Mixing is an art, and it all begins and ends with balance. If your mixes are not well-balanced, nothing else matters. In a broad sense, everything you do during a mix is to achieve a well-balanced tonal mix.
In this article, learn about the basics of balancing a mix.
What Is Balancing And What Does A Balanced Mix Mean?
Audio frequencies interact with each other. When you listen to any instrument or frequency soloed, it will sound different as compared to playing it with other elements of the mix. There will be audible changes in audio levels and tonal characteristics because of the interaction of frequencies with each other.
Balancing is the process of adjusting sound levels and the panorama of different elements in a mix. Balancing helps different elements in a mix sound levelled, relative to each other, and translate well on different output systems.
Balancing is used to set the appropriate volume and panorama for each element in a mix and is the foundation to a great mix. If your tracks are nicely balanced, you won't have to resort to using any external components to achieve a cohesive sound.
Balancing is a mix is majorly a two-part process: -
- Level Balancing: - Setting the volume levels using faders concerning each other. Level Balancing is also called levelling.
- Panning: - Spreading out different elements of a mix is stereo or surround field.
Levelling Or Level Balancing A Mix
The first aspect of balancing a mix is levelling. Let us first understand levelling.
What Is Level Balancing In A Mix?
Level Balancing or Levelling a mix simply refers to adjusting volume levels of different elements in a mix. Volume level adjustment can be done using the channel faders or other utility plugins. Setting adequate levels makes a mix sound balanced and refined, hence the term level balancing or levelling is used.
Why Level Balance A Mix?
Human ears perceive sound signals based on the average loudness(RMS) of the signal. This is why at different sound levels, human ears are sensitive to the different sound frequency spectrums.
At low volume levels(<60dBSPL), humans are able to easily listen to mid-frequencies(1-5 kHz). But we have trouble hearing high-end frequencies(< 500 Hz). That’s why it’s almost impossible to hear the bass when listening to low levels, but you can easily hear the vocals.
As playback volume increases, we find it easier to hear the high frequencies and low frequencies evenly. In most home studios, the ideal listening range is between 70dBSPL and 80dBSPL. In this range, different frequency spectrums are perceived evenly.
Once volume crosses the 80dBSPL, the human ear tends to hear the bass frequencies more than mid and highs.
As a mix engineer or music producer, you only have control over individual levels of each sound in your project. You do not have any control at what levels the listener will reproduce it using his or her speakers. This is why it is crucial to level balance a mix.
Hence, to make a mix translate well at different volume levels, balancing a mix is crucial. Levelling is the foundation to a great sounding mix.
Advantages of Level Balancing
Level balancing a mix helps in the following aspects: -
- Different elements of a song sound balanced, related, coherent and translate well at different volume levels for different output sources.
- Emphasises important elements of a song using only faders and gain.
- Ensures proper levels without any distortion, clipping and enough headroom.
- Add depth, dynamics and interest to a mix. Different Volume levels alter the perception of the listener. Louder signals fell closer to the listener and softer signals feel far away.
Panning is the second major aspect of balancing a mix, which is widely used by pros. Let us understand panning.
What is Panning?
Panning is the distribution/spreading of an audio signal into a new stereo or multi-channel sound field using a Pan control. Audio panning is a technique used in audio production to position sounds. This process is done by using a pan pot or sliders to set the ratio between the left and right outputs of a stereo audio signal. In a stereo field, panning is done to left and right speakers.
Panning adds width, interest and creates a sense of space. If you have frequencies fighting, panning can create space and add clarity.
Why Use Panning In Audio Mixing?
Panning allows the spreading of different instruments or elements through a stereo panorama, creating a sense of space for the listener. When mixing music, we usually use two speakers(Stereo). One on the left and one on the right. With Pan, we can control the volume of the sound that's played from one speaker to the other. Playing a sound louder from one speaker will make your brain perceive the sound as being located on that side. Because of this, we can position sounds at any point between the two speakers.
In stereo, we can pan sounds either to left, speaker, right speaker, centre or somewhere in between using a panning control. This creates a sense of panorama that is widely used in mixing to add interest and width to music.
If you are mixing in surround(used mostly for movies) you can pan to more than left or right. E.g. In a 5.1 surround system, panning can be done between L: Front left speaker, R: Front right speaker, C: Front centre speaker, LFE: Subwoofer, Ls: Left surround speaker, Rs: Right surround speaker. A total of 5 Pan positions.
Advantages Of Panning
Panning can be really helpful to make your mixes sound interesting wide and clear. Here are the advantages of audio panning:
- Panning Adds width to a mix by spreading different sounds to different stereo positions.
- Panning creates a sense of space and alters the perspective of a listener.
- Can be used to add interest in moving sounds around when used with automation or plugins.
- Panning can be used to treat frequency clashes and phasing issues between similar frequency spectrums.
- Masked frequencies in a mix can be made audible by moving them around to a different position in the stereo field.
So these are the two basic steps to start balancing your mixes.