jrmasteringsmall

How to set mixing levels for each instrument is a question I see all over the Internet.  I'm going to explain exactly how to set mixing levels in this article.

 

Whether it's six pack abs by working out only 5 minutes a day or losing 100 lbs in a month by taking a pill miracle pill, everyone's always looking for the fast and easy way to achieve great results!

Well, the same goes for mixing and mastering.  "Just give me a chart with the best db levels for music mixing for each instrument, and I can set all 15 instrument levels perfectly in 10 minutes."  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.  Not even close!  Read more....

Here are several reasons why instrument level setting is impossible using a chart or guide - 


1. Tracks Are Recorded At Different Levels.  If I told you the proper level setting for your guitar track was -3db below 0 level, what if the track was recorded very low or extremely loud?  The level you set the track is relative to how loud the track was recorded.  And no one knows this without seeing and hearing the track!

2. Arrangements Are Different.  A singer-songwriter song has one vocal and one guitar.  A rock song could have two, three, four, even five guitar tracks.  For this reason alone, to give a general volume level setting for a vocal track, even if it was specific for different genres, would be impossible.   Obviously, your vocal track would have to be louder and thicker (to some extent) the more guitar tracks you have so it can cut through. 

And one guitar track by itself will have a higher volume level than five, because it's the only one in the mix.  Five guitar tracks, each track would be lower in volume but collectively they would be louder and thicker than the single track.

To give a mixing level in advance for anything would be impossible because the instrumentation in every arrangement is different.  You can't use a chart or guide to set the mixing level of each instrument.

3. Mixes Are Different.  Someone could mix a song with heavy effects or no effects at all.  All the instruments in both of these mixes would have different volume levels.  The heavy effected song, some instruments would have to be louder to cut through the mix, while the other mix not so much.

Are the vocals compressed heavy, light, or not at all?  Only the mixer knows the answer and it greatly affects the volume level.

Basically, each track in the mix affects each other.  And every effect you put on each track, changes it, which in turn affects other tracks.

4. Instrument EQ And Samples Vary.  A guitar could be recorded super bright or medium bright.  The super bright guitar would be lower in volume level than the medium bright guitar, with all things being equal. 

How loud do you make your kick drum in hip hop music?  You could have a huge sub-bass kick, a medium sub-bass kick, a dry loud kick, there are 1,000s of choices.  They all will have a different mixing level.

5. Relative Volumes In General.  If you mix everything low in volume, then overall all your faders (and volume levels) will be low.  If you're loudest instruments are close to 0 level on the fader, then all your instrument channels and vocals will be louder in volume.  Read more....


IMPORTANT Mixing Tip! 

Technically, that is how you mix a song.  The loudest instruments in the mix peak very close to 0 level, then all other instrument and vocal levels are set in relation to the loudest ones in the mix.

Now, that has nothing to do with WHAT you start with in mixing.  Many including myself like to start with drums first and bass second.  But if it's a rock song, I'm not going to mix these close to 0 level on the fader.  Why?  Because the guitars are at least twice (if not more) as loud as the drums and bass.  If the drums and bass are already close to 0 level on the faders, where do I put the guitars, at +5db over 0 level TOTALLY DISTORTED!

This is why I start my mixes around middle fader level.  This allows me to be able to make tracks louder than the drums and bass if needed.  Or I raise the volume level of the drums and bass, or the entire mix later down the road.   Starting your mixes in the middle of the fader leaves you more volume level options.

And Of Course If You Want Your Songs To Sound AMAZING!
Check out my low Online Mastering Prices.  Incredible results at an affordable price!

So, how do you set the mixing level for each instrument?

There are many factors in mixing like EQ, separation/space, compression, stereo width, special effects, and more that are needed to make a good mix.  Volume level is only one of many, and a basic one at that.

The only way to know how to set your volume levels for each instrument in the mix is to analyze and learn them by listening to songs in your genre. 

