There are certain aspects of recording and mixing music that apply regardless of the genre that you work in. The tools we use are almost all universal – whether working in country, rap, or metal, an EQ is an EQ and a compressor is a compressor.
With that said, the creative differences in production choices and the ways in which common processors are used can fluctuate heavily.
Today, I want to focus on the similarities between mixing rock, pop, polka & every other genre under the sun. With those basics out of the way, you can truly start to grow as a mixer and develop your more genre-specific techniques.
Finding Balance Between Tracks
At its core, mixing is 100% about finding balance between your tracks. You need to find a way to keep different instruments at a level where they’re not overpowering each other or dipping in and out.
This starts with simple fader levels and panning as you develop a static mix. From there you can add automation to raise or lower levels in different sections of your song or compression to reduce the dynamic range of those tracks.
Regardless of the approach you take, balance is a fundamental part of your mixing structure and one that’s not going to change from genre to genre. While your drums may be louder in one genre than another, you’re still focused on getting the right balance for the song.
Carving Out Space
Once you’ve got a solid foundation with levels and panning, your next focus in any mix should be on carving out space and creating separation between each track. The panning of the tracks starts this process, but EQ is where you can really start to refine it.
Cutting out problem frequencies with EQ can help clean up a track and high-pass filtering will remove unnecessary low end – freeing that space up for bass instruments. These are moves you should be making constantly with your tracks, from your lead vocals to guitars to your drum overheads.
Every song benefits from clean separation and clear frequency boundaries between tracks.
While our first two techniques were all about creating space between your tracks, the rest of this list focuses on bringing them together. With problem areas on individual tracks cleaned up, most mixers like to move their sounds toward the master fader in stages – grouping them together on aux tracks.
With mix groups, you gain so much more than organizational structure in your session – you’re able to process the group as if it were a single instrument. Tools like compression often work great in these instances – tightening up the range between the loudest and softest elements going into it.
Just check out this example of Tovan Alldinoon using BG-Drums in various mix scenarios:
As you can see, the settings change from session to session, but the placement of the plugin on the drum bus is consistent.
Another common technique for bringing sounds together into a singular space is through the use of reverbs and delays. While the amount and size of these elements will change from genre to genre and even song to song, they’re very common tools for all mixers.
A great way to use them together is by using reverb to shape the “space” around your mix and delays to determine how near or far a sound is within that space. A short delay time is going to make something very close to you while longer delays can push things further back.
Checking How The Mix Translates
Once you’re comfortable with your mix, a common test to see how it sounds is the car test. Mixers everywhere take trips back and forth from their studio to their car to see how things sound coming out of their car speakers. Some wear it as a badge of honor: if the car mix is good, it’ll sound good just about anywhere.
Of course, the car is just one example of how you can test how your mix translates. The goal is to determine if your kick hits as hard, your vocals are just as present, and the balance remains intact on various listening devices. This can mean anything from simply switching to a different pair of speakers, playing the track back on your phone, or listening to it on any other consumer product with a speaker.
At the end of the day, all of us want our mixes to sound as good as possible in as many environments as we can imagine. Checking how you mix translates is an essential part of the process no matter the genre you’re working with.
Pushing Your Mix Boundaries
While there are other techniques that can be used from genre to genre, this list contains the bare essentials you’ll need to really get started with any session. You can use it as a checklist to make sure everything is in order when you’re working with a new style, and realistically, you may have some sort of checklist like this in mind already.
To continue to grow and develop that checklist, I’d highly recommend checking out our Virtual Signal Chain Secrets eBook, which goes a bit deeper into how you can build out your sessions for quick and easy decision making. We cover everything from the plugins you should be using to the order they often go in and how they interact with each other.