How to mix audio: A complete guide

Learn how to mix audio: Explore essential tips and techniques to create professional-sounding tracks and elevate your podcast production.
October 19, 2023
Elise Dopson
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Audio mixing is a tough skill to master. But learning how to mix audio is essential for producing professional-quality sound—regardless of whether you’re editing a video for YouTube subscribers or mixing a podcast episode

Sound mixing is the process of taking different audio tracks and blending them together to create an immersive listening experience. This step-by-step guide shares a workflow you can use to mix audio using a digital audio workstation (like Descript).

What is audio mixing?

Audio mixing is the process of combining sounds from multiple different tracks into a single audio file. You can use audio mixing techniques like volume faders, EQ, and reverb to make sure the sound is consistent throughout, or make some audio samples louder than others. 

Why bother mixing audio?

When you're producing a podcast or a video, each vocal input or sound source will have its own track. Mixing is the process of bringing together the dialogue, ambient sounds, and other audio elements to create a compelling narrative that engages your audience.

As Michael L. Moore, founder of Devoted to Vinyl, says, the process is “not just about balancing sounds but also about creating an auditory experience that resonates on a deeper, emotional level with the listener.” 

You’ll need some audio editing skills to be able to mix dialogue. Tools like Descript, however, have a low learning curve, so you can start practicing and perfecting your audio quickly. 

Mixing vs. mastering: what’s the difference?

Audio mixing and mastering tend to get confused, but there are distinct differences between the two editing techniques. Audio mixing happens when a sound editor blends different audio tracks to create one single sound. It’s the mixing engineer’s job to ensure all tracks blend together across the frequency spectrum and in the stereo field.

Audio mastering, on the other hand, essentially adds the finishing touch to clean up an audio file. It’s a mastering engineer’s job to optimize playback quality and create a fully polished audio track that sounds great to the listener.

How to mix audio in 5 steps

  1. Find and install a digital audio workstation
  2. Organize your tracks and set levels
  3. Add effects and space
  4. Manage dynamics and transients
  5. Refine and adjust audio dynamically

1. Find and install a digital audio workstation

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is software that allows podcasters, sound engineers, and producers to record, edit, arrange, and mix digital audio. It's like a virtual studio on your computer where you can create, manipulate, and refine sound.

Popular options include Audacity, Logic Pro X, and Descript—the latter of which can handle the entire audio production process. Start recording tracks inside the Descript editor (even with remote guests), mix them with audio editing tools, and export them in the preferred format for your distribution channel. This can help preserve audio quality since you’re not importing and exporting files to multiple apps.

“My #1 best tip for mixing sound is to concentrate on your source recording. If that is not clean, you are going to have a bad time when it comes to mixing.” —Jason Petros, host of the EarzUp! Podcast

2. Organize your tracks and set levels

Once you’ve found your DAW of choice, import your audio tracks and label or color code each one. That way, you can easily spot which track is which—like labeling track one as “Host,” track two as “Guest,” and so on. 

Next, set each track’s volume levels for each track, which control the loudness of each individual track. Play the audio files together to see whether one voice outshines another. If your host's voice is too loud and you can’t hear the guest, for example, go back and reset the level to balance the audio between them.

The volume unit (VU) meter inside your DAW will show the stereo audio level of your podcast episode. Aim to keep this bar in the middle. Levels on the low end make your sound hard to hear; too loud and it might clip, distort, or just overpower other voices in the mix.

Image showing the Volume Unit (VU) meter in Descript.

3. Add sound effects and space

Instead of your podcast audio sounding like it all came from a single flat source, adding spatial effects to provide the illusion of a 3D sound environment can make the listening experience feel more immersive and engaging.

