How to mix music: The beginner’s guide

Make every song sound excellent before mastering.

What is mixing in music?

Mixing is the practice of layering and processing multiple audio tracks to create a well-balanced song. Producers and mixing engineers accomplish this by adjusting the volume levels and other characteristics of individual tracks, applying effects, and using other tools to prevent or solve problems. 

A song that has gone through a complete mixing process is called a mixdown.

Hear how small changes affect a mix

EQ, Levels, Compression and Reverb
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Mixing vs. mastering

Mixing happens during and/or after the recording process, and it involves treatment of all the individual tracks that make up the song. Mastering is the process of making final adjustments to the stereo mixdown file to create a master, which is the release-ready version of the song.

These are traditionally done by separate engineers, but it’s now very common for producers to mix their own songs and master them using tools like LANDR Mastering.

Either way, these two should be treated as separate but related processes. The better your mixdown is, the better your master will sound!

How to mix music

1. Develop your ear

Listen carefully to different sounds, instruments, and the music of artists you like. Developing your ear will help you better understand what kind of mixdown you want.

2. Know your setup

Learn the basic functionality of your DAW. Get studio monitors, headphones, and an audio interface that balance quality with the range of your budget. Learn the basics of room acoustics.

3. Gather your sounds

Record your instruments and sounds or gather high-quality loops and samples. Do this with care, as it’s essential to give your mixdown the best starting point possible.

4. Create your arrangement

The quality of your mixdown will be affected by how you arrange and layer the elements of your music. Learn the basics of song structure to create strong, well-balanced arrangements.

5. Adjust levels

Your sounds shouldn’t compete with each other, they should work together. Adjust their volume levels to help the most important elements shine while maintaining balance overall.

6. Apply EQ

EQ is one of your most essential mixing tools. Use it to reduce excessive frequencies, emphasize important frequencies, and prevent sounds from competing with each other.

7. Understand the stereo field

Panning, reverb, chorus, and other stereo effects can give your music a sense of dimension and depth — but they can also cause problems with clarity in your mix. Use them wisely!

8. Shape your dynamics

Compression and limiting help to shape the dynamic differences between loud and quiet elements in sound. Use them to create fullness and definition without excessive loudness.

9. Master your mixdown

Export your completed song from your DAW. Spend some time listening to it and make sure it sounds balanced, satisfying, and complete. If it does, then it’s time for the mastering stage.

For a more detailed step-by-step, check out our full guide!

Read the guide

Mixing music: Terms you need to know

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is the software you’ll use to record, produce, and mix your music. Learn about DAWs and learn how to choose the right one.

The volume levels of different sounds can have a massive impact on the overall mixdown, and even small changes can make a big difference.

Changing the panning of a sound means adjusting its “position” between the left and right speakers, which can be very useful in creating balanced mixes.

DAWs have a mixing panel or mixing section that provides you with faders for adjusting track levels, knobs for adjusting pan position, and more.

We think of sound as existing in a spectrum of low, middle, and high frequencies — EQ is the tool you’ll use to adjust the frequency content of sounds in detail.

In order to strengthen or soften the definition and impact of sounds, compression gives you detailed control over their louder and quieter components.

Similar to compression, limiters help us control the loudness of sounds by — you guessed it — limiting their levels automatically.

When you want certain aspects of a song or parameters of a mixdown to change over time automatically, you can do this within our DAWs using automation.

Common mixing mistakes

Poor recording technique

If your music involves acoustic instruments, take time to learn about the different types of microphones and how to use them properly for each instrument.

Poor sound selection

If you use loops and samples and you want a professional-sounding mix, start out with a balanced selection of high-quality sounds.

Too much reverb

Reverb is a powerful tool, but it can also produce extra energy in the middle and lower-middle frequencies that can interfere with vocal and instrument sounds.

Poor dynamic range

It can be tempting to make your beats loud and intense all the time, but a truly great mix has more variation and balance between louder and quieter elements.

Poor management of gain

Recording and mixing involves countless decisions about volume levels at various stages — learn about gain and how to get it right.

Not referencing

A mixdown can sound different depending on the speakers or headphones you’re using — listen on a variety of devices to make better mixing decisions.

Monitoring too loud

Always listening to your song at a high volume can give you the illusion that your mix is fuller and louder than it really is — be conscious of your monitoring level.

A poorly-treated room

The acoustics of your mixing space will affect your mixdown — learn about common acoustic issues and know how to address them within your budget.

Too much soloing while mixing

Pay attention to how elements sound in relation to (and in combination with) one another, not just how they sound on their own.

Phase issues

Phase is a subtle but highly impactful aspect of sound — learn about what it is and how to fix or avoid problems that will harm your mixdowns.

Conflicting elements

Some sounds can compete with each other in the frequency spectrum, like vocals and lead instruments. Learn how to listen for this and achieve balance.

Not taking breaks

Your ears can get fatigued over time, and your brain can struggle to make good decisions when you’ve been focusing too hard for too long — be sure to take breaks!

Not asking others for feedback

Show your unfinished mixes to friends or even professionals to get input on how they sound. You never know what another pair of ears can help you accomplish.

Not enough headroom

A mixdown shouldn’t be too loud — it needs to leave enough room for the adjustments that will be necessary for a good master. This is called headroom.

Waiting until the mastering stage

Don’t assume that the mastering process will solve your mixdown problems — the mixdown should be strong if you want a powerful, professional-sounding master.

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