The Most Used Audio Effects: Mixing Audio

Step 5: The Most Used Audio Effects: Mixing Audio

You have got your studio set up and you are ready to start producing music! In this section, we will cover basic music audio tools that you can use to give your music that extra spark and make it sound great!

It’s impressive how simple tweaks to your recordings can affect how they sound.

In this article, we will be covering the most popular and basic audio plugin effects that you can use in your mixes to make your recordings sound even better.

We will be covering:

  • EQ
  • Compression
  • Delays
  • Reverb
  • Panning
  • Harmonic Layering
  • Buses
  • Wet and Dry Signals

What Effects Should I Use When Mixing My Recordings?

EQ is one of the most common audio plugin effects that you will use. Followed by most likely compression and reverb.

If you know how to use these plugin effects properly you can dramatically improve the sound of your audio. Famous pop and hip-hop artists will all use these plugin effect in their music.

There is also other recording tricks and effects such as panning and harmonic layering that you also can use to add a bit of personality to your music.

What Is EQ?

EQ stands for Equalizer and is commonly the most used audio plugin. What is so great about EQ, is that you can use it to reduce or increase the amounts of certain frequencies in your recordings.

You can think of sound frequencies as the pitch.

For example, a violin playing a high pitch will be in the high frequencies.  

The difference between pitch and frequency is that sound frequency are a far much more precious measurement of the rate at which a sound is vibrating.

Humans ears can hear a frequency range of roughly between 20Hz – 20kH. Which is why most EQ plugins on your DAWs will range from between 20Hz – 20kH. Although while you age this frequency range will decrease. Most adults can only hear a frequency range of up to 17/18kH.

How Do I Use EQ?

At first, EQ may seem a little confusing to use and it may overwhelm you, but do not worry!

Once you’ve wrapped your head around EQ, it is a fairly straightforward process.

To use EQ you would simply increase or decrease the frequency range that you want to hear or not hear. For example, if I wanted to hear the high pitches of my voice,I  might increase the 2500 HZ range.

If I wanted to reduce the lower pitches of my voice, I may decrease the frequency in the 250Hz range.

Most of the time it is trial and error, so what you should do is:

Create a narrow frequency bar like the one below and simply move the increased frequency left and right until you find the sounds you are looking for. It is best to do this with your eyes closed. I find it helps a lot.

What makes EQ so great is that you don’t only have to use it for your voice. You can use it on instruments, instrumentals and all sorts of audio in your digital audio workstation.

Below is an in-depth video, showing you how you can use EQ for your vocals.

What Is Compression?

A compressor is another widely used audio plugin effects that can be found on every professional digital audio workstation.

Compressors are used to manage the sound levels of audio by compressing the loudest part of the recording. Compressors are a way to reduce or increase the sound level if it goes above a certain threshold.  

An example of when compression would be used is when a vocalist gets too near the microphone or if you’ve recorded an instrument and it is slightly too loud at certain times during the recording.

Essentially what you are doing is telling your digital audio workstation to reduce or increase the volume of an audio track once it has hit a certain threshold.

They are a great way to make your recordings ‘sit on top’ of the track, and if it does get too loud, you can tell the compressor to reduce the volume so it is not sticking out of your mix.

A compressor has 5 basic settings:

Threshold:

You need to be assertive with the threshold as this is probably the most important tool on your compressor.

The threshold is used to tell the software when to increase or decrease the audio gain. For example, if your recording goes below a certain dB.

Ratio:

The ratio is the strength of the compression.

A 3:1 ratio would mean, if the input is 3dB over the threshold level then the signal would be compressed and the output will be 1db over the threshold.

A 1:1 ratio means that the input will always be the same as the output level.

Gain:

This controls the output volume control.

A compressor will most likely also have a gain reduction meter. This will help you identify whether you need more or less gain.

Attack:

The attack is how fast the compression will happen once the threshold has been reached.

A shorter attack means that the audio increase will happen much faster.

A longer attack means that the audio increase will happen much more gradually.