Use these spacing techniques to mix audio:

  • Panning: Panning is a technique that mixing engineers use to move sound sources to the left or right speaker. This virtual barbershop is a great example of panning. When the listener uses headphones to play the audio file, panning makes it feel like they’re actually sitting in the chair for a haircut. 
  • Reverb. Reverb creates the illusion of natural echo in the recording space. If you’re recording audio clips individually, you can give people a live listening experience by adding reverb, which creates a sense of depth and space in the sound.
  • Delay. Delay is an effect that creates an echo or repetition of a sound after the original signal. This can be used creatively to add atmospheric effects to your podcast or to emphasize certain points or sounds.
  • Echo. Similar to delay, echo gives a sense of space and depth by creating repeated sounds through delaying and slightly modifying the original sound during the mixing process.

4. Manage dynamics and transients

Learning how to manipulate dynamics and transients effectively is a key skill for podcast producers. The goal is to create a cohesive sound where all elements are audible.

Dynamics refer to the variations in loudness or intensity within a piece of audio. Techniques like volume automation, compression, and limiting can be used to even out the range and create a cohesive, professional mix.

Transients are the initial, short-lived bursts of sound energy at the beginning of a sound event. They are the sharp, percussive, or high-impact parts of a sound—such as the emphasis on a particular word or phrase. Control these transients using techniques like shaping, which involves boosting or compressing the initial sound to make it more prominent or subtle.

5. Refine and adjust audio dynamically

Dynamic adjustments involve making real-time or automated changes to the audio based on its volume or intensity levels. Many DAWs offer this feature to improve the overall sound, create balance, and enhance the clarity and impact of the final podcast episode.

4 tips and best practices to mix audio

Now we know how to mix audio, let’s cover four best practices to help you mix and create incredible-sounding tracks. 

1. Balance levels and panning

Level balancing helps podcast producers ensure that each voice and sound element in the mix can be heard clearly. If one element is too loud, it can mask or overpower others, leading to a muddied or cluttered sound. Distributing sounds across the stereo spectrum can create a wider, more engaging listening experience, which can make the podcast feel more three-dimensional.

Also known as gain staging, this mixing technique allows you to emphasize or de-emphasize specific tracks. For example, you can make a host’s voice stand out during a crucial point, or highlight a particular sound effect.

Begin balancing levels with the faders (volume sliders) for each track while listening to the overall balance. Balancing is an iterative process that sometimes takes a considerable amount of time to get right. Continuously listen to your rough mix, make adjustments, and then listen again. It may take several rounds of tweaking before settling on the final mix.

2. Apply equalization

Equalization, also referred to as EQ, is an audio editing technique that helps you balance frequency ranges in an audio signal. You can use it to shape the tonal characteristics of a podcast or dialogue to make sure no segments overpower or get buried by others in the frequency spectrum.

Applying equalization to an audio file

Use EQ tools during post-production to turn down specific frequencies in the audio track—like reducing a low rumble of an AC unit in the background. You can also use EQing to emphasize higher frequencies that might have been muffled by a cheap microphone, which helps you create a clear and pleasant listening experience.

3. Use compression and dynamics

“Audio compression is where you take the loud parts of a recording and make them quieter (so they match the quiet bits of the recording),” explains Mike Russell, audio producer at Music Radio Creative. “Then you turn the volume up after adding compression and get nice audio that is more level in sound rather than audio that fluctuates in levels.”

Compression is important for audio mixing because it helps control the dynamic range of sound, making softer parts louder and preventing louder parts from getting too overwhelming. Compressors even out the volume, add punch, and make your audio sound more polished and professional.

As Mike explains: “It’s especially relevant when in noisy situations—like listening to a podcast during a commute.” 

4. Compare with reference tracks

Before sharing your audio, compare your mixed sound with a reference episode show to see whether the mix sounds balanced, competitive, and high quality. These reference tracks serve as a benchmark to gauge how your mix measures up in terms of tonal balance, dynamics, and overall impact.

