Tips for Audio Mixing: Build the House

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Build the House

This is one article in a series of articles entitled Tips for Audio Mixing found here at Guitar for Beginners and Beyond. Check out the initial lesson, Tips for Audio Mixing: Overview, which outlines all of the articles in the series.

Now that you have the major components of your mix identified, it's time to build the house. That's just what it sounds like. No structure is built to last without a firm foundation. Just like life and philosophies. So a sound recording is no different.

Begin building your mix while keeping the five methods described in Tips for Audio Mixdown: Overview in the front of your mind. Start at the basement with the drums and the bass (this, too depends on the song. Maybe this song is driven by a clean electric and a flute. Just start with what drives this particular song). Fix those where you want them in all five spectrums, but keep in mind that you will be 'tweaking' these later. Having a good idea of where you want them in the mix is the place to start.

Once you have the drums and bass basically in place where you want them, add that special driving component next. Now realistically, this may not always be the right move at this time. However, keep this special drive element in mind and bring it in to the mix as soon as possible. Sometimes this driving component might be the lead vocal. Most of the time, I won't mix in vocals until I build the foundation of the instruments, but you can bring it in the mix temporarily to get an idea of where you want that vocal or that part to sit in the mix. Then you might take it out of your early mix so you can continue to build the foundation. Begin with the end in mind.

Often times when I mix, I may have that special element in mind, but I'll bring in the rhythm guitar next. Again, it's all about building a lasting and impressionable foundation. Build your mix upward from here. Bring in the secondary instruments, feature instrument and back vocals in the order that you hear the mix growing and maturing from the basement to the next floor of your building.

There was a well-known engineer who was asked questions about how he goes about getting a mix. One of the things he says separates amateur mixers from the pros is the use of compression. This is a wide topic that will hopefully have an article title here at GfB&B in the future. But we will discuss the basic usage of compression for the purposes of this topic.

There is a wide swath of ways to use a compressor, but one very useful way is to use the effect to reinforce the main tracks. This technique has been used very successfully on many records that you have heard. The trick is to reinforce the foundational elements by multing (sending the signal to a second track at the same time), compressing and then sneaking that track into the mix behind the main track. Maybe you'd EQ this mult differently. Maybe you'd add a flange effect to it as well. Maybe it doesn't need anything other than compression.

For many dance and rock records, the engineer has taken the signal of the kick drum and sent it to a second track, and then has compressed that track while increasing the make-up gain of the output of the compressor. Then this track is placed somewhere behind the main track in the mix. The same is done for the bass guitar.

For further information about the use of compression in mixing and other tips and tricks, check out the book, "The Mixing Engineer's Handbook". This is a great read.

Next up are some final thoughts. Tips for Audio Mixing: References.

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