Audio engineering can be a complex and intimidating process, but with the right guidance and practice, anyone can learn how to mix like a pro.
I've gathered 17 of the best audio mixing tips for beginners that will help you navigate the world of audio with confidence.
You could be working with vocals, drums, or guitars; I've got tips and techniques that will take your mixes to the next level.
17 Best Audio Mixing Tips for Beginners
Audio mixing is an art form that requires a combination of technical knowledge and creativity.
Whether you're just starting out or you've been mixing for years, there's always room for improvement.
In this post, you’ll find everything from EQ and compression to reverb and delay, I've got you covered with the best tricks that will help you achieve a professional sound.
So let's get started!
1. Create a Good Monitoring Environment
Creating a good monitoring environment is essential for accurate and effective audio mixing.
To achieve this, you need to start by choosing an appropriate room for mixing, preferably one with a neutral and flat frequency response.
Avoid rooms with uneven acoustics, such as those with parallel walls or hard surfaces that cause sound reflections and standing waves.
You can also use acoustic treatments to control the room's sound, such as sound absorption panels and bass traps, to reduce reflections and improve the room's frequency response.
In addition to room acoustics, it is crucial to choose the right monitoring system for your needs.
Invest in high-quality studio monitors that provide a balanced and accurate sound across the entire frequency spectrum. Also, consider adding a subwoofer for accurate low-frequency monitoring.
Once you have set up your monitoring system, ensure that you calibrate it properly to get the best possible sound.
Regularly check and adjust the volume levels to avoid ear fatigue and maintain an accurate listening environment.
2. Recording High-Quality Tracks for Easier Mixing
Recording high-quality tracks is essential for achieving a clean and professional-sounding mix.
To do this, you need to make sure that your recording environment is free from external noise and unwanted sound reflections.
Choose top-quality microphones that are suitable for the sound source you are recording and place them in the appropriate position to capture the desired sound accurately.
When recording, ensure that you record at a suitable level to avoid distortion and clipping. Record with a consistent level, tone, and timing, to make it easier to edit and mix the tracks later.
Capture each instrument or vocal on separate tracks to allow more flexibility during the mixing stage.
Finally, be sure to take breaks and listen to your recordings with fresh ears to make sure that they sound as good as possible before starting the mixing process.
3. Cut Unwanted Frequencies
Cutting unwanted frequencies is often better than boosting desired ones because it usually results in a cleaner, more natural sound.
Boosting frequencies can cause the track to become too loud, resulting in clipping or distortion that can be challenging to fix.
Boosting can also cause a narrow frequency range to become too pronounced, resulting in an artificial and unbalanced sound.
Reducing unwanted frequencies can also help remove unwanted resonance, hum, or hiss that can detract from the clarity and quality of the track.
This approach allows you to create more space in the mix for other sounds, resulting in a more balanced and professional-sounding mix.
Additionally, cutting frequencies can be less damaging to the track than boosting, which can cause more severe and irreversible damage.
However, this doesn’t mean you should only cut frequencies for the best results. Great engineers such as Chris Lord-Alge don’t cut but mostly boost.
So don’t do things by default; always do what will sound best in the mix.
4. Removing Rumble and Unwanted Low Frequencies
Removing low-end rumble and other unwanted low frequencies with a high-pass filter is an essential technique in audio mixing.
These often cause problems such as masking, unwanted resonance, and phase cancellation, which can detract from the overall clarity and quality of the track.
A high-pass filter works by removing frequencies below a specific frequency range, allowing the desired frequencies to pass through.
It is an effective way to remove low-end rumble, hum, pops, and other unwanted low frequencies, resulting in a cleaner and more focused sound.
But it’s crucial to use the high-pass filter judiciously, as too much filtering can make the song sound thin and lacking in bass.
It's important to listen carefully to the mix to ensure that you are removing only the frequencies that are causing problems while preserving the natural sound of the track.
5. Reduce High Frequency Noise and Hiss
Reducing high-frequency noise and hiss with a low-pass filter is another crucial technique for getting a clean mix.
High-frequency noise and hiss can be distracting and make the track sound unprofessional.
