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Audio mixing is the art of combining sounds to create a unified whole. When talking about audio mixing we tend to think about musicians creating an album in a recording studio, but audio mixing is just as essential in live music, film/television, radio, and computer games.
A multitrack recording created in a studio may have tens (or in some cases hundreds) of tracks, but can only be enjoyed by a listener when mixed down to a stereo (or surround sound) composition that can be played through speakers or headphones. Audio mixing is not simply a practical necessity though, it is also an artistic endeavour in its own right. A great mix can create an enveloping sound-scape from a piece of music, and masters of the craft are in constant demand.
A skilled mix engineer will find a home within the sound space for every component of a composition, and ensure the key elements are always in focus.
There are several tools at the disposal of the mix engineer which must be skilfully applied to produce a cohesive whole:
- Level - the relative volume and dynamic range of components
- Spatial Positioning - Places the sound in space within a stereo or surround mix
- Equalisation - Balancing the prominent frequencies of each component to ensure it doesn't clash with any other
- Effects - Reverb and other audio effects may be used to shape sounds
In the early days of music production the objective of a mix was simply to reproduce a live performance, but seminal albums such as Sargent Pepper and The Dark Side of the Moon used the recording studio as a laboratory to create never-before-heard sounds.
Creating a complex mix originally required a huge mixing desk as much as a house, but now the same power is available on a laptop and any musician can explore the possibilities and develop their ears for audio mixing.
It goes without saying that to become a professional mix engineer you need to develop excellent ears, but ear training for mixing can also help you gain invaluable skills for creating your band's demo, working on a hobby video project or helping out at a live music event.
The Frequency Fundamentals series is all about audio frequency ear training and how to recognise frequencies by ear. Learn about the characteristics of EQ bands, how to EQ percussion and other instruments, and ways that ear training on audio frequencies can help any musician or producer.
Ear training for audio mixing can help you to:
- Understand how a record was mixed just by by listening to it
- Replicate successful techniques and mixes for your own music
- Improve your understanding of equalisation by allowing you to pinpoint frequencies by ear
- Understand, recognise and use audio effects
- Improve your appreciation of compression and dynamics
- Hear the artefacts of mixing problems, such as clipping
Interactive EQ ear training
Frequency equalisation is an important part of audio mixing.
Practise using this EQ Match game from Theta Music Trainer:
If you've enjoyed this game, we recommend the full Theta Music Trainer.
Articles about Audio Mixing
Next time you take on a collaborative mixing project, keep these tips in mind to explore the full range of musical possibilities and find the perfect mix.
Do some audio frequency ear training and you’ll find it easier to mix percussion, choose the perfect drum kits for your tracks, and adjust their EQ in the mix.
A muddy sound can absolutely ruin a mix. But with the right kind of audio ear training and some tips and tricks, you can take your mix from average to awesome.