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Introduction to mixing

  As you begin mixing and mastering your work, there's a multitude information, abbreviations, symbols etc. to absorb.  Below are common terms to aid your navigation of your digital audio workstation (DAW). 

     1. Panning

      “Panning is the process that positions an audio signal spatially between the stereo field created by two speakers.”[1] By varying the intensity of a track in a specific speaker, we can trick ourselves into hearing the track in question on any side of the stereo field in varying intensities.  In Logic Pro, panning is labeled with a plus or minus sign. The minus sign (-) means the track is shifted left, while the plus (+) sign shifts the track right. With this, +0 means a track is coming through both speakers equally, and can be heard from the center of the stereo field. I pan my mixes similarly to how a horn choir is arranged on stage, with the lowest part on the left: 

Horn 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1—Assist (A1) (if applicable)

The panning in this setting can vary, but often looks like the following:

Horn 8 (-20) – 7th(-15) – 6th (-10) – 5th (-5) – 4th (+0) –3rd (+5) –2nd (+10) – 1st (+15) – A1(+20)

      When panning, don’t be afraid to pan tracks to the extremes of the stereo field. Using the LCR (left, center, right) option can be a good way to get comfortable with this.[2] As the name suggests, this function places tracks at the extremes of the stereo field. Using this to start mixing can be a helpful tool to avoid what is called narrow stereo spread, or in other words, a track not panned wide enough. 

Something to consider: in horn ensemble, we face an issue in that our bell faces backwards. When panning a horn choir in the stereo field, the low horns could be perceived as too soft. The difference between a mixed track and live music is the direction of the bell: the low horns’ bells will be facing outward toward the audience if the choir is seated in a semi-circle. As such, I would advise incrementally increasing the volume of this track and tracks near it to emulate a sound that we would observe in person. 


      2. Equalization

      Equalization (EQ) is a fundamental part of the mixing process. Hours can be spent adding or subtracting filters to achieve the sound you want, however, when it comes to EQ most engineers live by the phrase “less is more.” There are many filters under this blanket term: [3]

High and Low Pass Filter- These filters can rule out unfocused low sounds or piercing high end resonance on the extremes of your spectrum. 

Bell Filters- these are standard tools for boosting and cutting parts of the sound. This filter is a must for changing tone and contains many variables that can be manipulated (see below). 

Shelving filters- these filters boost or cut all frequencies above or below corner frequencies (sounds on the outside edges of your stereo field). This filter is helpful for broad vast tonal changes in a mix. 

Quality Filters (Q)- This filter controls how the size of a filter is used. A small (thinner) Q filter will affect a small range of overtones and aid in a hyper selective boost or cut to the sound. A larger (wider) filter will result is a broader, less specific change to the sound being edited. This will show as the width of the EQ band pictured below. 

Gain- Gain measures the amount of boost applied to your EQ. Measured in decibels, a gain with a positive number will indicate a boost in sound and a negative number will represent a cut in sound. 

Frequency- this is the center of an EQ band’s action, and its extreme shows the range and specificity of where boosting or cutting will occur. [5]

Making small changes to the sound will result is a purer sound than one heavily edited. For example, if you need more middle sounds of your track, consider boosting this brief spectrum of your EQ instead of lowering those around it. 

      3. Compression

      “Audio Compression is the process of reducing a signals dynamic range. Compression should be used to strike a balance so that louder and quieter parts of the sound can be heard clearly.” [5] There are multiple parts of a compressor, with two important parts being attack and release. These do not measure the sound, but rather the duration needed for the compressor to do its job on a given sound. When using the compressor, listen for dynamic clarity over timbre. Timbre can be adjusted with EQ (see above). 


      4. Reverb

      Reverb can be described as a fading reflection of sound. Lengthy reverb can easily create a muddy mix, with lingering sounds clashing with upcoming chords or changes. On many DAWs, there are preset reverb options. Start here and slowly dial in effects to your liking. As with your EQ settings, less is more.[6]


[1] “Panning Music: How to Pan Tracks for a Wider Sound,” LandR Mix Tips, YouTube, Created March 27, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “EQ Explained in 4 Minutes: How to EQ For a Better Mix,” LandR Mix Tips, YouTube, created January 24 2019.

[4] Ibid

[5] “What is Audio Compression? How to Use a Compressor,” LandR Mix Tips, YouTube, created August 16, 2018.

[6]“How to Use Reverb: Basic Techniques and Settings,” LandR Mix Tips, YouTube, Created November 1, 2018.

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