Release:

The release is the opposite to the attack.

Instead of how fast the audio signal increases, it is how fast it takes the audio signal to decrease once it has fallen below the threshold.

How Do I Use Compression?

You should be careful when you’re using compression because using it in the wrong way can make your mix sound a little dull.

This video is a great explains how to use a compressor:

What Is a Delay?

A delay can be used to playback the recording in a later period of time and is often added to instruments such as guitars and vocals. It is one of the most used effects in audio productions.

How to use a delay

To use a delay you need to be familiar with a common of terms:

Dry – If the dry parameter was set to 100%, then only the original non-delayed signal will play.

Wet – If the wet parameter was set to 100%, then only the delayed signal will play.

Feedback – Controls how many repeats are made after the original sound.

Below is a video that can help you learn how to use a delay:

What Is Reverb?

When a sound is made in the room. We hear the direct sound signal, as well as the sounds reflections. The collection of the combined sounds is known as reverberation.

Sound reflects from the walls and objects that are in the room and will arrive at our ears with a slight delay, compared to the direct signal. These sounds will merge together to get one final single sound, which is known as reverberation.

Reverb adds a collection of several delayed signals into the original signal. This creates an echo-like effect.

Reverb can be used to add an acoustic effect such as depth and space. It can give the listener the impression that the vocals were recorded in a large room. Reverb can also be used to help separate the noises from the different instruments and make the audio seem more interesting.

With reverb you can add depth by making it sounds like the vocalist or instrument is further away than they are from the microphone, you can also use a delay to do this.

The reason why we do not record in a room that already produces these reverberations is that once recorded, these reverb effects would be impossible to remove from the mix. Whereas, if we add the reverb effects after the recording we can remove them from the mix when needed.

How To Use Reverb

Adding reverb to your recordings is fairly straightforward once you know how.

The video below does a good job of explaining how to use Reverb on Logic Pro.

What’s The Difference Between a Delay and Reverb?

Delays and reverbs often get mixed up as the same thing, especially with new musicians. Although they are both delays, they have two differences. Those two differences are:

  • A delay is a repeat of an audio single. Like an echo.
  • A reverb consists of lots of little delays.

The video below does an excellent job of explaining the differences with examples:

Panning

Panning is an interesting tool to use when producing music.

With stereo speakers or a pair of headphones. You have a Left and a Right channel.

When you use your daw’s panning tool, you can choose how much of that signal you want to send to that channel.

For example, if I was to send 90% of a recording to the left channel. This will play almost all the signal in the left ear when wearing a pair of headphones.

Panning can be used to create stereo or other types of effects that make the recordings much more enjoyable to listen to.

The panning tool can be used to create harmonic layering.

Harmonic Layering

Harmonic layering is when you have multiple recordings on top of each other and can make the track sound much more full and enjoyable to listen to. Almost like a surround sound effect.

Quite often you will have 3 recordings. One for the left channel, one for the right channel and then a deep chest recording.

Once all these recordings have been mixed you can get a great sounding harmonic layering effect.

This effect has and is used by many artists.

You can also add a backing track and other channels. Doing this will make the track sound more full and alive. It’s best to be as creative as possible and play around with the audio. This way you’re more likely to find your desired sounds.

Here is an image of what that might look like in your digital audio workstation:

As you can see, on the Left and Right channel I have panned it on each channel. 

Here’s a video tutorial that will help explain it a little better:

What Is a bus?

A bus is another term and feature that is commonly used when mixing your audio.

A bus is another channel that you can route the signal to and add effects.

Buses are great because if you wanted to add the same effects to lots of different audio recordings, you can create a bus and route all the audio signals to it. This will reduce the amount of CPU usage your computer is using too and make everything run more smoothly.

You don’t have to use buses, but it is a good habit to get into when producing and mixing music.

What Does Dry and Wet Signals Mean? 

A dry signal is a signal that hasn’t had any processed effects and a wet signal is an opposite.

A wet signal is a signal that has had processed effects added to it.