Audio Mixing: The Ultimate Guide

Audio mixing is the penultimate process in music production that takes place after recording and before mastering. In this article, I explain step by step how to mix your songs really well.
Audio Mixing: The Ultimate Guide
Table of contents

You want to learn how to mix music? Then there is (unfortunately) one thing I should warn you about: there is no magic formula or rules. Mixing is an art mastered by sound engineers and music producers, but it is always individually adapted to each song.

There are no rules in mixing, but there are techniques that are often used by many producers because the resulting output is considered as pleasing by the majority of people.

These are exactly the mixing techniques this article is about. I learned many of these concepts during my education as a sound engineer - but much of it I have also taught myself over the course of my career.

What is Audio Mixing?

Audio mixing is the penultimate process in music production that takes place after recording and before mastering. Music mixing involves editing the recorded audio tracks, adding effects such as compression, EQ, reverb, delay, or modulation, and mixing them together into a single stereo file.

In this video, I perform a live dub mix of one of my old band's songs - it's a kind of remix of a song where you apply a huge amount of effects to the tracks

The goal is to produce a sonically balanced song. For example: the bass frequencies must not be too loud, otherwise they will mask everything else; but also not too quiet, otherwise the punch is missing and the song sounds too weak.

The different tracks are also distributed across the stereo image, for example, the hi-hat can be placed on the left side (left panning) and the guitar on the right side (right panning). Certain elements are often placed on the sides, but others, such as the Bass, are always in the middle. More on this later!

The way I see it is that before mixing, a song is flat and everything is on the same plane. My goal when mixing music is always to create a three-dimensional stereo image, as if the instruments were standing in a concert hall.

In an orchestra, the instruments are also strategically placed to give a nice stereo image for the listener
In an orchestra, the instruments are also strategically placed to give a nice stereo image for the listener

Why three-dimensional? In audio mixing, just like in geometry, there are 3 dimensions. To visualise this better, it is helpful to imagine all the instruments of the song on a live stage:

Example of the arrangement of the audio tracks in the stereo image in the 3 dimensions
Example of the arrangement of the audio tracks in the stereo image in the 3 dimensions
  1. Height: This axis describes where the instruments are located in the frequency range, i.e. which instrument is above or below another instrument. High instruments are at the top of the stereo image, while low instruments are at the bottom. You can influence this with the EQ.
  2. Wide: This dimension describes whether the instruments sound on the right or left side. With panning, you can position the different audio tracks to the left or right of the stereo centre to create a wide sound image. If I leave everything in the middle and don't do any panning, I get a song in mono instead of stereo format.
  3. Depth: This axis describes whether an element is in front of or behind another element in the mix and is mainly influenced by reverb and delay effects. If I add more reverb to an audio track, that track sounds further away from me. But if I have a track with no reverb at all, it sounds as if it is right in front of me.

The art of mixing lies in being clever and using the different dimensions in one's favor.

A practical example that I have experienced several times: I have a song with a singer and a solo guitarist, both playing at the same time. Both are main elements, so I want them both in the stereo centre.

They also play/sing in roughly the same frequency range, so they don't differ in pitch either, at least not very much.

The guitar and vocals are in the same frequency range and are both positioned in the middle, therefore colliding with each other
The guitar and vocals are in the same frequency range and are both positioned in the middle, therefore colliding with each other

However, I notice that the two collide and should be separated in the stereo image - so what options do I have?

The depth processing! I add reverb to the guitar track to make it sound distant, while I leave the vocal track pretty dry to make it sound "in-your-face". This is a good way of separating the two tracks from each other so they don't collide.

The guitar track is given reverb, which moves it into the background and makes room for the vocals in the foreground
The guitar track is given reverb, which moves it into the background and makes room for the vocals in the foreground

Now I would like to explain my mixing method that I have developed over the years. I always go through certain steps to bring structure into my mixing process.

0. Before mixing: Ear training

Always listen to your reference songs through your speakers/headphones first.

I can't stress this enough! This is a step that is so often neglected, but can save you an enormous amount of time.

You need to know your monitoring system (i.e. your studio monitors or headphones) very well. To do this, you need to know how professionally produced songs sound through your monitoring system.

I've seen sound engineers do amazing mixes over relatively cheap monitors because they knew exactly how the songs had to sound over those monitors.

This means that even if your monitoring system is not 100% linear (which will be the case for most, as a perfectly acoustically optimized room can be very, very expensive), this is not a bad thing. But you do need to know which frequencies in your room are emphasized and which are sounding weaker than they should.