Listen to your favorite song and make a list on a piece of paper of all the instruments and different vocal tracks.  Now, on a scale of 1-10, give each track a volume level rating with 10 being the loudest instrument in the song.  You're trying to figure out how loud each instrument and vocal track is in relation to each other.  For example, if it was a standard rock song, the lead guitars would be a 10, the lead vocal would be a 6 or 7, and the bass/kick would be around a 5.

You have to mix in relative volume levels (loudest, loud, low in volume), track vs track, not in exact decibel amounts on your faders. 

Using the standard rock example above, I don't know what your actual decibel levels are, but when you're done with your mix, you need to hear that the guitars are the loudest track in the song, the kick/bass is the lowest, and the vocals are somewhere in between.  If the bass is the loudest, followed by the vocals, and the guitars are the lowest, the mix is entirely WRONG for standard rock!

The song analyzation I mentioned above is really quite easy for volume.  But like I said earlier, you have to analyze EVERYTHING in the song!  Using guitars as an example, how loud are they compared to everything else in the song, how bright are they, what's the stereo spread, what effects are being used on the guitars (very tough), how many guitars are there (also tough), etc.?  It's a lot of study, but it needs to be done if you want a great mix. 

Note - Some of the research can't be done with your ears.  You'll have to do a lot of trial and error with different effects and instrument combinations to figure out what the pros are doing.  Also, read online what effects other pro engineers use and the way they track their arrangements.  Like I said, you might not be able to figure this out just by listening.  Pro sound engineer tips help! 

The original question was setting volume levels for each instrument and I think I pretty much explained that.

If you've made it this far, you pretty much know my views on setting instrument levels.  Now you need to know how to MASTER your own music properly.  Read more....
{article 162}[layout]{/article}

The Music Production Secrets Series
by John Rogers

  

My Best Mixing & Mastering Articles

Mid Side EQ In Mastering

This is a quick video on how a mid-side processor works, and how to check the stereo field of your mix using a mid-side processor equalizer.

 

Read more ...
Why Does A Mix Need Headroom And Dynamic Range?

16 why do songs need mastering

Why does a mix need headroom and dynamic range?  In one sentence, it gives the mastering engineer more room to work with.
 

Read more ...
Mastering A Song For Radio

14 song ready for radio

Here's another popular question I see online, always with the wrong answer! "There's no such thing as radio ready mastering!"  REALLY?  Read more....

 

Read more ...
Top 17 Common Music Mixing Mistakes And How To Fix Them!
audio music mixing mistakes
 
These are the Top 17 most common music mixing mistakes I see daily.  Correcting them could will improve your audio mastering results and make your mixes sound more professional.
 
 
Read more ...
Learning And Calibrating Your Speakers For Your DAW In Audio Mastering

3 calibrate speakers audio mastering daw

Learning and calibrating your speakers for your DAW in audio mastering is a very important step in the audio mastering process.  When I first start out with NEW speakers (though I never change them now), I listen to my favorite hit songs in every genre and style.  Songs that I know from my years of experience have X amount of bass, X amount of brightness, etc.  I know how these songs are "supposed" to sound.

 

Read more ...
Mastering Hardware Equipment You Need For Your DAW Home Recording Studio

7 mastering hardware equipment daw recording studio

Here's the basic hardware you need to master music:

 

Read more ...
#1 Best Website Hosting For Musicians, And Music Recording Studios

If you're looking for the best website hosting for musicians, bands, and music recording studios, here's my own personal experience with website hosting companies.

 

Read more ...
Should Your Mix Sound Close To A Mastered Song?

13 mix sound like master

Note - This section is basically a tip for those of you working with clients or if you plan on submitting your mixes to a mastering engineer.

 

Read more ...
Audio Engineer Hearing Loss And Tinnitus

5 sound engineer prevent tinnitus

Millions of people suffer from tinnitus.  A new study shows around 10% of the U.S. population suffers from it in some form, but many have never even heard of it until they get it!  Unfortunately, I was one of those people.  It can happen quickly and it lasts a lifetime... 

