How To: Mix Music, Use A Compressor, Use Gate

okay, so time for a little fun right?

I love music; spent a significant portion of my free time playing, recording and producing music. It’s what you’d call, well a passion. I see there are many people out there who try to offer advice on some of these gadgets of modern musicianery but they can’t explain the definition of the word, without using the word. I’m going to break it down nice and simple like!

How to mix music.

The challenge with questions like this, is they try to confine the knowledge gained through experience to a repeatable pattern of method. But the main reason why there is no easy answer to this question is because it simply depends on the type of music that you’re mixing, but I’ll provide some basics.

Start with every musicians goal; repeat listening. That, in and of itself, embodies every other down-level desire, ie; make money, be famous, have fans, do drugs, lose all your earned money to your second divorce, end up on a reality tv show of failed famous people….oh wait, that’s not right!

Anyway, assuming you have content that is actually interesting on the surface, you can enhance repeatibility by thinking of music in 3 dimensions of space. Height, width, and depth. If you think about it, you hear this all the time, but you might never have noticed. Height is defined as high or low notes, width is left or right (also called panning) and depth is volume. When you mix them properly, the ear can tune into different portions of the song and pick out different parts they didn’t notice before. This is essential for repeat listening. As always, experience reigns supreme for mixing correctly.

~TIP~ No matter how long it takes, memorize EQ bands and what is affected at which frequency. Without this, you’re bound to create mud and now matter where you put it on the spectrum of sound it will sound like a low powered am radio, with the volume all the way up.

How to use a compressor

Compression is simply the process of leveling the signal. You have loud parts and you have quiet parts. For the most part, people do NOT like to be startled and jump when there is a loud part. Compressors get rid of the high gain signal and reduce it, as well they have the ability to take low gain signal and bump it up.

Not enough compression and nothing changes, too much and everything sounds like it’s in a can. Here are some general rules. Always have a fast attack. .02 mil is what you want. Slow release is generally good. Ratio, stick with 8:1 until you really know how to start dialing it in. And threshold, you just have to experiment with until you get the sound you want. Generally, if you’re squashing more than 10db of signal, people will notice, but the ear cannot perceive only 3db of signal change, up or down.

How or rather when to use  a gate

Gate is the most misunderstood tool and neglected tool in home recording situations, but actually is the easiest to use, in my opinion. Gate is most useful to help prevent bleed in recordings. Especially on drum sets. But it’s also useful in recording instruments. My buddy used to say, when you can hear the hum, you know the rock is coming! But, how many records do you recall hearing the tonal hum of a high gain amplifier waiting to be played? You don’t. You never do, but the sound is there just the same. Gate’s prevent signal from getting to it’s final destitnation by disrupting the signal below a certain threshold. So in most cases, you have an amp that hums at around -70db…so if you just tune your gate to -69db, voila, hum disappears until something louder comes through the line. This is also useful for vocals, for the exact same reason. It can also help slurpy singers and perfectionist engineers who don’t want to spend a lot of time editing out inhaling, exhaling or slurpy sounds singers make.

There you have, how to be a little more awesome at music recording in under 5 minutes.


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