Otherwise, you will overcompensate and your mixes will not transfer well to other monitor systems.

That's why I always listen to some of my reference songs (or if the client sends reference songs, I listen to those too) for about 20 minutes before I start mixing.

This helps me to get an idea of the direction the song should sound like and how the individual elements in the song relate to each other.

And I always repeat this process in between long mixing sessions. It's a kind of break (that you should do anyway), that helps me stay on track.

1. Choose your DAW

You've probably already chosen your DAW - if not, make sure you check out our ultimate DAW comparison. There I compare the 12 most popular DAWs on the market.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter which DAW you mix with - you just need to be reasonably proficient and familiar with it. Otherwise, technical difficulties can interrupt your creative mixing workflow and distract you - and we certainly don't want that.

ProTools 10
I like working with Pro Tools, a really great (but somewhat complicated) DAW for mixing.

Personally, I've always preferred Pro Tools for mixing (and recording) - but that's also because I always had to work with Pro Tools in my degree as an audio engineer, and it's become established for me. There are also cheaper and more straightforward alternatives that work just as well, like Ableton Live or Logic Pro.

2. Preparating/Organizing the project

Organization is key in the mixing phase. Especially when you have to work on projects with many tracks - without proper organization, it can quickly become a huge mess where you don't know which instrument is on which track.

I speak from experience, of course, because in the beginning I always made the mistake of not naming the tracks correctly, and so I ended up with projects with 40 tracks called Audio1_dup_1 to Audio1_dup_40.

And whenever you want to change something on the guitar, you first need 5 minutes to find out in which track the guitar is!

Tip: Always start with good takes

In 99% of the cases, it's worth re-recording the performance if you realise in the mixing phase that you don't like something about the recording.

Let the singer sing in again instead of spending hours trying to correct the mixing mistakes
Let the singer sing in again instead of spending hours trying to correct the mixing mistakes

Often people tend to be lazy and say: I'll correct that later when mixing. No! Do yourself a favour and record it again - usually that's the better and right way.

If the singer sings much louder in the first verse of the song than in the second, and you try to compensate with a compressor, the two verses will sound very different.

In the first verse, the compressor has to work much more. This makes the voice sound more squashed and less dynamic than in the second verse. For the listener, this sounds unnatural.

So: it's better to record the 1st verse again and trying to get the singer to sing at the same volume and with the same energy as in the second verse.

Import and name the tracks

It is imperative that you name all your tracks correctly so that you always know immediately which instrument is on which track. This is extremely important to ensure that your creative workflow and concentration are not interrupted.

Personally, I always choose the same names and placement for the tracks in each mixing project. This way I always know that, for example, my kick is on the far left (the 1st track) and my vocals are at the very end (last track), so I can always access these two important tracks quickly.

Color and group your tracks

Example of colouring tracks according to groups
Example of colouring tracks according to groups

I always color the tracks sorted by groups of instruments when mixing. This is also particularly useful for exporting stems after the mix.

  • Blue for all drums and percussion tracks such as kick, snare, hi hat, tom, cowbell, tambourine, etc. I use dark blue for drum tracks and light blue for percussion. That way I know they belong to the same group, but I can also quickly tell them apart.
  • Red for all guitar tracks. For example: dark red for the lead guitar and light red for the rhythm guitar.
  • Yellow for the bass. For example, if I still have a synthesizer to complement the bass, then it will be colored in a different shade of yellow.
  • Light green for the lead vocals and dark green for the backing vocals.
  • Orange for the piano.
  • Lila for the organ.

This is just an example to illustrate how I do it in certain cases.

3. General balance

The first thing I always do is bringing all the tracks to about the same volume to create an overall balance.

This way, I quickly get a feeling of what's right and what's wrong; what should be highlighted and what should be corrected. I get a general idea of what needs to be done on the song.

This is an important step, because the ability to judge neutrally decreases over time when you work on a mix for a long time. That's why the first impression is especially important.

Sheet of paper with notes on my Soundcraft Ghost
Sheet of paper with notes on my Soundcraft Ghost

In my first mixing sessions, I always had a sheet of paper with me to write down ideas in this phase so that I wouldn't forget them later. I can recommend this to anyone who is just starting out with mixing.

If you produced and recorded the song yourself, you can probably skip this step because you already have a rough mix (that's what you call an unfinished mix where the volume ratios are about right) and an idea of the song.

