Music Mixing: The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 2]

| Mixing, Plugins, Tips

Earlier this week I shared with you the first three critical steps to beginning a mix well in Part 1 of The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing. Today I want to keep things moving with three more important steps. And remember, these steps apply to newbie mixers as well as advanced mixers. So whether you’re brand new to this or just brushing up on your skills, this workflow will help.

Step #4 – EQ

If you were bored with the first three steps, today is your lucky day. After your monitoring, gain staging, and track volumes are set, it’s time to solidify the mix with your most powerful tool: EQ. The way I see it, nothing else you do in your mix has as much impact on your final sound as what you do with EQ. For better or worse, the majority of your mix’s sound comes from EQ.

The absolute best thing you can do here is to do all of your EQ work while in mono. This will force you to carve away until every track can be heard and felt, even when on top of each other. Keep EQing until you can discern every track in the mix easily and they all seem in balance. Once this is accomplished, you can pop the mix back into stereo.

Step #5 – Compression

A close second to EQ (in terms of importance) is compression. This is your companion tool to EQ. Where EQ cleaned up your mix and brought clarity to the tracks, compression will create power, impact, and energy. It is a powerful tool that can be easily abused. At it’s core, compression is nothing more than an automated volume fader. But in practice it can bring that studio “magic” to your mix.

I like to get my EQ right before I bring in compression. So I try to carve away all the stuff that doesn’t belong with an EQ. Then use compression to enhance what remains. The result? A mix that has both clarity and punch.

Step #6 – Reverbs/Delays

After your EQ and compression settings are in place you should have a pretty great mix. The only potential issue is that it might sound a bit too dry, like it was recorded in a small room, which if we’re being honest, most of the time is true of home studios. This is where some simple time based effects like reverb and delay can come in handy.

The goal is to now take this clear and punchy mix and put it in a common space. We want to give the illusion that we were a band that all recorded together in the same room. Sometimes a little reverb can glue your tracks together nicely. Vocal delays can also put your lead vocal in a magical place that sounds bigger than it does in real life. Of course, this step is very dependent on your personal tastes.

Check out Part 3 of The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing.


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16 Responses to “Music Mixing: The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 2]”

  1. Gabe

    Warning to beginners about reverb: Don’t overdo it!
    Keep it subtle, you don’t want your awesome mix to sound like it’s at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. 🙂

  2. Keys

    I wonder if Graham is using Cubase now.. I know how much Graham encourage us its never about the DAW. Just curious 🙂

    What do you guy thinks about the arrival of Pro tools 11 today ?

  3. sky santana

    i love ur site, can you please consider doing a mix tutorial for BALLADS?
    on your site you teach about moods of the songs & making it come alive, but what if we want to deaden it a little & make it more gloomy, depressing .

  4. John Lardinois

    I love to read beginners’ guides to mixing to see what other engineers feel is the most important mix elements. I think you nailed it with the first guide.

    I think of EQ the same, but with a different approach. EQing in mono is, indeed key, but I don’t always go before compression.

    I always ask myself – does the instrument need tone shaping? In other words, does it compete with something else, or in extreme cases, does it just sound terrible tonally? If so, then I ask myself – does the shaping require cuts or boosts? If it’s a cut – I do it before compression, assuming the track needs compression at all!

    EQ cutting before compression makes sure the compressor doesn’t trigger by the crap.

    However, if there is a specific frequency that is very rare, but vital, and jumps out obnoxiously, you can actually BOOST it before compression.

    For the same reason I do not to tonal EQ boosts before compression. When you boost a frequency, the compressor will turn it down!

    So then, if the track requires boosts (except in that one case), I will do that after compression.

    However, I’m willing to bet there are very few tracks in an average mix that need compression at all.

    For compressors, I ask myself – when I bring the track to a volume where all the notes are audible, are some notes to loud? When I bring the track to a volume where the loudest notes are audible, are some notes not heard? Then compress it.

    If you have a track where some notes stick out but the majority don’t, then limit it instead – brick wall.

    if a track wavers too much, I compress it. I compress vocals sometimes just to make the breaths and vibratos pop out of the mix. I almost always compress snares because it gives them sooooo much power and punch!

    But the final thing I want to add for beginners reading this is that –

    If you think a track needs compression – try fixing it with an EQ first. Most of the time, a track that wavers and sounds like it needs compression actually has frequencies that are outstanding from the audio, so simply use an EQ to cut those frequencies and you can make a leveled track that sounds natural without a compressor.

    A perfect example is a bass guitar. This happens on almost every bass I mix. People like the bass to be solid and take the foundation of the mix. However, when a bass player does runs up and down the neck, the nigh notes are often lost. Most people instinctively reach for a compressor or limiter to level the track, when really, you just need to boost the bass between 350 and 600 Hz. This way, when the bassist plays below 350 he will be heard, and when he plays higher notes it will be equal volume. If you compress instead, then when he plays the louder bass notes, the entire bass will be quieter than the high notes and it will make it sound both thin and like it needs MORE compression, when really it needs EQ.

    Sorry for the rant, but Graham, your topics always get me talking. I love this website!

  5. Shaun

    Curious, whereabouts in this mixing guide would you recommend officially taking your mix out of mono and beginning to start panning things?

    • Graham

      Hi Shaun,

      I like to get my static mix with just volume and pan in stereo early on. Then flip to mono for EQ and compression. Then back out to stereo to finish things up.

  6. Shaun

    Also, one more subjective question –
    When arriving at the compression stage, do you prefer compressing every single element that needs that treatment individually, per track? Or via buss compression instead?.. or, both even? Obviously this can be dependent on the track, but as a general starting point what direction do you usually find yourself going in this regard?

    Thanks again for the info Graham!



  1.  The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing | Morpeth School Music Technology
  2.  Music Mixing: The Beginner’s Guide To Mixing [Part 3] | The Recording Revolution

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