The best audio and music mixing tools

Ready to start mixing your own audio? Here are five great tools that allow creators to mix high-quality audio and create great tracks: 

  • Descript. Thousands of creators use Descript’s audio editing software to mix sound. The best part: you can record, edit, transcribe, and export audio files from a single dashboard. 
  • Audacity. Audacity is a free, open-source audio editing software. It’s suitable for basic audio mixing tasks and offers features like multi-track editing, effects, and noise reduction. 
  • Logic Pro X. Logic Pro X is a professional-grade DAW developed by Apple for music production and mixing. It’s an excellent choice for intermediate sound engineers because it offers advanced mixing features and high-quality plugins.
  • Pro Tools. Pro Tools is an industry-standard DAW known for its high-quality audio processing, advanced mixing tools, and compatibility with professional studio environments. It's widely used by professional sound engineers in the music and audio production industry.
  • Ableton. Ableton is a popular DAW known for its versatility and user-friendly interface. It’s most frequently used to mix electronic music and live performances.

Use Descript’s audio editing software 

Descript is the best tool to mix music and audio. Not only can you film video and record multiple tracks directly within the editor, but Descript offers a bunch of professional sound editing tools — standard ones like compression and EQ, plus AI-powered ones like Studio Sound.

Studio Sound is a feature unique to Descript that uses artificial intelligence to remove unwanted background noise and polish up vocals in a single click. 

Get acoustic echo cancellation and audio quality enhancement as standard with the world’s best editing platform. Take a free tour today. 

How to mix audio FAQs

What do you need to start mixing audio?

You’ll need a digital audio workstation (DAW) to start mixing audio. DAWs like Descript allow you to record, edit, and balance tracks within a single platform. 

What are the basic mixing rules?

  1. Organize, label, or color code tracks
  2. Balance your audio levels
  3. Use EQ and compression 
  4. Add effects and space 
  5. Compare your mix to a reference track

How hard is it to mix music?

Music mixing is more of an art than a science; it can take sound engineers years to perfect their mixing. But you can start learning how to mix audio with free editing tools like Descript.

Elise Dopson
Elise Dopson is a freelance writer, creator, and fierce Descript user. She's also the co-founder of Peak Freelance.
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How to mix audio: A complete guide

How to mix audio

Audio mixing is a tough skill to master. But learning how to mix audio is essential for producing professional-quality sound—regardless of whether you’re editing a video for YouTube subscribers or mixing a podcast episode

Sound mixing is the process of taking different audio tracks and blending them together to create an immersive listening experience. This step-by-step guide shares a workflow you can use to mix audio using a digital audio workstation (like Descript).

Transcribe. Edit. As easy as tapping your backspace key.
Create your podcast from start to finish with Descript.

What is audio mixing?

Audio mixing is the process of combining sounds from multiple different tracks into a single audio file. You can use audio mixing techniques like volume faders, EQ, and reverb to make sure the sound is consistent throughout, or make some audio samples louder than others. 

Why bother mixing audio?

When you're producing a podcast or a video, each vocal input or sound source will have its own track. Mixing is the process of bringing together the dialogue, ambient sounds, and other audio elements to create a compelling narrative that engages your audience.

As Michael L. Moore, founder of Devoted to Vinyl, says, the process is “not just about balancing sounds but also about creating an auditory experience that resonates on a deeper, emotional level with the listener.” 

You’ll need some audio editing skills to be able to mix dialogue. Tools like Descript, however, have a low learning curve, so you can start practicing and perfecting your audio quickly. 

Mixing vs. mastering: what’s the difference?

Audio mixing and mastering tend to get confused, but there are distinct differences between the two editing techniques. Audio mixing happens when a sound editor blends different audio tracks to create one single sound. It’s the mixing engineer’s job to ensure all tracks blend together across the frequency spectrum and in the stereo field.

Audio mastering, on the other hand, essentially adds the finishing touch to clean up an audio file. It’s a mastering engineer’s job to optimize playback quality and create a fully polished audio track that sounds great to the listener.