4. Editing (sound shaping) of individual tracks

After creating a general balance and thus a rough mix, I go through each track that needs changes and edit it. The idea is to give each track the sound I want and correct mistakes and problems without really mixing much.

Usually I listen to the track together with all the others - but in between also solo, when I make certain setting changes.

It is always important to keep the big picture in mind (or rather, in your ear) when you are working on a single track. Therefore, it is advisable not to listen to the track alone for too long - because the listeners will never hear it alone anyway.

Soloing the lead vocals to listen more closely
Soloing the lead vocals to listen more closely

After all, what good is a really good bass drum with a rich low end that sounds super good on its own but masks everything else in the mix?

So: Editing tracks solo while mixing is not a problem, as long as you keep listening to all the other tracks together in between to assess how the editing of your track affects the overall mix.

Now I'll try to describe my general approach to editing the tracks - although I struggle with it a bit. The reason is that every song is really unique and always needs different settings, so there are no rules or tips that can be applied to all songs.

But there are procedures and situations that happen quite often and that I have experienced again and again in my career - that's what my recommendations are based on. But as I said, these are not rules. Your song requires settings that only you can know.

Vocal Mixing

My first plugin in the vocal chain is usually a shelf EQ, which reduces frequencies around 200Hz for male singers - or 400Hz for female singers.

Low shelf EQ for more clarity in the mix
Low shelf EQ for more clarity in the mix

This gives the voice more clarity and assertiveness in the mix and compensates for the proximity effect that - to a certain degree - you always have when singing.

After that, I usually add a high-pass EQ that removes all frequencies below about 100Hz - nothing of the voice should be heard there anyway, only possible noise or hum from the electronics.

High-pass EQ for removing background noise
High-pass EQ for removing background noise

The next "corrective measure" is usually a de-esser to remove the sibilants ("S" and "Sh").

First, this ensures that those annoying noises disappear, and second, it ensures that they don't affect my compressor, which is next in the chain.

I use the De-Esser from Waves, which is very practical and easy to use
I like to use the De-Esser from Waves, which is very handy and easy to use.

This gives me clean, clear and distinct vocals for the moment.

My next step is usually compression. Depending on the singer, more or less compression is needed here.

I've often turned weak and low-energy performances - especially hip-hop vocals when the rapper was in the studio for the first time - into really great, lively vocals, and that's mainly thanks to compression.

A compressor balances the loudest and the quietest peaks and influences the transients. This can have advantages, of course, but also disadvantages. A few examples of use:

  • If the vocals get a little too loud or too soft in between and you find this annoying, you can use a compressor to even out the volume differences.
  • If the singer has little energy when singing (and if he can't do better, as a re-recording is always the better solution), you can use a compressor with medium attack and fast release to make the vocals sound more lively and energetic. This technique is used quite often in hip-hop.
The Waves CLA-76 with medium attack and fast release gives the vocals punch and energy
The Waves CLA-76 with medium attack and fast release gives the vocals punch and energy

I also always recommend splitting the compression into at least 2 phases (i.e. 2 compressors). In today's digital times, when everyone has many plug-ins, 2 compressors should not be a problem.

I always use at least 2 compressors in my vocal chain
I always use at least 2 compressors in my vocal chain; Left: Waves CLA-2A, Right: Waves CLA-76 - these are usually my favorites for vocals.

This way, the compression effect is less audible and more natural, as each individual compressor has to work less than if it had to do all the compression alone.

Drum Mixing

The drum sound is usually very genre specific, but everyone always wants tight drums that carry the beat of the song steadily.

To do this, the kick drum and the snare are usually compressed a lot so that the two instruments are on the same level. Usually these two instruments don't play at the same time, so you can say that you should try to bring them to the same perceived volume.

The DBX 160 from Waves is really good for making drums punchier
The DBX 160 from Waves is really good for making drums punchier

My VST favorite among drum compressors is the DBX-160 from Waves, which emulates the classic DBX-160A hardware model.

The sound is brilliant for drums, and it comes with several kick and snare presets that are good starting points for tweaking.

Basically, you need a slow attack and a fast release to give the kick and snare their characteristic punch.

With a slow attack and fast release, Waves' CLA-76 is perfect for bringing out the transients of drums and making them really punchy.
With a slow attack and fast release, Waves' CLA-76 is perfect for bringing out the transients of drums and making them really punchy.

Don't be shy and give a good amount of compression if you can - kick and snare are usually meant to sound very tight, and you can achieve that well with this compressor.

