Sound mixing is an essential part of music production that, as music lovers, we should understand on a fundamental level.
Thanks to sound mixing, we achieve the harmonic adjustment and right balance of individual audio tracks in a multi-track recording. This is the only way, technically speaking, to enjoy cohesive, quality sound.
But, how does sound mixing work? What components and elements go into the process? And how does sound mixing interact with the piano practice that we are so familiar with?
The Basic Idea of Sound Mixing
In simple terms, sound mixing is the process of taking individual audio tracks and blending them together, coherently, into a single audio track. It’s not only about music tracks but also dialogue, sound effects, and foley; anything that the creative process requires.
This would be the basic idea behind it. Now, there are multiple sub-processes that take part in the quality and cohesiveness of the final outcome. These are volume, balance, equalization, panning, and effects.
Sound mixers go back and forth with the vast array of creative elements at their disposal. The goal is to create a final mix that accurately represents each sound source and taps into the recording’s potential.
Adjusting Volume and Balance
The first step in sound mixing is adjusting the volume of each individual track so that none of them overpower the other.
This part of the process is known as balance or balancing the tracks. Without completing this part, is technically impossible to produce a cohesive mix.
If we desire to create a parallel between volume and balance in sound mixing and the creative process in piano playing, we do have one. Pianists that seek to produce balance need to achieve “evenness” between the different elements of the piece, such as the melody and accompanying harmonies.
Sound is made of frequencies that can be modulated and balanced to achieve better results. The process to achieve this is called equalization, commonly referred to as EQ. We can consider this stage as a balancing process at a deeper technical level. The sound mixer uses equalization to enhance or reduce different frequencies within an audio track.
In piano practice, equalization relates to tone, which refers to the quality of sound produced by each individual note. Pianists know that by balancing the different frequencies produced by each note, they can create more expressive pieces.
Panning and Effects
In sound mixing, panning and effects are not only important but also interesting to understand and play with.
Panning refers to placing sounds in different stereo positions. The goal? To produce an immersive sense of space that is virtually impossible to create without technology. While we now may take it for granted, enjoying a surrounding sense of direction and space was not possible until a few decades ago, before the development of sound technologies.
Then the effects add a new dimension to audio production. Sound mixers use effects to enhance the experience to the senses, implementing sounds that cannot be easily produced by instruments or other physical means.
Some examples of effects in sound mixing are reverb for an enhanced sense of space or compression to greatly control the dynamic range of the piece.
Why a Pianist Should Learn About Sound Mixing?
Different types of pianists can benefit from understanding sound mixing, even on a fundamental level. Either if you are a teacher, a student, or a professional artist, understanding sound mixing is useful to tweak your practice toward a better creative outcome.
Here are some key benefits of understanding sound mixing as a pianist:
- Dynamics and Balance: Understanding sound mixing teaches the importance of adjusting volume levels to achieve a balanced sound. When playing the piano, this knowledge allows an understanding of dynamics, which refers to the variations in loudness and softness when performing.
- Tone and Equalization: As mentioned before, equalization allows the adjustment of frequencies within an audio track to achieve a superior degree of balance that is simply inaccessible by modifying volume levels. This process is closely related to tone when playing the piano. Pianists who know this part of the mixing process have a better understanding of what it takes to use notes to create a more expressive and nuanced performance.
- Color and Effect: Pianists have their own analogic versions of effects. Artists can use techniques such as pedaling to add depth and color to the piece. By understanding the effects present in sound mixing, they can achieve an original blend of sounds prior to digitally modifying the tracks.
- Phrasing and Panning: Finally, by understanding the panning techniques in sound mixing, pianists can improve their phrasing capabilities. This translates into the more skillful placement of musical elements while composing and performing.
The Bottom Line
As a pianist, it may feel natural to ignore the process of sound mixing. Because many pianists are not technically or professionally producing music, the whole activity may sound foreign or even unnecessary.
The thing is, having a basic understanding of the different processes that make possible the beautiful music that we enjoy every day, gives pianists a creative edge. This technical knowledge easily translates into deeper creative understanding. Such information is practical when learning to play the piano and improving composing and performing skills.
There are many available resources online to learn more about the theory and practice of sound mixing. This isn’t limited to ideas and concepts but digs deeper, giving a complete image of the technical tools that are indispensable to the process, such as software.