Have you ever wondered what makes your favourite music so appealing? Well yes, on one hand, the artists themselves make the music sound great. But there is actually more than meets the eye (or ears, for that matter). If you are keen on educating yourself about music production, then ask yourself this – What is a Mixing Engineer?
In my opinion, this is one of the most mentally taxing jobs in the audio industry. It is one thing being able to compose and write great music, but to balance all the audio elements in the music itself, requires another form of skill. Hence, in today’s article, we will learn more about the various aspects of this vital job. Let us begin learning!
Balancing Audio? Is There Such a Thing?
The person responsible for combining (mixing) the various sound elements found in any audio content (music, speech, effects etc.), is called a mixing engineer. The finished product of the mix is often called “final mix”. Mixing engineers aim to achieve a good balance of volume for all audio elements, and also considers other factors such as pan positioning and effects.
Typically, professional engineers have been in the industry for many years, which allowed them to master their craft. They can be considered to be like scientists, who are skilled at evaluating the harmonic structure of sound in order to shape the timbre of various musical elements. Do take note that many artists now mix and produce their own music with a digital audio workstation (DAW).
Technically speaking, a mixing engineer is an audio engineer involved in sound recording, audio editing and sound systems, who has the task of balancing the relative volume and frequency content of multiple sound sources. Typically, these sound sources are the different musical instruments or vocalists in a band, the sections of an orchestra and so on.
Here are the topics that we’ll be discussing further:
- Job qualifications
- Working principles
- Mixing process
Some mixing engineers have formal music education or a degree in audio engineering. A degree in music may help to strengthen an engineer’s credentials, however, audio engineers are generally valued based on their practical experience in handling audio equipment. They need to have a pair of “seasoned ears”, which comes from years of acutely observing various sounds, frequencies, and variations of effects and filters, via “trial and error”.
Most of the time, mixing engineers use their intuition (which comes from years of experience) when mixing any audio content. However, in general, there are still various fundamental procedures that are adhered to:
- Considering and assessing the client’s (artist) “style” or musical preference.
- Identifying the more important audio elements (may be a combination of tracks) to emphasize
- Choosing the right techniques to emphasize the tracks, or to de-emphasize other tracks
- Fine-tuning the final mix
Mixing engineers often come in after the artists or session musicians are done recording. They work with the recorded tracks in order to balance the relative impact of each audio element, processing them with various effects and filters. In this section, we will touch on the basic processes in audio mixing.
An audio equalizer is often used to alter the intensity of each audio frequency (equalization). It functions by “boosting” or “cutting” specific frequency ranges within the track. This will give the sound elements “space” within the human audible frequency range of 20-20,000 Hz, especially between 400–8000 Hz, which is the most sensitive range of human hearing.
Working with frequencies from 250–800 Hz is often vital, as this is where interference and construction between voices usually happens and may create an unwanted effect, called “mud”. Cutting frequencies in this range can help make vocal recordings sound brighter. On the other hand, boosting frequencies below this range, can give voices more fullness, or depth to them.
It is also important to take note that by boosting any frequencies above this range, you can give voices more presence or “shine”, but only if they do not interfere with another voice’s more prominent higher harmonics.
Dynamic Range Compression
An audio compressor is used to reduce the range between a signal’s lowest low and highest high (compression). The “threshold” parameter controls how much of the top is cut off. By attenuating the “attack” and “release” settings, and choosing the right “ratio”, you can give a track more presence, but compressing it too much may destroy an otherwise pleasing track.
You can also set the compression “trigger” to another audio source (called “side-chaining”), which can produce higher levels of compression, and even hard clipping to a very small degree. However, this technique is often used in more progressive music, as the effect is very artificial sounding and is really only good for one kind of pumping, syncopated sound.
This is often done to create the space for any voices or instruments within the stereo sound field. You can often find the “PAN” parameter on any mixing console or audio editing software. Adjusting this parameter will change the relative gain of each audio track in the stereo mix, which helps to create sonic space in a mix. This also produces a more “realistic” listening experience.
Here are some of the equipment that mixing engineers typically use:
- Analog-to-Digital converters
- Digital-to-Analog converters
- Digital Audio Workstation
- Dynamic Range Compressors
- Mixing consoles
- Music sequencers
- Signal processors
- Tape machines
This is all I have for you folks for now. I hope that this article has given you a good overview on the work of a mixing engineer. So, do you now aspire to become one yourself?
Do leave comments or questions below, and share this article with your friends!