How to mix audio in 5 steps

  1. Find and install a digital audio workstation
  2. Organize your tracks and set levels
  3. Add effects and space
  4. Manage dynamics and transients
  5. Refine and adjust audio dynamically

1. Find and install a digital audio workstation

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is software that allows podcasters, sound engineers, and producers to record, edit, arrange, and mix digital audio. It's like a virtual studio on your computer where you can create, manipulate, and refine sound.

Popular options include Audacity, Logic Pro X, and Descript—the latter of which can handle the entire audio production process. Start recording tracks inside the Descript editor (even with remote guests), mix them with audio editing tools, and export them in the preferred format for your distribution channel. This can help preserve audio quality since you’re not importing and exporting files to multiple apps.

“My #1 best tip for mixing sound is to concentrate on your source recording. If that is not clean, you are going to have a bad time when it comes to mixing.” —Jason Petros, host of the EarzUp! Podcast

2. Organize your tracks and set levels

Once you’ve found your DAW of choice, import your audio tracks and label or color code each one. That way, you can easily spot which track is which—like labeling track one as “Host,” track two as “Guest,” and so on. 

Next, set each track’s volume levels for each track, which control the loudness of each individual track. Play the audio files together to see whether one voice outshines another. If your host's voice is too loud and you can’t hear the guest, for example, go back and reset the level to balance the audio between them.

The volume unit (VU) meter inside your DAW will show the stereo audio level of your podcast episode. Aim to keep this bar in the middle. Levels on the low end make your sound hard to hear; too loud and it might clip, distort, or just overpower other voices in the mix.

Image showing the Volume Unit (VU) meter in Descript.

3. Add sound effects and space

Instead of your podcast audio sounding like it all came from a single flat source, adding spatial effects to provide the illusion of a 3D sound environment can make the listening experience feel more immersive and engaging.

Use these spacing techniques to mix audio:

  • Panning: Panning is a technique that mixing engineers use to move sound sources to the left or right speaker. This virtual barbershop is a great example of panning. When the listener uses headphones to play the audio file, panning makes it feel like they’re actually sitting in the chair for a haircut. 
  • Reverb. Reverb creates the illusion of natural echo in the recording space. If you’re recording audio clips individually, you can give people a live listening experience by adding reverb, which creates a sense of depth and space in the sound.
  • Delay. Delay is an effect that creates an echo or repetition of a sound after the original signal. This can be used creatively to add atmospheric effects to your podcast or to emphasize certain points or sounds.
  • Echo. Similar to delay, echo gives a sense of space and depth by creating repeated sounds through delaying and slightly modifying the original sound during the mixing process.

4. Manage dynamics and transients

Learning how to manipulate dynamics and transients effectively is a key skill for podcast producers. The goal is to create a cohesive sound where all elements are audible.

Dynamics refer to the variations in loudness or intensity within a piece of audio. Techniques like volume automation, compression, and limiting can be used to even out the range and create a cohesive, professional mix.

Transients are the initial, short-lived bursts of sound energy at the beginning of a sound event. They are the sharp, percussive, or high-impact parts of a sound—such as the emphasis on a particular word or phrase. Control these transients using techniques like shaping, which involves boosting or compressing the initial sound to make it more prominent or subtle.

5. Refine and adjust audio dynamically

Dynamic adjustments involve making real-time or automated changes to the audio based on its volume or intensity levels. Many DAWs offer this feature to improve the overall sound, create balance, and enhance the clarity and impact of the final podcast episode.

4 tips and best practices to mix audio

Now we know how to mix audio, let’s cover four best practices to help you mix and create incredible-sounding tracks. 

1. Balance levels and panning

Level balancing helps podcast producers ensure that each voice and sound element in the mix can be heard clearly. If one element is too loud, it can mask or overpower others, leading to a muddied or cluttered sound. Distributing sounds across the stereo spectrum can create a wider, more engaging listening experience, which can make the podcast feel more three-dimensional.

