How To Mix Songs with a DAW

daw mixing
mixing with a DAW (Ableton, FL Studio, Pro Tool)

In this article, we will discuss the basics of mixing a song with a DAW. We will cover how to combine different sounds, how to balance the sound and how to use effects to create the desired sound for each instrument in the song. 

What is a Mix?

A mix is the final product of your song, it is the sum total of all of the sounds that were put together to create a complete track. A mix can be thought of as the final presentation of the instruments and vocals in your song. It sets the mood and tone for your song and determines how listeners will perceive it.

Make sure you have all of the necessary equipment. You will need DAW software, an audio interface and speakers or headphones. Your DAW software is an important piece of the puzzle and choosing the software that's right for you will require that you understand what you want to achieve. An audio interface plugs into your computer and allows you to send audio signals from your mixer directly to your computer. Quality speakers or headphones allow you to hear the final mix without too much coloration changing the sound.



Setting Up Your Software Session

Before you mix anything, it is important to set up your DAW correctly. Make sure that your speakers and headphones are connected and receiving the audio output. 

The next step is to add sound to your project. If the tracks aren't already in a "ready for mix" session, you can import audio files from your computer by selecting File > Import Audio…. or you can drag and drop them into the appropriate channel on your DAW mixer. It is important to remember that you should always adjust the line trims or clip levels of tracks before mixing to give you decent starting levels.

Balancing the Sound

Once you have set up your software, the next step is to balance the sound. This is a complex process that requires a lot of attention to detail. You need to make sure that each sound source is correctly balanced so that the mix sounds consistent from the song intro to the outro. If one sound source is too loud, it will start to affect the rest of the mix.

Balancing the Kick, Snare and Bass

Getting a great rhythmic foundation where the kick and bass hold down the low end, typically highlighting beat 1 and 3, is essential to establishing a full and punchy mix. The snare usually provides an explosive midrange pop on beats 2 and 4 otherwise known as the backbeat. Keep these 3 instruments as your mix base and set their relative levels early.

Creating a Panorama

A panorama is a sound image that spans across the stereo spectrum. When creating a wide panorama with multiple instruments you can pan some tracks to the extreme left or right, the center, or midway between the two.

Mixing Vocals

When mixing vocals, it is important to make sure that they are nicely balanced with the other instruments, and for most genres you want the vocals to be the loudest thing in the mix. Add subtractive EQ and subtle to medium compression if necessary to make them sound more clear and impactful. 



Using Effects in Mixing

Another important aspect of mixing is processing the sounds. This can be done through effects plugins, which are devices that allow you to change the sound of an audio source. Effects can add a lot of personality to your mix, and can help to make it more interesting.

Use inserts to process individual tracks in series with processors like EQ, compression and noise gates. Use parallel processing to send multiple sources to time-based effects like delay and reverb.



Saving, Backing up & Exporting Your Mix

It's a good idea to back up your mix sessions periodically while mixing in case of accidents or computer failures. Do a "Save As..." for each major change. It's always important to back up your session files and final mix bounces on 2 separate hard drives and store them in a safe location (or 2). This way, you can access your master files later down the road if you need to change anything. 

Once you have finished mixing, it's time to export your project so that you can share it with others. There are a variety of options for exporting your mix, such as uploading it to YouTube or SoundCloud. Export the song as a 320kbps mp3 so it's small enough to share easily but it still sounds good.


Conclusion: Mixing is a process that takes time and practice, but with dedication it can be mastered. It is an incredibly important skill, and it's something that will improve with practice. By carefully balancing sounds, adjusting levels, and using effects plugins, you can create a powerful and dynamic mix. #dawmixing

Futch - Music Production Coach, Ableton Certified Trainer


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