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Electronic Music Mixing: Session Guidelines

Updated: Nov 30, 2023


In the infinite universe of electronic music, each composition is a unique journey through a sonic cosmos. Each track paints its own sonic landscape, weaving diverse textures and timbres into a mesmerizing tapestry. Yet beneath this colourful tapestry lies a common thread, the intricate craft of mixing.

digital art of a boy sitting at an analog mixing desk

1. Setting up your sonic canvas

Electronic music is a kaleidoscope of sounds and styles, with each track telling a unique story. But amidst this diversity, there are common mixing challenges. This chapter serves as a reminder of the basics, emphasizing the importance of clarity, tackling phase cancellation and ensuring instrument tuning.

The first step in creating a successful mix is to visualize the sonic destination. A clear mental picture helps to identify and resolve phase conflicts and masking issues between instruments and tracks. But that’s only the beginning. Often overlooked, tuning is crucial to the overall vibe of your composition. Whether it’s synths, percussion or the most subtle of instruments, keeping them in tune is non-negotiable.

Also, don’t underestimate the impact of percussion pitch. Experimenting with percussive pitch can add groove and dimension to your rhythm section, while reducing phasing and cancellation. Get it right and your rhythmic elements will claim their rightful place in the stereo panorama.

2. Refining FX

anime girl using a laptop

In this chapter we will explore how precise adjustments to panning and effect chains, including delays, reverbs and shimmers, can enhance your tracks by allowing each element to communicate with each other.

a. Mono delays and reverbs: Painting the stereo landscape

When it comes to creating a compelling stereo image, the use of mono delays and reverbs is a secret weapon in the mixing engineer’s arsenal. These effects can do wonders to enrich a sound without muddying the waters. Here’s how to use them effectively:

- Panning precision: Start by applying mono delays or reverbs to individual elements within your mix. By panning these effects, you can finely position elements within the stereo field. For example, a mono delay panned slightly to the left can create the illusion of an element leaning to the right, enriching the stereo spectrum while maintaining clarity.

- Maintaining focus: In the electronic realm, where precision is paramount, mono effects can maintain focus on key elements. A mono reverb on a lead synth, panned strategically, can add a touch of space and dimension without overshadowing the central groove.

b. Reverb tails: The feel-good factor

acon digital convolve, convolution reverb

Reverb tails are the unsung heroes of electronic music. They carry the weight of transitions, creating a sense of cohesion and excitement within a track. Here’s how to harness their power:

- Tail cutting: To enhance the feel of the track and create seamless transitions, consider cutting or attenuating the reverb tails. This technique can sharpen the edges of your sounds, making them more defined and impactful. Experiment with different cutoff points to achieve that wow effect that will mesmerize listeners and set dancefloors alight.

- Tail Exaggeration: On the flip side, exaggerating reverb tails can give elements a dreamy, otherworldly quality. This technique is perfect for creating sonic bridges or ethereal breakdowns. By stretching reverb tails, you can create powerful connections between disparate elements, increasing the emotional impact of your track.

c. Shimmer: The enigmatic pitch shifters

Often paired with reverbs, shimmers are a mixing engineer’s creative playground. Subtle pitch shifts and micro pitch adjustments can work wonders:

- Organic blending: Used subtly, pitch shifting can blend similar elements together, giving your track a more organic feel. Imagine applying a shimmer to a pad or vocal and gently nudging it into harmonic alignment with other elements, resulting in a lush, unified sound.

- Artefacts and innovation: On the other hand, don’t hesitate to push the envelope. Shimmers can create fascinating artifacts that add character to your track. Experiment with pitch modulation to introduce intriguing quirks that will keep your listeners engaged.

However, the road to perfection isn’t without its obstacles, especially when it comes to managing the myriad effects used in electronic music. The challenge often lies in EQing these effects to avoid clashes and masking. Here’s a valuable tip: if you find your FX’s low end is too much, try low shelf filters instead of steep low cuts to avoid unwieldy phase rotations. Finesse your EQ by gently sculpting the low mids to reduce muddiness in the 150-400 Hz range. Tweak the high mids to your liking, ensuring the 1kHz band is kept in check without becoming harsh. Finally, tame or boost the treble, depending on where you want your effects to shine in the stereo field.

fabfilter proQ3 plugin screenshot

3. Better or louder?

ableton live 11 faders and stereo pan split mode

Here we ask a key question in mixing: “Do you want it better or louder?” This question guides the way you set volume levels and establish element hierarchies within your composition. If the answer is ‘better’, then fine-tune the volume of the track in question. Conversely, if “louder” is the goal, use subtle saturation to enrich harmonic content and increase perceived loudness.

Balance and hierarchy are the guiding stars. They shape the dynamics of your mix, ensuring that each element flourishes in its intended role. The magic lies in finding the sweet spot between enhancement and loudness, giving you the power to shape your sonic masterpiece.

4. The Art of Sidechaining

fabfilter pro c2 compressor advanced sidechain options view

Let's now open the door to the art of sidechaining, a technique that can have a profound effect on the cohesion and spatiality of your mix. Dive into the nuances of sidechaining, both subtle and pronounced, and discover how it orchestrates the movement of your tracks. This dynamic interplay breathes life into your music, giving each element the space it needs to shine.

Explore advanced sidechaining strategies, including frequency selective sidechaining. Select specific frequency bands or even individual frequencies to trigger sidechain processing. Tools like FabFilter's Pro C2 can be your secret weapon for sculpting the stereo field and enhancing the clarity of your mix.

5. Dynamic shifts and the art of automation

logic pro x edit window with automations

The final chapter celebrates the magic of dynamic shifts in electronic music. The human ear craves variation, and automation is your magic wand to conjure those ear-catching moments. Immerse yourself in the world of volume, panning and effects automation to breathe organic life into your compositions.

Experiment with creative automation techniques, from subtle volume changes to sweeping panning and effects manipulation. Embrace the unpredictability of randomization effects such as TANTRA2 to give your soundscape a captivating dynamic and an unmistakable human touch.

As we conclude this journey through the realms of electronic music mixing, remember that every track is a canvas and you're the artist. These guidelines will serve as your compass as you navigate the unique challenges of each electronic composition. Thank you for joining us on this musical odyssey. Keep mixing, keep experimenting and keep making sonic magic.

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