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Ok so I been rapping for almost a decade, so naturally I have no problems putting together a pretty decent hip hop beat/instrumental. Recently I have decided to better well-round my hip hop and general music skills by looking at the music I love in an entirely different way! And it's been the best two months of my artistic journey. So expect to see a lot of beginner questions from me, however, I have no problem looking stupid in the name of improvement! :)

FIRST QUESTION.

How loud, or what volume should every individual track be in a mix (melodies, beats, vocals)??? As far as layering sounds etc. I'm using the GarageBand program btw. I don't know if that makes a difference. Is it just something you have to have an ear for? Or, is there a set of "Producer Rules" someone out there could hook me up with??

  • Something important to note from a technical, rather than artistic, perspective is that each individual track should be quiet enough that when they are all mixed together the volume of the mixed track never exceeds maximum (this is called clipping, and is very bad). If clipping does occur, you'll know -- you'll hear harsh and loud digital distortion, your meter will "go into the red", and in most programs (I think GarageBand too), a clipping indicator will be set. Just something else to keep in mind. – Linuxios Jul 21 '16 at 1:23
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In the end, the relative levels of the different tracks (instruments) in a mix is a matter of taste and it's an artistic decision. However, as you are just getting started, there is one basic skill that, if you master it, will help you acheive whatever relative levels you want to have in a mix.

The hardest mix to make is one where all the instruments have essentially the same loudness. You might call such a mix "completely balanced". Normally at least one instrument should be emphasized (almost always vocals), but it's much easier to control which instrument has the emphasis when you know how to balance all the other instruments.

So, as you start mixing, work towards complete balance. There's a trick to telling how balanced a mix is. Get your mix set up and start playback. Then, slowly turn the volume down lower and lower. Any instruments that are too low in the mix will drop out first - you won't be able to hear them but you'll still be able to hear others. If all the instruments drop out about the same time, or stay audible no matter how quiet you make it (until it's off, of course), then you probably have a good balance in your mix.

You can also use that trick for balancing the frequency range of any one instrument. If all you hear is the low end of a bass guitar as you lower the volume, then perhaps there needs to be more mids and highs (assuming you want that sound to be balanced). Note that even in a well balanced mix, it's often true that the drums are still barely audible when everything else has dropped out, don't worry about that. Do worry about whether the snare and the kick are still audible all the way down. They normally should be balanced against each other.

I'm not saying all the best mixes are balanced, but I am saying all the best mixers know how to acheive balance in a mix, and they use that to set the baseline for the mix, so that they can artistically make some things louder and some thing softer than the "main mix" (the balanced part).

  • Thank you SO much! You are just the guy I was hoping would give me an intelligent, easy to understand, simple yet detailed answer to my question. Naturally I seek balance in my tracks, it's great to know that it's an artistic choice, I'm surprised I didn't realize that myself. Once again, thank you! You just taught me a few valuable pieces of information (: – Stone Jul 20 '16 at 16:54
  • Hi @Stone - welcome. One of the things about SE that is different to online discussion forums is that we don't need thank you posts, simply upvote or click the accept mark. Read our tour page for more info. – Doktor Mayhem Jul 20 '16 at 17:54

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