It's also important to use the low-pass filter appropriately because too much can cause the track to sound dull and lifeless.
6. Compress to Even Out Levels and Control Dynamics
Compression is a powerful tool that can create a more balanced and polished sound by reducing the track's dynamic range.
An audio compressor works by reducing the volume of loud sounds while leaving softer sounds unaffected. This helps to even out the levels of the track and make it easier to hear all of the individual elements.
It can also be used to add sustain to a guitar or other instrument, or to add punch to a kick drum or bass guitar.
Keep in mind that not all tracks will require compression in a mix.
7. Use Sidechain Compression to Avoid Frequency Masking
Using sidechain compression is a technique that can be used to make instruments cut through the mix without competing for the same space in the frequency spectrum.
This technique involves using the audio signal from one instrument to trigger the compression on another instrument.
For example, you can use it to make the kick drum cut through the mix without competing with the bass guitar.
By routing the audio signal from the kick drum to the compressor on the bass guitar, the bass guitar will be compressed every time the kick drum plays, allowing the kick drum to cut through the mix without the bass guitar interfering.
The sidechain trick can also be used to ensure that the lead vocal track is always heard clearly above the other instruments.
However, too much can result in an unnatural sound.
8. Creating Depth and Punch in Drums and Other Instruments With Parallel Compression
Parallel compression is a technique in which you create a duplicate of the track and compress it heavily. The compressed track is then mixed back in with the original track, creating a fuller and more dynamic sound.
It is particularly effective for drums and percussion instruments, as it can create a more powerful and punchy sound.
It can also be used for other instruments such as guitars or vocals, where you want to add extra depth and dimension to the track.
9. Add Warmth and Character With Saturation
Adding warmth and character to tracks can be achieved with saturation and distortion, a technique that emulates the sound of analog equipment.
Saturation can add harmonics to the track, creating a warmer and more vintage sound.
It can be applied to individual tracks, such as drums or vocals, or to the entire mix using plugins or hardware units.
Distortion can also be used to add character to tracks, especially in genres like rock, hip-hop, or metal where a more aggressive sound is desired.
But too much can cause tracks to become harsh or overly distorted. It's important to listen carefully to the mix and adjust the settings to achieve the desired effect without overdoing it.
10. Keep the Listener Engaged With Automation
Use automation to create dynamic changes and keep the listener engaged.
This is a technique that allows you to adjust the levels, panning, effects, and other parameters of the mix over time.
Automation can be used to create subtle changes, such as increasing the volume of a guitar solo or adding a delay effect to a vocal line.
It can also be used for more dramatic changes, such as a sudden drop in volume or a panning effect that moves the sound from one speaker to the other.
By using automation, you can create a mix that evolves and keeps the listener engaged, rather than a static mix that stays the same throughout the entire song.
Automation can also create a more natural and dynamic sound, as it allows you to mimic the natural ebb and flow of a live performance.
Don’t overdo it, though, as too much can be distracting and take away from the overall sound of the track.
11. Creating Depth and Space With Reverb and Delay
Reverb and delay are two effects that can add a sense of dimensionality and realism to your mixes.
Reverb can be used to create the impression of a room or other acoustic space, while delay can be used to create echoes or to repeat certain elements of the track.
By adjusting the parameters of the reverb and delay effects, you can create a sense of distance and depth in the mix.
For example, use a longer reverb time to create the impression of a large room or a shorter reverb time for a more intimate sound.
You can also apply different types of reverb and delay, such as plate or spring reverb or tape or digital delay, to achieve different textures and tones.
However, it's important to use reverb and delay carefully because too much can muddy the mix and detract from the clarity of individual instruments.
12. Get a Wider and More Interesting Sound With Stereo Imaging
Stereo imaging is a technique that involves adjusting the placement and width of the sound in the stereo field.
It usually makes the mix sound wider, spacious, and immersive, creating a more engaging listening experience for the audience.
Stereo imaging can be achieved using a variety of tools and techniques, such as panning, stereo widening plugins, and mid-side processing.