I also always compress the toms so that they all sound even. I usually use the DBX or the CLA-76 for this. The settings are roughly similar to the snare - medium to slow attack and fast release.

With the hi-hat it's always different, but mostly I use a high-pass filter to filter out everything below about 7 kHz.

High-pass filter on the hi-hat
High-pass filter on the hi-hat

But it varies a lot - especially depending on whether I work with samples or with a real hi-hat.

The overhead and room microphones of the drums are usually compressed and only minimally added to the mix. But if you want a live-like sound, you can also make these tracks louder.

Parallel compression

I usually route all the drum tracks to a new stereo track in the mix and compress them with parallel compression.

For hard genres like rock or heavy metal, the parallel compression is done with extreme settings to make the drums really rock. For this purpose, the threshold is lowered considerably and a very high ratio is selected (e.g. 10:1).

The Fabfilter Pro C2 compressor is very well suited for parallel compression, as it has a built-in dry/wet control
The Fabfilter Pro C2 compressor is very well suited for parallel compression, as it has a built-in dry/wet control.

Once the drums sound extremely squashed and over-compressed, you can start to turn down the compressed stereo track or the dry-wet control a little to hear more of the natural drums until it sounds right.

You can use this technique for drums in all genres if you want them to really pop.

Backing vocals mixing (adlibs, doubling for hooks, etc.)

Backing vocals are also an important part of any mix - whether it's three-part harmonies on pop vocals or stereo doubling on the hook of a rap song.

Backing vocals are usually compressed more than the lead vocals so that they sound further back (as they then have less dynamics). They should always sound behind the lead vocals.

If the compression isn't enough for that, I often also use a slight flanger effect that really brings the vocals into the background.

One of my common vocal chains for backing vocals: compressor - compressor - de-esser - pitch correction - flanger.
One of my common vocal chains for backing vocals: compressor - compressor - de-esser - pitch correction - flanger.

Also, I always make the backing vocals quite wide so that they don't collide with the lead vocals, which are always in the middle.

I also like to use pitch correction, such as Auto-Tune, on backing vocals. Since they tend to be in the background, you can apply more pitch correction without it being very noticeable. This is especially useful when the backing vocals harmonize with the main vocals, because it gives a sense of perfection.

Bass Mixing

When I say "bass", I mean both real basses and synth basses.

The bass is usually a complicated instrument, because the low frequencies are difficult to keep under control. It is crucial for the bass not to collide with the bass drum, otherwise the low frequency range of your song will be quickly oversaturated.

For this you can either EQ the bass and the kick differently, or work with sidechain compression.

Sidechain compression is used to compress the level of an audio track, but only when receiving an input signal from an external source (another audio track).

The sidechain compressor only works here when it gets an input signal from the kick
The sidechain compressor only works here when it gets an input signal from the kick

So you put a sidechain compressor on the bass track and choose the kick drum as sidechain input. This way, the bass is always lowered when the kick drum hits and they don't collide with each other.

I always prefer this variant when mixing, because this way I don't have to use the EQ and alter the sound of the instruments.

I usually add a normal compressor with relatively mild settings - keeping the volume and levels a little better under control.

And if I'm still lacking some punch with the bass, I let the compressor work a bit more, with a similar setting as with the drums.

Saturation or overdrive also help the bass a lot, especially in making it audible on smaller speakers like mobile phones. It also cuts better through the mix.

The VST plug-in "Decapitator" by Soundtoys is a very good overdrive plug-in for bass. The "Beefy" preset is particularly well suited for 808 basses.
The Soundtoys Decapitator is a very good overdrive plug-in for bass. The "Beefy" preset is particularly well suited for 808 basses.

Other elements (guitar, piano, strings, etc)

For the remaining elements, it is difficult to make a general recommendation because, on the one hand, the exact choice of instrument is different for everyone and, on the other hand, the settings of these instruments are sometimes so different that it is difficult to generalise.

Mostly, however, one tries to create a wide stereo image with these rhythm instruments.

In rock/heavy, guitars are almost always recorded twice (double tracking), with one track on the left and one on the right, to create a cool stereo effect.

Pianos are also often distributed across the stereo image by trying to have the low notes on one side and the high notes on the other, just like real pianos.

Strings and pads also tend to be spread broadly across the stereo image by briefly delaying the phase of the wave on one side - don't worry, many plugins do this for you, such as the Slate Digital Murda Melodies, my favorite stereo-widening plugin.