 

Read more ...
How To Prepare Your Songs For Mixing
prepare songs for mixing

In this article, I'll show you how to prepare your songs for mixing.

 

Read more ...
How Much Headroom Before Mastering Should I Leave?

mastering headroom

How much headroom before mastering should you leave in your mix?  Here's the correct amount of headroom you should leave, using detailed graphic examples.

Read more ...
What Is Reverb Effect In Music | How To Use Reverb

This article discusses what is the reverb effect in music and how to use it?  The reverb effect is used to simulate space. When reverb is applied to a dry vocal or instrument track, it will sound like it was recorded live in the space size that was selected on the processor. Common space size options include a small room, vocal plate, large hall, etc.

 

Read more ...
Top 20 Audio Mastering Tips, Techniques, And FAQ
 
 

 

 

 

 

Here are the top 20 audio mastering tips, questions, and answers that I've been asked over the years.

 

 

Read more ...
Monitor Speaker Placement For Your Home Recording Studio And DAW Setup

4 speaker placemnt daw home recording studio

Here's the monitor speaker setup I use for my DAW, and the setup I recommend for your home recording studio.

 

Read more ...
Which Is Better For Audio Mastering Analog Gear Or Digital Software Plugins?

18 analog digital equipment

I started my career using the old analog stuff, since that was the only option.  I incorporated digital software plugins as soon as they became available, but it took many years before computers were fast enough to run them in realtime.  And also before they started making very high quality plugins. 

 

Read more ...
Best Free Redbook CD Burning Software
Yes, burning your own redbook master CDs is very easy!  Here's how to make your own redbook CD masters for free! 
 
Read more ...
What's The Vibrato And Tremolo Definition In Music | Differences Between Tremolo And Vibrato

The vibrato and tremolo effects both have their differences.  But the vibrato and tremolo effects also sound very similar; both slightly wave and pulsate the pitch of an audio track. You have to hear it for yourself to understand the sound.

 

Read more ...
The Sound Engineer SCAM! Does More Expensive Mean Better?


The sound engineer scam, the online recording studio ripoff, whatever you want to call it.  I hear about it 3-4 times a month from my clients, since 1999.  It never changes!

 

Read more ...
How To Prepare Your Songs For Mastering
preparing mixes for mastering

In this article, we'll show you how to prepare your mixes for mastering.

 

Read more ...
What Does Mastering Do To A Song?

10 what is audio mastering

What does mastering do to a song?  Your main goal in audio mastering is to replicate the sonic qualities of a well professionally mastered commercial song, in the same genre and style as the song mix you are working on.

 

Read more ...
Stereo Widening Techniques | How To Use Stereo Widening In Mastering Music

Here are a few great stereo widening techniques and how to use them in music.  When you listen to music on a car radio, you want that wide stereo sound that extends from the left door to the right. Not just two feet wide right above the stereo!

 

Read more ...
John Rogers - Danceur Magazine Interview (July 2018)

Since the begining of his solo career in 2008, I mastered over 80 songs with the top French recording artist NYLS.  Great pop dance music with a lot of remixes.  During his entire career (as of now), I mastered most of if not all the song he released.  It was a great pleasure working with NYLS and Nico at Icon Records!

Read more ...
Can Anyone Become A Great Sound Engineer?

11 become great sound engineer

I would say YES, most people can become a great mastering engineer. I say this because most of the mixes I receive from clients are pretty good and I know the audio engineer (the band member with a computer) has only minimal training.  He could easily be great if he put a little more study and practice time into it.  And if he had this book to teach him what took me over 17 years to learn!  Ha!

 

Read more ...
What's The Difference Between Mixing And Mastering

8 difference between mixing mastering

What's the difference between mixing and mastering?  A lot of people new to music don't know the answer to this.

 

Read more ...
Set Mixing Levels For Each Instrument

How to set mixing levels for each instrument is a question I see all over the Internet.  I'm going to explain exactly how to set mixing levels in this article.

 

Read more ...
Go to top