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Mixing music - Step-by-step guide

mixing music

Mixing is an art. It is difficult to explain all the intricacies of sound in one guide. Still, it is possible to give you solid foundations to start mixing professionally and continue your learning process. Today in the guide, we will discuss mixing a song or music. We will explain the different steps, the tools used, and more… Join us.


What is a mix, and what is its purpose?

Before we learn how to mix a song, we understand the mix and its goals. So let’s start. Mixing in traditional music begins after all the processing is ready and recorded. Nowadays, mainly in electronic music, our mixing starts at earlier stages of the creation to give us a direction to continue, one way or another. In both approaches, the mix is the same.

Mixing is, as its name suggests, the stage where we Mix the whole song and compare it to good sound quality, together and separately. The goals of the mix can be summarised in 2 main ones, the first goal is technical, and the second goal is artistic.

Technical mix


In the technical part of the mix, we want to balance, correct, and reduce certain frequency areas in specific instruments. We want to balance the different sounds dynamically, so they sound better together. We can talk about it for hours, but to sum it up in a few words, a technical mix is to make all parts of the mix and the overall mix sound clear and not ambiguous in terms of frequencies and dynamics. 

Reaching this goal may be more difficult and requires more skill because we try to balance the song in any audio system that will be played. Remember, mixing music well enough is an integral part of song success these days.

Artistic mix


Because we are trying to get a unique sound, The technical side must be treated, but we need to add and decorate it according to the nature of the song or the artist. The art of mixing a song is extensive, with different approaches and different tastes of sound technicians of all times. 

The main thing is to adapt to yourself a unique style of dynamics, filters, and effects. We will talk more about this throughout the guide.




Editing and cataloguing the channels down to the level of colours and names are handy, especially in large mixes where we want to maintain ourselves between the channels and try to set names and colours for quick identification in your projects. Also, groups of drums, instruments, and vocals will be very useful.

Get to know more about Vocal Mixing

Gain staging


After you’ve edited, it’s time to place the channel and master volumes. Why do we do this? So that we avoid ending up in a situation of clipping or distortion where the sound will be recovered after we export the project. If you ask where to place it, I will tell you that there is no correct location, there is a debate about it in the sound world, but we will not bore you. 

The following settings are the settings I use in my mixes. The reason: this is how I maximise the sound and in no way reach clipping. The master will be at minus 6 – 8 dB, And the rest of the project will be according to the desired volume for each instrument but below minus 6 dB.



We finished everything, mixing music time. You have 2 options. The first one is to start slowly diving into the entire mix and pick up the direction. My preferred option for beginners is to do an essential and quick mix to see a good picture from which the vision can be taken.

mixing music

EQ - frequencies and everything in between

Theoretically, every human being hears in the range of 20 – 20kHz. In reality, it works less as we age, and our hearing range narrows significantly in the high frequencies – take care of your ears. 

EQ or Equalizer is a tool designed to give you control over the sound frequencies in a particular sound and thus lower or increase specific frequencies. EQ is used in different methods and for different purposes. Let’s give a quick overview.

How to use EQ


If you want to mix a song and make it sound good, use EQ. The equalisation is adjusting the balance between frequency components in an electronic signal. By definition, equalisation means making things equal.

 We use EQ in audio to make different frequency components equal in level or amplitude. We can think of an Equalizer as a tool that allows us to boost or cut the levels of specific frequencies in an audio signal.

The first thing you need to do when using EQ is to identify which frequencies you want to boost or cut. This will depend on what you are trying to achieve with your mix. For example, if your drums sound fuller and have more impact, you should boost the lower frequencies to around 100Hz. 

If your guitars sound brighter and cleaner, consider boosting the higher frequencies around 10kHz.Once you have identified which frequencies you want to target, you need to decide how much of a boost or cut you want to apply. This will again depend on what you try to achieve and how much you want the effect. 

A general eq rule of thumb in mixing music is that small boosts or cuts (around 3dB) will be better without affecting the overall balance.
As a beginner, you focus only on frequency reductions to learn even better about the frequency zones and their effect.