I like to use Murda Melodies from Slate Digital to make my tracks broader
I like to use Murda Melodies from Slate Digital to make my tracks broader

So try to build a solid harmonic foundation from such rhythm instruments that complements the beat of drums + bass well and forms the basic framework for the vocals to be sung on.

5. Corrections of individual tracks, but with regard to the whole mix

Now that I have made the major corrections to the individual tracks and my sound design is complete, the actual mixing begins.

At this stage, I think about the following:

  • How do the audio tracks interact with each other in the mix?
  • Where do tracks conflict with each other?
  • What needs to be highlighted in the mix?
  • What is missing? Where are there gaps in the mix?
  • Where must each element be located in the stereo image?

Mixing with EQ for colliding frequencies

Let's say we have a guitar track and a piano track where both instruments play in similar frequency ranges. In this range it sounds muddy and unclear, and you want to separate the two instruments.

For this you use EQs: You should find a frequency range on one of the two tracks that sounds particularly good in this song and emphasise it a little. Then you should reduce exactly the same frequency range on the other track with the EQ to make room for the other track.

On the left is the EQ of one lane, on the right it is from the other lane.
On the left side is the EQ of one track, on the right side that of the other. The respective EQ leaves space in one frequency range for the other track.

You could now repeat this process in reverse order and create a "gap" in the first track in another frequency range and then emphasise the other track in this range.

But you should be careful and always listen carefully when EQing too much, because too much EQ can lead to an unnatural sound and phase problems.

Panning for width in the mix

In this phase I determine where each instrument is placed in the stereo image. There are some rules that apply in 99% of the cases:

  • The vocals have to be in the center
  • The kick drum must be in the center
  • The bass must be in the center

The snare is also usually in the center, but this is not always the case. All the other instruments are distributed in the stereo panorama. I always try to have the same number of instruments on the left side as on the right, so that both sides are more or less equally loud.

Panning example for modern hip-hop songs
Panning example for modern hip-hop songs

When panning, it is always important to make sure that you leave enough space in the middle for the vocals. This applies to all instruments that are also in the middle - there should not be too many besides kick, bass and snare.

But if you have, for example, a very important mono synthesiser in the song that you don't want on the left or right because it plays an important supporting role, then use a stereo widening plug-in and make it wide. This leaves space in the middle for the vocals.

Compression + automation to keep the dynamics in the mix under control

When you listen to all the tracks, you may notice that every now and then something gets too loud or too quiet.

For example, the guitarist might have played a little too loudly in the chorus, or the drummer played the first 2 bars too softly because he was still unsure. All this has already happened to me.

There are 2 possible solutions:

Compression

You can simply compress the track to compensate for the differences in dynamics. The advantage of this method is that it is relatively easy and quick to do. The disadvantage, however, is that the sound of the instrument/voice is changed by a compressor, it sounds more squashed.

Automation

If you work with automation instead, the original sound of the track remains unchanged, and you still get the quiet and loud parts under control.

With volume automation you can get a better grip on the loud parts.
With volume automation you get the loud parts under control better than if you just put a compressor on them.

The advantage of this method is that you have 100% control over what happens exactly to the dynamics (with a compressor you don't have this control, the compressor reacts differently to each word/sound).

In addition, as already mentioned, the sound of the instrument or voice remains unchanged and does not sound squashed, as with a compressor.

The disadvantage of this method, however, is that it is very time-consuming. You have to edit every part manually, it's very tedious. So you don't always have the time or the client doesn't have the budget to automate everything manually, which is why many producers resort to the compressor.

Reverb for 3D/depth in the mix

Now we come to the reverb. This is one of the most important effects to create the depth that everyone expects in certain instruments. What would Travis Scott's Adlibs be without his massive reverb?

There are no rules for mixing, not even for reverb. But what I can tell you is that as a beginner, you tend to put way too much reverb on the tracks. When I listen to my mixes from the beginning of my career, that's what I notice the most, and it bothers me a lot.

The Valhalla VintageVerb is one of my favourite reverb plug-ins.
The Valhalla VintageVerb is one of my favourite reverb plug-ins.

The reverb must be there, but so little that you don't actually notice it. Only when you mute the reverb track should you notice that the reverb was there before - if that's the case, then you've done everything right.

I'm just saying that you have to be very careful with the reverb, otherwise you'll quickly get a huge mud where everything sounds blurry because everything is covered with reverb.

As a rule of thumb, you leave low instruments without reverb (like kick or bass), and only apply it to instruments that play in the mid and high frequency range.

