For many musicians recording their own music, the process of mixing can be daunting–but it doesn’t have to be. The Visual Mixer in Spire Studio takes the most fundamental elements of mixing and brings them to a simple visual interface that helps you nail down a balanced mix quickly and easily. Let’s jump in.
If we take a step back, we ultimately want our music to connect with the people who listen to it, and a quick mix can bring forward the elements (and combinations of them) that draw people to your music and keep them listening.
A mix allows the different elements of your song to find their own place, not only in terms of volume, but also in terms of space on the soundstage (left to right). A few minutes on Visual Mixer can be the difference between layered but great-sounding voice memos and a bonafide recording.
The two most important aspects of any mix are volume in panning. With these two levers, you can find a place for all the elements of your song.
Volume can be pretty self-explanatory—it’s something we manipulate every day on our phones, cars, and smart speakers in the kitchen. Panning, on the other hand, can be a little less intuitive at first, despite its simplicity. Tasteful panning is one of the most important factors in creating a compelling recording that sounds larger-than-life.
In the same way that we pan a camera, we can also pan instruments from left to right on the soundstage—what we call the metaphorical space created between two speakers. When panned all the way right, a track will emanate from only the right speaker, while a track panned to the center will emanate equally from the left and right speakers. An instrument panned intermediately will end up somewhere in-between.
So where should we pan our various instruments? Here are a few guidelines for starters:
1. Try panning lead vocals, drums, and bass in the center. These are usually the core elements of a mix and listeners have grown to expect these elements taking a central location.
2. Try panning guitars, synths, percussion, and background vocals to the sides, and don’t be afraid to “hard pan” an instrument all the way to one side.
3. When panning instruments to the sides, try to balance instruments on one side with those on another to avoid a lopsided sound (e.g. if a guitar is panned right, consider panning the synth to the left).
Visual Mixer shows each track over two axes: vertical for volume and horizontal for panning (i.e. the tracks’ balance between left and right channels). Pushing a track up and to the right will make it loud and come out of your right speaker, and pushing a track down and to the left will make it quiet out of your left. Easy enough!
Pro tip: Try toggling the mono/stereo button on the left for each track to see what you prefer. Stereo tracks can sound wide and larger than life, but sometimes too many of them can cause each track to lose its “place” in the mix, and lack clarity. For the mixes below, the center elements (drums, bass, tambourine) were left in stereo, while the outer elements were toggled to mono to free up some space in the mix.
Below we have three examples of the same tune recorded on Spire Studio. With a decent pair of speakers or headphones, check out how different each mix sounds with just variances in panning.
In this version, we can hear a nice balance of volume between the different tracks, but they can be difficult to differentiate, and the mix sounds “small” without any width to it.
In this version, we hear how panning transforms a somewhat one-dimensional sounding mix to one that sounds large and inviting. Note how easy it is to differentiate between the two guitars on the left and right, and how much more perceived energy there is.
This is an interesting version that shows how disorienting panning can be if used in an unexpected manner. It may remind you of early stereo recordings (think the Beatles) that were mixed before common stereo paradigms were established. Note how the drums and bass are panned to the sides, making the foundation of the song difficult to place. While there are a lot of great creative justifications for doing things like this, a disco-like tune probably calls for a more traditional sound.
If you haven't tried the Visual Mixer in Spire Studio yet, give it a go on one of your songs. Even a quick mix can be just the thing to take your song to the next level.
And remember, when it comes to mixing—and pretty much everything music—there are no hard-and-fast rules. Follow your ears, don’t get caught up with how things “should” be, and you’ll end up with a mix you’re happy with.