to the old adage that a mix is never finished, just abandoned!

Only you can be the judge of what you can consider to be a finished mix, so follow the tips above to help you mix like a pro, improve your craft or completely throw out the rule book and start afresh under your own steam.

What are your top tips for mixing like a pro? Let us know on our Facebook or Twitter pages and share your audio clips with Prime Loops.

Download music sample packs from Prime Loops here
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