Before we can get into the fun part of mixing, before we dive into any effects (FX), we have to get the foundation of the mix right, and that begins with balancing the mix. This term, ‘balancing’ refers to the essential mix commitments we make using the 3 basic level controls.
- Faders: control the overall level of the track.
- Pan pots: control the relative level, left vs. right, of the track.
- Mute buttons: are the ultimate level control, on or off!
Balancing isn’t trivial. It’s a high level skill we all need to master. As Alex Case says on the Recordingology blog:
Balancing a mix isn’t a one time, set-it and leave-it process; it is a constant part of the mix session. From the beginning of the session to the end, we must work hard to ensure that the key tracks – typically the vocal, snare, kick and bass – remain easy to hear, enjoyable without effort from the listener. Any change to level, panning, EQ, compression, reverb or any other effect on any track should be followed by a quick listen and tweak to any and all faders as necessary to keep the mix balanced. No matter how ornate and complicated your multitrack mix becomes, always be sure the core elements – that lead vocal and/or soloist, the snare, the kick, and the bass – stay audible and live at relative levels that make musical sense. Never allow these fundamental tracks to get lost under a blanket of guitars, a cloud of distortion, or an ocean of reverb. Add necessary mix complexity while always tending to fundamental balance.
Hear more of Alex's thoughts on balance in these interviews:
Balancing a mix is so important that we’ve created four multitrack exercises to help you develop the skill. You'll find them in the next four posts:
Module 5 Exercises
Finished Balance Projects