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7.5. Mixing a Song (Tutorial)

The next stage is called "mixing," and it primarily involves two tasks: setting volume levels, and adjusting the stereo pan settings. We'll use automation to store our fader and panning adjustments, and see how handy it can be to have left and right channels recorded on separate tracks, combined with sub-master busses.
In terms of producing a recording of a live musical performance, it is the mixing stage where the audio engineer (in this case, you) has the most creative influence. Careful adjustment and tuning of the tracks will greatly affect the listeners' experience.
Finally, it should be noted that, moreso than in the editing stage, the mixing stage should not be understood as progressing in a linear manner. This means you should not be following the tutorial from start to finish, but jumping between sections are desired. You should set up the tracks for stereo output first, and then read through all the sections and follow their advice as you wish, but sometimes returning to previous activities to re-tune those settings. When one setting is changed, it tends to have an effect on other settings, so if you set the level of a track once, then change its panning, you should check that the levels you set are still desirable - they'll probably need some tweaking, however minor it may be.

7.5.1. Setting the Session for Stereo Output and Disabling Edit Groups

Part of the reason that the session sounds so bad is that all of the audio has been routed through both the left and right channels equally, making it a "mono" recording, even though we have the material of a "stereo" recording. This could easily have been done sooner, but it wouldn't have made much of a difference until now. Whereas mixing was focussed on getting the regions assembled so that they are like the song, mixing is about fine-tuning the regions and tracks so that they make the song sound great.
Disabling the edit groups is also a good idea, because leaving them enabled actually reduces functionality in this stage of production. With edit groups enabled, any change that we make to one of the tracks will automatically be made to the other track, too. We want to be able to adjust the tracks independently; for cases where both tracks need the same adjustment, we will use the sub-master bus to which they're attached.
These steps will disable the edit groups, and re-configure this session's tracks for stereo output.
  1. We need to adjust tracks independently, so the edit groups must temporarily be disabled.
  2. Flip to the "Edit Groups" tab of the session sidebar.
  3. Uncheck the "Active" button for all the groups. If you want to re-enable an edit group later, simply re-check the "Active" button.
  4. Open the mixer window by selecting from the menu 'Window > Show Mixer'. If you have a multiple-monitor setup, it can be very useful to keep the mixer window on a separate monitor from the main editor window. If you don't have a multiple-monitor setup, you can keep the mixer window on a separate virtual desktop. Of course, these are both optional steps.
  5. Near the bottom of each track's mixer, above the buttons, is a small black rectangle with three grey triangles and a green vertical line. Each of the busses have two of these rectangles. This controls the panner, which adjusts a track's left/right position in the stereo image.
  6. You can adjust the panner by click-and-dragging in the panner display. You don't need to click on the green line, but the line will show you the approximate placement of the track in the stereo image.
  7. Each "left" track, ending with a capital "L," should have the green line set all the way to the left.
  8. Each "right" track, ending with a capital "R," should have the green line set all the way to the right.
  9. Each bus is probably already set correctly. The bus' upper window represents the left channel, and the green line should be all the way left. The bus' lower window represents the right channel, and the green line should be all the way right.
The mixer control located above the panner is called the "fader," and it allows you to adjust a track's level.