I have received a good amount of feedback recently asking for more audio mixing tips. It seems appropriate that I take several posts, and maybe even a podcast, to cover this vast area of the home music studio.
If you have any specific questions about mixing, please add them to the comments section. You can also send in your questions via the contact page. I'll include my best answers to any further questions throughout this series.
My personal preference is to group the process of mixing into 3 main categories. For this first post, I'm simply going to define what these categories are. As this series unfolds, I will cover each area in more detail.
Most every project I mix has 3 distinct areas; the rhythm, the lead, and the fill section. Though there are a few exceptions to this way of thinking, in general I have found this to be true across most styles of music. Let me define each category and how they relate to one another.
Mixing the Rhythm Section
The rhythm section of a song is the instrumentation that drives the overall feel. It establishes the timing and tempo. The rhythm section also provides the pocket by which everything else falls into. A rhythm section can consist of several instruments like guitar, bass, drums and percussion. It can also simply be one acoustic guitar or piano.
Making this mental observation is extremely helpful in building a successful mix. One of the best audio mixing tips I can give is to build everything out from and upon the rhythm section.
Consider the make up of many songs. The tempo and time signature are often determined by a drum kit. The overall feel of the song is expressed when the bass and drums mix together. This I call the grove or pocket. When a rhythm section plays well together the rest of the song can easily fall into place. This is also true when you're mixing a song.
If you're mixing R&B, Hip Hop, Techno or something similar, the concept is still the same. You may have more of a programmed kit sound and your bass guitar may even be a synth. In either case the two mixed together are the beginnings of the rhythm section.
When you're mixing the rhythm you want the lead section to sit on top of it without being disconnected from it. The fill section is really a support to the entire song and surrounds the rhythm in a mix.
Mixing the Lead Section
The lead section of a song is that which should take the center of the mix. This can be lead vocals or even an instrument in some styles and certain parts of a song. Lead sections can also consist of backing vocals intended to be out in front of the mix. Backing vocals are really a sub section of the lead and should be treated accordingly.
The lead sections are supported both by the rhythm and fill sections of a song. In relation to audio mixing tips, just know that your lead section should not be covered (in most styles) by any other section of the song. What tracks occupy the lead can also change throughout the song like during a guitar solo.
The lead section must be mixed, panned, and EQ'd to be heard clearly. That clarity should not be at the expense of any other section but in conjunction with it. Again, each section has it's place and they should all fit together as one unit in the final mix.
Mixing the Fill Section
The fill section of a song is anything that doesn't establish timing or tempo. Fill sections do not typically sit in the center or forefront of a mix. A fill section is there to establish depth and fatness to the rhythm and overall song. It also provides inspiration and deeper expression for the lead.
Instrumentally the fill section of a song can really be any type of instrument. The difference is often in the way it is played or programmed. Fill parts are typically panned hard left or right of the stereo field in a mix. They don't usually last the entire song but only in specific spots that need filled. Fill sections are often very subtle tracks that would be noticeable most if they were gone.
Style matters greatly when it comes to audio mixing tips. There are many relative aspects of mixing. It is very helpful to listen to a professionally mixed and mastered album in the same style as your project. I've covered this thought in a past podcast episode. You can listen to that here.
Later this week I will be dealing more with each of the categories I've outlined above. Be on the lookout for that content. Please add your thoughts and comments to the section below.