A lot of reverb makes the instrument sound far away. Little reverb means that the instrument sounds as if it is right in front of you. Depending on what you want to achieve, you should consider how much reverb needs to be on the track:

  • Do I want the singer to sound like he is at a live concert in a football stadium? Then I definitely need a lot of reverb for my vocals.
  • Or do I have a love song full of emotion and want the vocals to sound like they are whispering in your ear? Then I'd better use no or very little reverb.
Supermassive GUI 960x509 1
The Valhalla Supermassive is a great reverb plugin for epic and ultra-long reverbs

For vocals, it's worth looking at the pre-delay settings of the reverb - this is a good way to separate the main vocals from the reverb and make the effect a little more subtle.

Delay for depth in the mix

Delay is a creative effect that can be used in many ways. In general, you can say that delay also adds to the depth of the sound.

Similar to reverb, tracks that have a delay sound further away than if they had no delay effect.

I love this delay pedal from Boss and use it very often in my mixing sessions.
I love this delay pedal, the Boss RE-202 Space Echo. I use it very often in my mixing sessions.

Fast delays (e.g. slapback delay) sound similar to a spring reverb, while delays with long times sound like you're screaming in the Grand Canyon and hearing the echoes.

Delays are good for filling vocal gaps. If the singer includes a break in the part, it can be cool if you repeat the last words with a delay and let it sound in the pause.

And stereo delays with slightly different delay times on the left and right make your track wider - a bit of that can be pretty cool on vocals.

Phaser/Flanger for experimental effects

Phasers and flangers can also be pretty cool if you use them from time to time. You can use them on guitars, pianos, synthesizers, theremin or even vocals to create more experimental sounds.

You have to be very careful, though, because things can get weird and strange very quickly. So always listen carefully to what is happening.

I like to use the flanger on female backing vocals sometimes - I think it sounds very good when you add a little bit of it.

The Boss PH3 is a very good phaser for guitars, and even sometimes for the hi-hat
The Boss PH3 is a very good phaser for guitars, and even sometimes for the hi-hat

And I like to use the phaser on guitars when I want them to sound a bit alien.

6. Mixing - Final Balance

Now comes the phase where I try to work exclusively with the faders and not make any changes to the effects settings.

I have all the tracks the way I want them, so I just have to refine and balance the volumes.

This is probably the most difficult process and the one that requires the most concentration. You really have to listen carefully to everything that is happening in your song.

Often it is worthwhile to create groups from different tracks (e.g. if you have divided the drums into 12 tracks, such as kick, snare, hi-hat, etc.). You can create groups of drums, lead vocals + backing vocals, piano + piano, etc., wherever it makes sense.

The grouping of tracks facilitates the mixing process enormously
The grouping of tracks facilitates the mixing process enormously

This way, later on you only have to mix the groups among each other, and later on you only have to work with 5 or 6 faders instead of 40.

I usually start with the drums. I mix the drum tracks underneath and then group them together.

Then I add my bass and balance the two instruments. In the end, there has to be a solid foundation on which everything else can play well.

Then I add all my other rhythm instruments and mix everything so that I have a kind of instrumental - that is, without vocals.

Then I bring in the lead vocals and the backing vocals. And if there's a solo on an instrument somewhere, he comes in now too.

In the best case, I don't have to go back a step and my mix is ready, but that's rarely the case. In the end, you always have to go back and change something until you are 100% satisfied.

Bonus: Creative automation

Now that the mix is finished and I've tested it on various studio monitors, there's one last thing that can be done to take the production to the next level.

Creative automation. This is what I call automation that has the purpose not of correcting mistakes (as already mentioned), but of highlighting the particularly important parts of the vocals (or an instrument solo).

A practical example: If the vocals have a peak in the bridge of the song before the resolution to the verse and the vocals are particularly beautiful there, I would use the automation to increase the vocals by max. +1dB so that a kind of crescendo is created.

Here I automate the volume of the lead vocals at the end of the bridge to create a climax in the song
Here I automate the volume of the lead vocals at the end of the bridge to create a climax in the song

Or if I want to emphasise the very last chorus of the song, I can use automation to make my backing vocals louder here - so that this chorus immediately sounds different and more powerful than the others.

In Conclusion

My recommendations are not rules or magic formulas that work everywhere - these are techniques that I have used many times in my career because certain patterns, mistakes and peculiarities repeat themselves over and over again.

Ultimately, you have to develop your own method of how to mix best and most efficiently. And you can only do that with a lot of practice!

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