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By Cyrus Rhodes - 09/21/2009 - 04:06 PM EDT

The vocals sound great, the drums are really kicking and the guitars are exceptional, put it all together and what do you got? One gigantic mess right? Sound familiar? Until you've gained plenty of experience "mixing down" music, the whole affair can seem very frustrating. It can be an endless maze of musical possibilities, plug-in effects, frequency variations, edits, compression, equalization, instrumentation levels, and the list goes on and on. I've even seen one mixer play around for days trying to achieve the perfect snare drum tone only to end up in the rubber room; and that's just one drum. There are probably as many correct ways to mix as there are successful engineers and producers in the business. But over the years I've learned from personal experience the best mixes typically posses the following attributes:

- Powerful and solid lows
- Proper use of the very powerful mid range areas
- Clear and clean highs
- Proper but not overburdening effects
- Dimension - some sense of depth
- Motion - movement of the instruments using pans to heighten the music
- At least one true stereo track that sticks out "up front" in the mix. Usually the Instrument providing the hook melody like vocals
- Some acoustic information - not just delays and reverb   

The whole mixing process begins simply enough with a good pair of studio monitor speakers.While mixing on headphones gives you a great sonic experience, it won't translate correctly to speakers. Since headphones almost always have better bass and treble response than speakers, your final mix will sound dull and lifeless when you hear it "normally. Mixing is where all the hard decisions get made. It can make the difference between a amateur recording and an professional one, even starting with the same source material. This is why mixing is so critical. Also chose a mixer that has proven experience mixing within your musical genera. I've heard good songs not mixed well, and I've heard really bad music crafted into musical masterpieces.

The bottom line is that when it comes to mixing, the mixers who are the most creative are usually the most effective, regardless of the piece of music they're working with.

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