Welcome to the beginning of a long journey.
Mixing is confusing in your beginnings; there’s two reasons why I say this:
- New terminology, making it hard to relate to.
- Confusion between mixing and mastering – There’s a big difference, with unique skill sets.
So, the first question is What is Mixing?
Mixing is achieving the sound you want from the track.
You focus on the individual sounds and blend them all together to make one big picture.
We tweak these sounds by adjusting their volume, but then use effects like EQ to make a sound fit better, compression for consistency or sound molding, or effects such as delays and reverbs for emotion!
Mixing is one of those things that takes years of practice.
Not just for understanding what different tools do, but gaining an ear for hearing what you are doing.
When brand new, I highly recommend saving a separate copy of your beat before you dive into mixing.
I’ve wrecked tons of beats trying to mix them, going back to my saved backup when I utterly destroyed my mix!
A cool tip to try is to export the original, then mix the track, and export your mix.
Compare the two, what sounds better?
That’s a great starting point to learn mixing.
Mastering is when you adjust the levels of tracks, as well as set the intro/outro times. This is there time where you polish a track before final release.
So let’s get into this!
What You Will Learn
- The 5 Mindsets of a Mixer
- How to Route Audio Tracks to your Mixer
- Where Should You Start When Mixing Music
- A/B Comparison – You Must Level Match!
- Reference Tracks to Compare Your Masterpiece to their Mix
- The Best Export Settings for FL Studio
5 Mindsets of a Mixer
Here are 5 points I’d like to suggest to you come mix time.
What’s the Song Type?
Your first mindset should be what type of song are you working on.
This will dictate what mixing decisions to make in terms of loud bass, harder hitting drums, or an overall nice balance if it were a pop track!
What are the Main Elements in your Track
Your second mindset should be what are the main elements of your song.
This alone will allow you to focus on what’s important and bring out the best points of your mix.
Something I find myself doing here is thinking a certain element is the main part, but come mix time, I tend to find another instrument tends to be my favorite to make stand out.
But nonetheless, as you mix, keep in mind that not everything can be the loudest.
Regardless the type of music, I always try to go for a nice overall balance to my mix.
Don’t Try to Compete in the Loudness Wars
It’s really easy to fall into all this hype with the loudness wars.
But from my understanding, the loudness wars are over!
Online streaming services are now implementing loudness standards with new LUFS measuring.
What this means is if you pushed your mix super loud, these streaming services will still play your music at the same LU’s (loudness units) regardless.
So all you’ve done is wrecked the dynamics and emotion of your music by squishing your transients to a square brick 🙂
Meanwhile, the person who cared about their music and mixed a more dynamic track, sounds absolutely wonderful!
If you’re not aware, there’s a free LUFS loudness meter by Youlean. Absolutely essential.
So finish off this point – don’t mix for loudness.
If adding compression to your mix adds that awesome glue that compression does for a nice overall balance, then have at it!
But if you’re clipping and limiting your tracks just for the sake of loudness, you’re only hurting yourself in the long-run.
Make Room for Other Instruments
I already stated not everything can be loud.
Not everything can be in the same frequency space either!
Now, I’m not saying do major boosts and cuts so that there are no frequencies in certain areas of an instrument.
You also want to make sure that your EQ decisions still result in a beautiful sound! But sometimes you make these choices for the sake of clarity.
Let’s say you have two synths which are very similar in frequency range.
Maybe you’ll boost one synth at 2kHz by 2dB, and cut 1kHz at 2dB.
On the second synth, you’d do the exact opposite! (Cut 2kHz by 2dB, and boost 1kHz by 2dB)
This will be a subtle change, but could easily be the difference to achieve separation and clarity!
(You can also sidechain an instrument’s volume so that when one instrument comes in, it slightly lowers in volume.)
Listen to the Track First
I don’t know how many times I’ve started mixing before actually listening to the track to determine what I think the end result should be.
I right away start EQing, and compressing, soon to realize.. how did I end up here?
By simply listening to the track first you will prepare yourself for later decisions.
How to Route Audio Tracks to your Mixer
In most of my music courses, I show how to set up your mixer quickly and efficiently.
This is a crucial step for a fast workflow.
The trick in FL Studio is to first color and label each sound BEFORE routing them to the mixer.
If colored and labeled prior, when you route that sound to the mixer, it’s color and label follow!
This means you only do your coloring and labeling ONCE! – That’s what we like, right!? 😀
I do suggest you route every single sound to it’s own mixer insert. This will only allow for knowing exactly where every sound is in your track.