EQ goals

  • Frequency filtering, cleaning unnecessary areas
  • Enriching frequencies and adding character to the sound
  • Highlighting an element in the mix in combination with dynamics

Examples of using EQ


Let’s review some basic examples of using EQ.

Vocal cleaning – We try to clean from the recording the entire frequency range that the singer is not in, but noises or a “muddy” sound are.

 Let’s start with the bass. They cut entirely from 20-70 Hz because no singer touches these areas, and noise and dirt remain.
The second area we want to clean is known as the “box” area, which is usually between 300-350 Hz and tends to be heavy on the vocals and clogged. It is essential to say that all these reductions will be made only after you hear and feel the need.

 This is the whole principle in EQ and mixing music generally, not to do something because everyone says but only because you hear. This is what will create uniqueness over others.

Instrumental EQ – The frequency ranges of a piano are not like those of a guitar, and the flute is not similar to both. Each musical instrument has its frequency range, the area that is more flattering to it and the area that is less. 

It isn’t easy to list the desired settings for each instrument in a few words. You will have to learn this and train your hearing. But as with vocals, here, too, you will always prefer a reduction to an increase because the increase creates a volume change and is less preferable when there is no need.

Dynamics - compressors and everything in between

Dynamics, in simple, is the determination of the difference between solid and weak according to the decibel index, we will take as an example a vocal that was recorded in several takes, and the singer moved away from and closer to the microphone alternately.

 Our goal is to balance the vocal in all parts of the singing. To do this let’s get to know a tool called a compressor, and as the name suggests, it compresses the sound into a dynamic range to our liking. Let’s start with the 5 simple parameters that exist in most compressors.

Compressor parameters


Threshold – determines from which volume threshold the tool will start compressing. The threshold is set according to the level of compression we want, how deep we want the compression to be in the sound, learn it, and use it wisely.

Ratio – determines with what overall response speed the instrument will respond to a threshold of 1.5 – 2.5. This is the accepted range for many musical instruments.

Attack – determines how long the compressor will delay before starting the operation (in milliseconds). Note that the parameter works in reverse – the more open it is, the slower it is.

Release – defines the operation time of the compressor after the attack time.


Types of compressors

There is an unlimited amount of VST compressors available, so you must enter this wonderful world with accurate knowledge of the types of compressors throughout history.

TUBE compressor

A tube compressor is an audio compressor that uses vacuum tubes to compress the audio signal. 
The first tube compressors were developed in the early 1900s, and they quickly became famous for their ability to add warmth and character to the audio signal. Today, tube compressors are still widely used for their unique warm sound.
Some compressors have features like sidechain inputs, which can be used to trigger the compression with an external signal. 

VCA compressor

A VCA compressor is an audio compressor that uses a voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA) to control the level of the signal. A sidechain signal controls the VCA, usually derived from the compressed signal.
The place you will find the most is in recording and live sound applications to control the signal level without affecting the sound quality. They are also common in mastering, as they can provide a very transparent sound.
VCA compressors can be either hard-knee or soft-knee. Hard-knee compressors compress the signal more aggressively, while soft-knee compressors provide more gentle compression.

FET compressor

This audio compressor uses field-effect transistors (FETs) in its design. FET is known for their smoothmusical sound and You will see them a lot  on vocals and other sensitive audio sources.
These Compressors work by amplifying the signal until it reaches a point where the FETs start to compress the signal.
The amount of compression is controlled by a threshold knob, which determines how much signal is needed to trigger the compression. 
FET compressors are generally very transparent, not overly colouring the signal’s sound. They can also be very gentle on transients.

Optical compressor

An optical compressor is an audio compressor that uses a light-based gain control element instead of the more common electronic gain control element. They are known for their smooth, natural-sounding compression and are often used on vocals and acoustic instruments.
Many uses for an optical compressor, from gently taming peaks to heavily squashing signals. It can add density and body to a track when used lightly without sounding over-comp.
The most known optical compressor is the LA2A by teletronix.
mix a song

Modulation effects

Modulation (wave/frequency change process) is a concept you often hear in music production and sound design. It is what gives our sound life and movement.
Let’s take as an example the Delay effect that we all know. It is kind of a very slow modulation (so slow that delay is not included in the modulation family because the human ear distinguishes between the doublings). 

