Mix balance is one of the first and most important steps in music production. If your song consists of a let’s say a vocalist, a guitarist, and a trumpet; then those three elements should have a sense of stability with each other. This is accomplished by determining how loud one instrument is in relation to the other, and also where each instrument is panned across the stereo field. Obviously the more instruments you have in a song the more difficult it is to find an appropriate balance in the mix.
In my experience, a really good arrangement almost never has all instruments playing at the same time. Different sections will have different instruments. When starting your mix, I find that it is best to focus on one section at time. Some mixing engineers recommend starting with the chorus of the song or the loudest part and then working your way down. While I don’t think this is completely necessary I do try to pay attention to dynamics. You have to ensure that when that chorus comes in the song is elevated dynamically and emotionally.
When building my mix balance I like to loop sections. Let’s say I looped the second verse. I’d simply listen repeatedly and let it sink into my ears. I close my eyes and try to image it sounding similar to a song I really like, kinda like a finished product. Then I start noticing what is missing on the project at hand. So I start making volume and panning adjustments. My goal is always to make sure I can hear every instrument clearly without applying any kind of processing. Once I accomplish this, I like to prioritize instruments in order of importance. So for instance if there’s a vocal track singing the main melody, it will most likely be the clearest and loudest instrument in that section of the song. And perhaps after this I can accommodate the level of the drums, or maybe a guitar; and I’ll try to make them sit with the vocals in way that sounds natural and not like some karaoke party 😉 You know that sound- Super loud vocals which totally overpower the band and as a result the band sounds wimpy. A lot of times the opposite happens, the music simply is too powerful for the vocals.
I like to take care of these issues during the balancing part of a mix. Sometimes I have to automate the levels of instruments throughout the song in order to get that balance right. I leave EQ, compression or any fancy effects out the equation. This will tell me if the performances and sounds already work well together and communicate the emotion the song is trying to convey. The less processing you have, in my experience, the better and more punchy your mix will be. Try it! Try mixing a song without any plugins. See how far you can take it.
This stuff takes time to learn. If you’re stuck with a mix, have a deadline and need help then feel free to shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll certainly help you out as it is something I do every day!
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