By adjusting the placement of the individual instruments and sounds in the stereo field, you can create a more balanced and coherent mix where each element has its own space and does not compete with other sounds.
You can also create a sense of movement and excitement in the mix.
For example, you can use automation to move certain sounds from left to right or use stereo delay to create a more interesting rhythmic pattern.
Overall, stereo imaging is an essential technique for audio mixing that can add width, interest, and immersion to the song, making it a more engaging and enjoyable listening experience.
13. Use Reference Tracks to Achieve a Competitive Sound
Using reference tracks can be an effective way to achieve a professional and competitive mix.
A reference track is a high-quality recording that serves as a benchmark for your own mix, providing a guide for the sound and level of polish that you should aim for.
When using a reference track, it's important to choose songs that are similar in genre and style to your own mix.
Listen to the reference track on multiple playback systems to get a sense of its balance, tonality, and dynamics.
You can then use this information to make adjustments to your own mix and get it closer to the level of the reference track.
Reference tracks can also help you identify any areas that need improvement in your mixes, such as the overall level, frequency balance, or stereo imaging.
Give your tracks the edge they need to stand out in the crowded music industry.
Ensuring that your mix sounds great on all playback systems is a critical part of audio mixing.
One way to achieve this is to test your mix in mono, which simulates the experience of listening to your track on a single speaker system.
Mixing in mono can reveal any issues with the balance, panning, or phase relationships between instruments.
When listening in mono, any issues with stereo imaging will be more apparent, and you can make adjustments to ensure that your mix sounds great in both stereo and mono.
Another benefit of mixing in mono is that it will often expose any masking issues between instruments.
Masking occurs when one instrument masks the sound of another, making it difficult to hear both clearly.
In summary, checking mono-compatibility is essential for ensuring that your mix translates well on all playback systems, from home stereo systems to car speakers and beyond.
By identifying any issues and making adjustments, you can almost guarantee that your mix sounds great no matter where it's played.
15. Controlling Tonal Balance With a Multiband Compressor
A multiband compressor is a powerful tool for controlling the dynamics of specific frequency ranges.
Unlike a standard compressor, which treats the entire audio signal as one, a multiband compressor allows you to split the signal into multiple frequency bands and apply separate compression settings to each band.
This can be particularly useful when dealing with complex mixes that have a lot of competing frequencies.
By using a multiband, you can target specific frequency ranges that may be causing problems and adjust their dynamics accordingly.
For example, if you have a mix with a lot of low-end rumble, you can use it to apply more compression to the low frequencies while leaving the high frequencies relatively untouched.
This can help to clean up the mix and make it sound more defined.
Overall, it's a strong tool for creating a more balanced and polished mix.
16. Control the Envelope With a Transient Shaper
A transient shaper is a useful tool for adding or reducing the attack and sustain of percussive tracks.
Transients are the initial peak in volume that occur when a sound is first played, and they are an essential element of percussive tracks such as drums.
A transient shaper allows you to shape the transients of a sound, altering the attack and sustain characteristics.
For example, if you want to add more punch to a drum track, you can increase the attack using a transient shaper.
This will make the initial hit of the drum sound more prominent and defined.
Similarly, if you want to reduce the sustain of a cymbal, you can use a transient shaper to decrease the decay time and make it sound more controlled.
A transient shaper can be a valuable tool for achieving a more dynamic and interesting sound in percussive tracks, allowing you to shape the transients to fit your mix.
However, it's important to use the tool judiciously, as overuse can result in an unnatural or overprocessed sound.
17. Parallel Compression on Vocals
Vocals are often the most important element of a song, and it's important to make sure they stand out in the mix.
One way to add energy and excitement to vocal tracks is to use vocal parallel compression. This can help to even out the dynamic range of the vocals, making them sound more consistent and powerful.
By blending the compressed and uncompressed signals, you can add character and attitude to the vocals without sacrificing their natural sound.
This technique is particularly effective for adding presence and impact to choruses or other sections where the vocals need to be more upfront in the mix.
With careful use of parallel compression, you can create a powerful and dynamic vocal sound that will help your mix stand out.