The other modulation effects work in roughly the same way but in such a fast way that it makes us feel that there is One note is warmer, or several notes at the same time, but still sounds like several and not as one. Let’s talk about the many modulation processors we have. 

We start with the Chorus, the slowest in the family. Mainly used to warm up voices and musical instruments. Try it in the correct dose, and you will discover a world.
The Flanger works similarly, except it is shorter (faster). 

The third and different one is the Phaser. While the previous ones use a modulation that goes back into the original sound, the phaser modulates individually.

Space effects


is the most well-known effect for simulating a space, with many versions and different types of advanced technologies to give you complete control over the room or hall where your sound is located. 

Reverb parameters: It is essential to know how the sound works in the room to understand the effect of the parameters in depth.
The first parameter you will see in most tools is the Decay which determines how many seconds you will hear the effect.
The second and very important parameter! The Pre-delay defines the delay time between the source and the effect. Many producers tend not to define it and need to understand that it is what gives the feeling of the room and the walls.

The Room size determines the size and shape of the room. The Diffusion defines the amount and nature of the absorbing materials in the room.

In some tools, you can find filters and a dry/wet option as well.

Read more : Best reverb plugins

reverb effect
Fruity reverb - by image line


The delay is a modulating effect that repeats the sound in a fading cycle. The dealy is combined sometimes with EQ or Tape, which creates unique ideas.

Advanced mixing music methods

Let’s go over familiar concepts in the world of sound and well-known methods that will raise the level of your mix.

Side chain


A method causes a particular sound to lower its volume/specific frequencies/compress according to a signal from another sound. The most common example that will give you an understanding is the kick that lowers the bass volume while the kick is playing (actually, It became a trend). 

If you are creative, the sidechain will give you technical and artistic solutions, also in the field of dynamics, frequencies, and even effects.

Parallel processing


You probably know Billie Eilish’s prominent breaths in certain songs. They made it by using parallel processing (parallel compression, to be precise). Parallel processing applies specific effects or sound processors to a doubled channel instead of the original channel. 

With this method, the source is not damaged, and we will also be able to produce subtleties that would not be easy to achieve in a normal mix.

Stereo expansion


Most of the sound we hear today is in stereo (although the means of amplification is not always stereo). What exactly is stereo? Stereo is 2 speakers that simulate 3 (right, left and centre). 

The massive innovation in stereo is that we can place each element in the mix in a specific position in our stereo image and thus help the mix function together. Stereo expansion is a tool that helps us expand the range of hearing to a broader range.

 It is essential to say that you have to be very careful with the way you make your mix wider because in order to optimise the mix for each audio medium, we need a good mix in mono as well.

Mide – Side


Unlike the previous method of referring to stereo as right, left, and centre, In the current method, we refer to 2 areas. Mide and Side.

We navigate the mix by dividing the elements into the sides and the middle. There is no better method. It is the technician’s decision. (learn the methods in depth and form an opinion)

VST plugins

vst plugins - mixing music

Today, as you know, we have done all the mixing on the computer using virtual effects or hardware simulators.

 If you want to start mixing music on the right foot, To build your personal toolbox built from EQs, compressors, and professional effects, One of the most convenient companies where you can find everything you need from all the plugins companies is Plugin boutique , enter and stay focused on what you need.


You got a broad picture of everything related to mixing music and songs and about sound in general, but this is a drop in the ocean. 

As a piece of advice, you should start your learning process from topic to topic as presented here and return to this guide when you want to deepen a particular concept or advance to the next one, a small part of the things I have listed here are my professional opinion in the world of sound, but feel comfortable checking other methods and getting your toolbox that will teach you how to mix a song perfectly. I wish you all the best.


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