Archives For Mixing Basics

Basic and advanced mixing techniques explained, how to use plugins and virtual instruments effectively.


Saturation plugins model analogue tape saturation, which sounds a bit like very gentle and soft overdrive. It is often used on lead vocals, and is a useful effect for buss mixes, and even on master mixes. If you don’t have a dedicated saturation plugin to try out, have a look at our Taphead review which is a free saturation plugin from Massey and very easy to get to grips with.

Here are a few ways that you can use saturation in your mixes, on lead vocals and drums.

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vox delay

Using a delay plugin on vocal recordings is a useful alternative to full-blown reverb, it can give colour to the vocal track and help it sit better in the mix without getting too bulky.

There are two main approaches to adding a delay to vocals, either you can simply use a delay plugin directly on the vocal channel, or you can send the vocal to a new channel with an aux send which is what we suggest. If you do only use one channel, you will need to balance the dry vocal with the delay using the ‘mix’ or ‘blend’ control in the plugin which can be fiddly to automate if you have to.

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Knowing which plugins to use for a particular sound, and how to use those plugins effectively will improve your mixes and help you work quickly. Plugins are the most versatile tools that are available for mixing, as they come in a vast range of sounds, shapes, applications and in varying levels of complexity. Here is our guide on how to get the best from the different plugins used in the majority of digital mixes.

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Knowing how to use reverb effectively is one of those things that really comes with practice, but we want to help you a get ahead, as poorly balanced reverb is one of the most obvious signs of an inexperienced engineer. So, here’s our guide to how reverb works and how to use it effectively. In this article we will use natural reverb on solo piano, and plate reverb on vocals as two examples.

Reverb Overview

Put simply, reverb plugins simulate acoustic spaces like cathedrals or concert halls, and reverb equipment like spring or plate reverb units. There are no hard and fast rules as to what type of reverb sounds best on which instrument, so experiment will all the different presets you can find, as they are all distinctive and useful in different ways.

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Eq, or equalisation, is the most common effect applied to audio during mixing. Here is our guide on how parametric eq plugins works, and how to use them effectively.

Parametric Eq Overview

Equalisation is used to balance an instrument in the mix, to remove unwanted sounds and to make something just sound nicer – anything from a vocalist to a master fader. Parametric eq uses a number of settings to choose a range of frequencies and control how much their gain is increased or reduced. This is different to graphical equalisers, which have a large number of fixed frequency bands that can be increased or decreased independently. Graphical eq can be useful for tuning PA systems but seldom for actual mixing where you need smoother and more precise control.

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Gates and expanders can be very useful tools to help cut out ambient noise in a recording, or as a musical effect. They work very similarly to compressors, so here’s our guide to how gates and expanders work, and how to use them effectively.

Expansion Overview

Expanders are basically the opposite to compressors, so instead of reducing the dynamic range they increase it. Ultimately this means they are useful to reduce or cut out (‘gate’) quieter sounds in a recording. Often this is noise or ambience, but can also be used to reduce the sustain of a drum, or to shorten reverb. As with our guide to compression, we will follow the two examples of vocals and snare drum.

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Learning how to use compression effectively can be a tricky business, so here’s our guide to what the different buttons and dials do, and how to use them to best effect on snare and vocals.

Compression Overview

Compression reduces the dynamic range of audio, which simply means reducing the difference in volume between loud and quiet. This can be useful on snare drums to level out the volume of the initial drum hit and the sustain, which will bring out the natural tone of the drum. When used more gently, compression can even out the volume of a vocal recording without losing the phrasing and inflections of the singer’s voice. Compressing a snare drum, and leveling out vocals are the two examples we will follow.

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