How to Mix Your Own Music
Jaz from the RepostExchange Team


Today we're going to look at mixing your own music: how to go about it and what to look out for. During mixing you blend the sounds from your production to sit well together volume-wise as well as space-wise (panning, reverb, delay). It’s important to know that quality source material always beats processing. You also have to understand that mixing can’t fix a bad recording, production or performance. So make sure your recordings and sound selection are top-notch before you even consider starting to mix. You will also want to be intentional about every move you make. Don’t do things because you’ve seen them on YouTube without understanding why that move was fitting in their session and might not be in your session.


Before we start mixing, it can be good to check the phase of your drum recordings (when working with live drums or samples). You can flip the phase of your drums using utility plugins on each channel. Listen for a change in attack and pick which direction sounds best per channel. Make sure you listen for this with all drum channels active as this only works in context.

Volume and panning based on references

Now it’s time to make a rough balance. For this, we will be using reference tracks. Reference tracks are commercially released songs that you like and wish to compete with. Think of it as songs that would be next to yours in a playlist. You want yours to sonically sound equally as good as those other tracks. Make sure you match the level of your references with your unmixed track. The references will be much louder, which the human ear perceives as better. Therefore, you should try to match the levels for a fair comparison.

Now listen to your reference tracks and balance the volume of all instruments in relation to your reference tracks and relative to each other. Then do the same with the panning of the channels. Now let go of your reference tracks and make adjustments to your own creative instincts. Make sure to use volume automation to add excitement to the arrangement or to trim sounds that are randomly sticking out at times.


Moving on to frequencies, we will be using Equalisers (EQ) to adjust the frequencies of competing instruments. A good start is to surgically cut around the fundamentals and busiest frequencies of each instrument. Everything that isn’t important frequency-wise in an instrument can be lowered in volume or cut out completely to make room for other instruments in that area to poke through the mix. You can also boost frequencies that require more presence to help instruments stand out without overpowering others. 

Next, it is good practice to tweak the EQ settings on each instrument based on your reference tracks. Got too much bass rumble compared to your reference? Time to check which instruments are hogging the lows and tame that rumble to clear things up. If your mix is lacking crispy high-end, sprinkle in some multiband saturation to add that sparkle.

Now it is time to add some finishing touches with broad brush strokes on groups (buses) or individual instruments. Make sure these moves are subtle, using wider Q values on EQs when boosting and adding no more than 6db of gain. You can also use saturation here to create harmonics that were not there in the original signal. For example, on drums you could use (tape) saturation in the lows and on synths you could use (tube) saturation in the highs to enhance the sound.

Also, remember to make sure you’re using an RMS metre to match levels with EQ on and off after working on a channel to maintain a balanced mix. Additionally, assessing competing elements in mono can offer a clearer perspective, making it easier to pinpoint conflicts and resolve them effectively.


Now it is time to fix some dynamic issues. You want to make sure you’re only making objective and surgical moves at this point in order to add consistency and tame peaks. You can use an 1176, limiter or clipper for this task as you’ll need fast attack and release settings. You can also use Tape Saturation or Soft Clipping for consistency and tone. This works especially well on drums, both individually and on the drum bus.

After you have taken care of issues in consistency it’s time to use compression for enhancement. But don't do this unless you hear an opportunity to do so. If there is no need for enhancement you might overdo the compression and that will ruin the track. For now, we will look into two enhancement styles for compression.

The first one is Rhythm Compression. This compression style has a bright, energetic, punchy and exciting sound. You dial it in with a slow attack for transients to pass through. Everything after the transients will glue together, especially when you combine the slow attack with a slow release. This style is usually applied on (drum) buses.

The other one is Tone Compression. This compression style has a warm, characteristic, thick sound. Here you do the opposite from Rhythmic Compression, as you dial it in with a fast attack for transient attenuation. Making sure the transients are compressed, bringing out the tone of the compressor. As you might have guessed this style works best with hardware (emulations) and other tonal compressors.

Space (Reverb/Delay/Modulation)

Now it is time to add some depth to your mix. We want to create an immersive environment, once again based on your reference. The best approach for working with reverb is using sends. Let’s create a short and a long reverb bus for each instrument group (vocals, guitars, synths, etc.). Add an EQ to the reverb busses to roll off a lot of lows and some highs in order to prevent smearing. Now insert both the short and long reverb buses on all individual tracks. 

You can combine the short and long reverbs on most instruments but sometimes it makes more sense to use one or the other. It is also good practice to use short reverbs in dense sections of the arrangement. You can do this by switching between the two buses with automation or by adding a Transient Designer to the long reverb bus and shorten the release of the Transient Designer in dense sections with automation.

You can also include multiple reverb types per bus either by stacking them up, running them in parallel or using a reverb plugin like Neoverb by iZotope that lets you blend reverb types. When you take this approach it is good to use different pre-delays per reverb type to enhance a sense of space. This combination of effects can also be expanded into other spatial processing tools. For example, you could create a "Width Bus" by putting a Ping Pong Delay in front of a Chamber Reverb.

Especially in non-electronic music, it can be good to use an "Overall Space Bus" to create a realistic illusion of a band playing all together in the same room. You’d do this by using a barely noticeable Plate Reverb and routing everything but the drums and vocals here.

Moving on, we can create interest and separation from the centre by adding a sense of width. This can easily be done with Delay. You could use Stereo Delay or Ping Pong Delay inserts to let a sound move into the left and right channels away from the centre. For a constant feeling of width, you can use a simple stereo delay dialled in at 20-40ms on one side and none on the other to create the so-called HAAS effect.

Another way to create width is by using modulation units like chorus, phasers and flangers. There are also other stereo FXs available like the Ozone Imager but these tend to give you phasing issues and other audible artefacts that decrease the perceived professionalism of your mix, so please only use those with caution.

Lastly, we can use spatial plugins to create interest with stylistic effects. For example, you could include Delay Throws. A delay throw is when you use delay only on one word or phrase in a sentence. You will have to automate those moves manually, but it really spices up your production. If you listen closely to some of your favourite records, you’ll likely be able to spot a couple of those.

mixing desk

Finalising the mix

Now that you’re done with the mix it is time to evaluate if you’ve done a good job and make adjustments accordingly. We will start with three rounds of revisions in which you listen to the song front to back, take notes while listening for stuff that should be fixed, make those revisions, take a break, and listen again for the next round and then do that one more time.

It is also useful to evaluate the translation of your track to other devices and take notes as well. This can be headphones, earbuds, car speakers, laptop speakers, phone speakers, Bluetooth speakers, or anything a consumer will likely use to listen to your track. This is also a moment to use your reference tracks to compare how they sound on those devices and take note of that.

Everything sounds good? Congratulations! You did it! You’ve successfully mixed your own music. If you like, you can send it off to a professional mastering engineer now. This can be helpful as you’ll get your song reviewed by another set of ears. If that’s not within your budget, you can go to this article and learn how to master your music yourself!