The Concept Behind Audio Mixing

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You are interested in music and want to know more about its workings but you do not understand much when people talk about mix, stereo image & frequency spectrum? Well I will do my very best to unravel some of these concepts and allow you to see a little clearer.

Hi it is Manwarp, I am a music producer and on my YouTube channel we explore the world of sound and the workings of its industry. Today we will address the notion of audio mixing.

When you produce a song, you have to deal with lot of different sounds and instruments: drums, bass, guitar, synths, voices... And once everything is in the box, we only have a raw version of our song. We then take the next step: mixing! To define it I would say that it is simply to make sure that these 36 different tracks will sound good together through different treatments. This work can be done by a sound engineer or by the artist himself.

I’m sorry to tell you that the recipe for the perfect mix does not exist: it is a subjective exercise. We, humans, can only interpret what goes through our 5 senses. We are in a way machines dealing with the real world in completely different ways. Everyone has its own perception of reality. That is why there are mixes that will sound good for some of us while others will find it unpleasant.

Therefore, there is not only one way to mix a song. And I would say fortunately because one of the richness of music is precisely its diversity, right? The approach of the mix will depend on the style, the instruments used, the elements that must be put forward and above all the intention of the song. what is it supposed to make me feel? Do I want it to excite or to cool? Something joyful, sad, nostalgic? Understanding the emotional intent of the song will allow us to define the best approach to bring it the right treatments during the mixing process.

But I would be lying if I told you that there were no big rules to follow to make our mix more enjoyable. Without going into technical details, here are some characteristics of a good mix.

The starting point of a good mix, after understanding the intention of the song, is to simply adjust the volume of each element without adding any effect until you find a certain balance.

Then we'll have to deal with the stereo image, which is the spatial distribution of sound. You may already know it but as a reminder, a stereo sound is actually the sum of two mono signals: one for the right ear and one for the left one. Therefore, the stereo allows us to spatially perceive the sound at 180 degrees.

Imagine an orchestra with the conductor at the center. And now imagine that the conductor is you, the listener. It is the ideal position to perceive the spatial distribution of the different instruments or elements. This is also from where the person doing the mix will work on the stereo image of the song. The aim of this stage is to find the right position for each element so that the whole thing occupies the space in a natural way and that you can distinguish each of them.

Now let's talk about the frequency spectrum. Our ear is able to perceive sounds between 20 and 20 000 Hz. And each of the elements of our song will live on a certain frequency interval. At this level we will make sure that each element is well in its place and that it is not in competition with another on a certain frequency range. Here is a sheet that summarizes on which ranges each instrument lives characteristically.

You will notice that some of them have a lot of frequencies in common. At that time, if we really want to keep them together we can use their volume and their position in the stereo image to distinguish them.

I know it is already a lot of information so let's take an example of a well-known song to illustrate all this: Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.

Here is its spatial image that I took on the Instagram of @masteringthemix so we have a very interesting 3D representation of the song: on the abscissa axis you have the distribution of each of the elements in the stereo space and on the ordinate one on which frequency range they live. You can even see which ones are put forward compared to others in terms of volume for instance.

You now have a new music reading grid that will allow you to appreciate a little bit more the work behind each song. If you feel the urge, you can give a small amount via my Tipeee page. This way, I can spend more time preparing new videos/articles and producing my music. But if you look at my content and listen to my music, I already have everything I need. In two weeks, we will talk about the music industry and in particular how streaming platforms pay artists. Make sure you don’t miss it: subscribe to my newsletter!

See you in the next one!

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