Also known as gain staging, this mixing technique allows you to emphasize or de-emphasize specific tracks. For example, you can make a host’s voice stand out during a crucial point, or highlight a particular sound effect.

Begin balancing levels with the faders (volume sliders) for each track while listening to the overall balance. Balancing is an iterative process that sometimes takes a considerable amount of time to get right. Continuously listen to your rough mix, make adjustments, and then listen again. It may take several rounds of tweaking before settling on the final mix.

2. Apply equalization

Equalization, also referred to as EQ, is an audio editing technique that helps you balance frequency ranges in an audio signal. You can use it to shape the tonal characteristics of a podcast or dialogue to make sure no segments overpower or get buried by others in the frequency spectrum.

Applying equalization to an audio file

Use EQ tools during post-production to turn down specific frequencies in the audio track—like reducing a low rumble of an AC unit in the background. You can also use EQing to emphasize higher frequencies that might have been muffled by a cheap microphone, which helps you create a clear and pleasant listening experience.

3. Use compression and dynamics

“Audio compression is where you take the loud parts of a recording and make them quieter (so they match the quiet bits of the recording),” explains Mike Russell, audio producer at Music Radio Creative. “Then you turn the volume up after adding compression and get nice audio that is more level in sound rather than audio that fluctuates in levels.”

Compression is important for audio mixing because it helps control the dynamic range of sound, making softer parts louder and preventing louder parts from getting too overwhelming. Compressors even out the volume, add punch, and make your audio sound more polished and professional.

As Mike explains: “It’s especially relevant when in noisy situations—like listening to a podcast during a commute.” 

4. Compare with reference tracks

Before sharing your audio, compare your mixed sound with a reference episode show to see whether the mix sounds balanced, competitive, and high quality. These reference tracks serve as a benchmark to gauge how your mix measures up in terms of tonal balance, dynamics, and overall impact.

The best audio and music mixing tools

Ready to start mixing your own audio? Here are five great tools that allow creators to mix high-quality audio and create great tracks: 

  • Descript. Thousands of creators use Descript’s audio editing software to mix sound. The best part: you can record, edit, transcribe, and export audio files from a single dashboard. 
  • Audacity. Audacity is a free, open-source audio editing software. It’s suitable for basic audio mixing tasks and offers features like multi-track editing, effects, and noise reduction. 
  • Logic Pro X. Logic Pro X is a professional-grade DAW developed by Apple for music production and mixing. It’s an excellent choice for intermediate sound engineers because it offers advanced mixing features and high-quality plugins.
  • Pro Tools. Pro Tools is an industry-standard DAW known for its high-quality audio processing, advanced mixing tools, and compatibility with professional studio environments. It's widely used by professional sound engineers in the music and audio production industry.
  • Ableton. Ableton is a popular DAW known for its versatility and user-friendly interface. It’s most frequently used to mix electronic music and live performances.

Use Descript’s audio editing software 

Descript is the best tool to mix music and audio. Not only can you film video and record multiple tracks directly within the editor, but Descript offers a bunch of professional sound editing tools — standard ones like compression and EQ, plus AI-powered ones like Studio Sound.

Studio Sound is a feature unique to Descript that uses artificial intelligence to remove unwanted background noise and polish up vocals in a single click. 

Get acoustic echo cancellation and audio quality enhancement as standard with the world’s best editing platform. Take a free tour today. 

How to mix audio FAQs

What do you need to start mixing audio?

You’ll need a digital audio workstation (DAW) to start mixing audio. DAWs like Descript allow you to record, edit, and balance tracks within a single platform. 

What are the basic mixing rules?

  1. Organize, label, or color code tracks
  2. Balance your audio levels
  3. Use EQ and compression 
  4. Add effects and space 
  5. Compare your mix to a reference track

How hard is it to mix music?

Music mixing is more of an art than a science; it can take sound engineers years to perfect their mixing. But you can start learning how to mix audio with free editing tools like Descript.

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