You can always group certain tracks to be controlled by a single mixer channel, which we call a sub group.
So here’s an example of how to color and label your sound.
There’s multiple ways to rename/color a track in FL Studio.
You can either:
- Right click on the sound and go rename
- Push in your middle scroll wheel
- Hold down SHIFT and left click
You will then see a menu pop up where you can label your sound.
To the right of the label, there’s an option to select a color. Your mouse will become a hand when hovered over it.
So go ahead and select a color, then I’ll show you how to route this to a mixer track!
I’ve created two channels with different colors, just to show you how powerful this can be if you set it all up before hand.
If you just want to route one sound to the mixer, then makes sure it’s selected on the step sequencer, then on then right click on an empty mixer track go Channel Routing -> Route Selected Channel to this Track.
But when you’re working on a full composition, you got tons of sounds. So here’s a workflow tip!
You can highlight multiple sounds by clicking and holding on the select rectangle in the step sequencer, or holding shift and clicking them individually, or right clicking them.
Over at the mixer, find the first empty mixer track which as tons of empty tracks to the right of it. Because we’re going to select ‘starting from this track’ in our mixer settings in a second.
You’ll see all the channels will be routed with all their colors and labels following.
With everything is selected, go to your mixer, right click on the empty insert and hover over channel routing, and select the second option, route selected channels starting from this track.
You will then see all your mixer tracks are colored and labeled beautifully for you.
If you have lots of instruments you’ve done this for, it’s such a relief to see it all routed for you!
You’re now ready to start mixing!
Where Should You Start When Mixing Music
Here’s an older video of mine just breaking down some mixing basics, which may help you:
The first place to start is to simply listen.
What do you think needs improving to the track, if anything?
Remember, with us as producers using high quality synths and amazing sound kits, usually just minor tweaks are needed for that polished sound.
It’s when you’re recording instruments and vocals that tend to need a bit of additional aggressive processing.
That is just a rule of thumb – go ahead and process how hard you want regardless 🙂
After listening, your first step should be to make sure your arrangement is pretty close to where you want it.
I tend to adjust my arrangement as I mix, but having a decent structure set up allows me to focus on mixing, and not get distracted by poor arrangement.
Volume is probably the first step for me.
While producing the beat, I usually tend to adjust my volumes for a balanced sound, so I kind of complete this task in the production stage, but it’s amazing what a bit of volume adjustments can do.
It may just save you from EQing for no reason!
From here on out, I think in terms of clarity – What needs to stand out? What’s the main element in the track?
Sometimes panning can help for clarity, or you just need to EQ and compress that bad boy to sit where you want it.
A/B Comparison – You Must Level Match!
A/B comparison is a must technique to see if you’re actually improving your mixing decision, or making it worse!
What this means is you must match the volumes of your changes.
A lot of plugins have an A/B setting which means A could be set up different than B, so when you switch between them, they will sound different.
A known tip in the industry is if it sounds louder, it sounds better, but does not mean it actually is better!
This is why when you have settings on A, you must adjust the volume on B to very close to the same.
That way when you switch in between them, you’re hearing the difference the way your parameters are effecting your audio and not being deceived by loudness.
Think of it as a fair comparison – apples to apples so to speak! 😉
Reference Tracks to Compare Your Masterpiece to their Mix
A reference track is a popular technique used to get an idea of where your track is at in compared to a commercial release.
You can compare where your EQ adjustments are, where your loudness is at, and maybe even get a idea of song structure.
I honestly don’t take advantage of this tip too much myself. But it does make sense.
Imagine someone is listening to a commercial release and then the song changes to your song.
What if yours sounds super muddy and quiet in compared to the commercial release?
I’m not saying to copy the reference track, but it can give you an idea of where you’re at.
The Best Export Settings for FL Studio
I thought talking about exporting your song would be valuable to you, too.
At the current moment in FL Studio, there’s two main options of export which the average consumer uses.
That’s .MP3 and .WAV
.MP3 is a compressed version, which means there’s a lot of audio content removed from the signal in order to allow for a smaller file. But you guessed it, at reduced audio listening quality.
For .MP3 I tend to find 256-320kbps a good setting.
In regards to .WAV, the most popular is CD quality 44.1kHz 16-bit.
Here’s a picture of my export settings if you would like to see them:
I tried not to go into super basics as what an EQ does or what compression is doing in our mix.
I wanted to give you an overview of the whole process of mixing.
From start to end, what should you be thinking? What are the goals of this track?
If there’s something I haven’t covered, just let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to this write-up!