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Can someone explain to me what the purpose of a “mixing down” a song is, and the purpose of it is. Oftentimes, next to certain pieces equipment, a “mixer” is regarded as probably the most important component to a song regarding the level of it’s sonic and acoustic qualities. Can someone please explain to me why this is so and what exactly is a mixer responsible for overseeing in the audio production process.

Please and thanks,

BG.

  • I think what would best clarify this is if you listen to just one really badly done mix. It does completely destroy the musical experience. – leftaroundabout Jun 26 at 8:36
  • As the existing answers state, mixing is first and foremost an obvious and basic necessity for making a consumer product when the studio recording has more tracks than the consumer medium (which is usually just stereo). A very related question would be" Why record so many separate tracks in the studio? – topo Reinstate Monica Jun 26 at 8:47
  • Have you tried tweaking the knobs by yourself? That's how I learn "What a mixer is". How I learnt why are Mixers used : Someone told me that a mixer "Is the difference between a random beat made by a 9-year-old and a professional one" (not exact words) – RishiNandha Vanchi Jun 26 at 12:53
  • Hey @leftaroundabout, I was thinking the same thing before I posted this question but I don’t know where to find a “bad mixed song”, and furthermore, because I didn’t know the role of a mixer, it would’ve been hard for me to differentiate between a “good and bad mix” on my own. – BLG Jun 26 at 23:51
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A mixer is generally used twice in the recording process. First to set the levels to be recorded onto an individual track, that includes adjusting the tone of the voice or instrument (EQ) and adjusting the amount of effects to enhance the quality of the track. Once this part has been accomplished and recorded, the second use of the mixer is to blend the level of each instrument together to come up with a product that is appealing to the human ear. This is usually accomplished by playing the previously recorded tracks back through the mixer and adjusting each track level to blend with the other tracks and then assign the outputs of each individual track using the pan control to create a stereophonic version of the music. For live performance, the first and second steps are usually combined into one step and the recording step is usually eliminated.

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  • This is by far the best and most comprehensive answer. Please continue to check out my questions as I post them, and give your input! Please and thanks! – BLG Jun 28 at 16:16
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Let's say you've recorded a couple of vocals, a set of drums, two guitars, bass and keyboards. Using only one track for each, that's seven different tracks. (Keys are usually stereo, drums could be seven separate tracks of their own).

Most stereo systems use two tracks, left and right. If we listen on cans, that's about all we need.

First a balance of volume needs to be attained between all the instruments. That can change in any subsequent re-mix. Then a decision as to where in the space between left and right each track goes - pan. It would sound odd if half the track was panned left, the other right. So each track gets its own treatment.

Then there's an amount of eq., which will be different for each track. For instance, if the drums needed brightening up with more top end, without mixing, everything else would become more piercing. Not good. Then there's the question how much reverb? Some of the tracks need none, some lots. Without separate mixing facilities, it would be all or nothing.

There a heck of a lot more involved in mixing, but this is a snapshot. Hope it makes sense.

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  • Thanks Tim, you always respond thoroughly and accurately. Please continue to do so, your answers really does clarify a lot of my questions due to the examples you provide! Thanks again!!! – BLG Jun 26 at 23:58
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The begin of the Wikipedia article already describes it very well.

The term "mixing down" emphasizes that you have more tracks than output channels. For example 1 track per instrument/vocals but only 2 channels (stereo) for output. I don't think people say "mixing down" when the output is in surround - then it's just mixing - but I am not entirely sure on that point.

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  • It's always going to be 'down' to fewer tracks, but I think the description is really just because humans like directions, it makes them feel more comfortable;) It's like people still, for some reason, 'print out' documents.. I mean, what other direction could you print them? – Tetsujin Jun 26 at 6:37
  • @Tetsujin - I only ever print them. Not sure why, though, when they emanate from computer, therefore are readily available on screen, maybe saving the world... – Tim Jun 26 at 6:39
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    Pretty sure that if you produce a 5.1 surround track from one vocal mic and two guitar mics, that would still be called mixing down, though there are actually more output channels than input ones. It would definitely not be called “mixing up” or “unmixing up”. Perhaps “spacing up”, but that's more a description of a particular reverberation strategy. – leftaroundabout Jun 26 at 8:38
  • I'm aware of the logic - I just think it's a language filler, whether printing out or mixing down, neither is actually required. – Tetsujin Jun 26 at 12:39

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