How Can Emotion Be Printed In a Mix

Can Emotion Be Printed In a Mix?

mixing desk from Leo

Ed Seay: (Mix Engineer)   “The tough part, and the last stage of the mix, is… (the time) it takes for me to make it sound emotional and urgent and exciting so that it’s just not a song, it’s a record. It’s not making it just sound good, it’s making it sound like an event. Sometimes that means juggling the instruments or the balances or adding some dynamics help. Thant’s the last stage of when I mix, and that’s the part that makes it different or special.”

So how can we get to that point?

More than just being technically correct, a mix must be as interesting as a good movie. It must build to a climax while having points of tension and release to keep the listener subconsciously  involved. Just as a good film feels larger than life a great mix must sound larger than life. The passion and the emotion must be on a level where the listener is sucked in and forced to listen.

So, this brings us to the beginning… What are the steps? How do we accomplish such a feat?

1 Try to find the direction of the song. What is this mix headed for? This can be more than just a style of music, or a reference mix that it is meant to “sound like”. This is what emotion is the song trying to build to? Sadness? Joy? Depression? Love? This is deceptively harder than it seems because many times before a song is mixed it’s direction can be somewhat sprawling. Your job is to identify what the writer, artist, and producer are trying to say.

2 Develop the groove and build it like a house. Once you’ve identified the direction the song will take, you strip everything away and start with the basics. Here are MixCoach we’ve talked many times about building a mix like a house. The foundation comes first… Drums… and Bass. Once this is moving the way you want it to, move on to the Guitars… and Keys. Then any supplemental elements like Horns or Strings. Then add any lead elements… Lead Guitars… Lead Synths. Then add the vocals last. With each layer you add, you build a better, stronger mix.

3 Find the most important element and emphasize it. After getting the mix 95% to where you want it to be… You’ve only got 15% more left. (nope that math is right 😉 This is the part where you think back to the moment you found the direction of the song. How can we take the good mix that we have, and make it come alive with the emotional direction of the song? Automation, Effects, and Emphasizing. Nothing is sacred, if it’s not serving the overall direction, don’t emphasize it… but anything that pushes the song toward that point of emotional purpose and meaning (that the lyrics will reflect) needs to be emphasized. When you’ve worked through the song a couple times, making sure that every nuance is right. Sit back and listen. Listen at different volumes. Listen in mono. Listen from another room. Listen in iPod headphones. Does the emotion translate? If so… Congratulations, You’re done.


My conclusion is that this skills are only developed by experience, it takes lots of practice and patience. The more experience you get, and the more guidance from great mixers, the faster this process becomes. So make sure you get out there and keep mixing. And if you would love a community of professional mixers to share with, and learn from. As well as a place that offers a different session to mix every month with tutorials, interviews, and walkthroughs. Head to

By LeoAviles

Leo Aviles Guitarist and piano player and mixer, Leo has been in music business since 1986, playing for several bands. He graduated from the Dallas Sound Lab (Media Tech Institute) With an Audio Engineering Certification and a Producer and Songwriter workshop diploma. He has worked for Christian artists, like Marco Barrientos and many others, Leo has done FOH engineering at some major churches. Currently, he teaches live sound and live recording, he is also producing and mixing from his personal recording studio in Coppell, TX at the same time he helps the members here at MixCoach.


  1. What a nice article guys! I find it most difficult to print emotion on a mix when the arrangement or the performances are weak and lifeless to start with. That’s usually when I open up my bag of tricks and use techniques such as automation, ways to create space, depth and separation etc in order to inject a bit of movement, development, climax and resolution into a mix.
    However, at times, I find that we chase our own tails too because we have total control over individual tracks, and so, our own decisions (moving faders up and down i.e.), adding this and that here and there actually tend to delay us in discerning emotions that were already there anyway!
    I’ve learned that if you’re mixing someone else’s project without any kind of direction (as it usually happens unless it is a project handled by a producer that actually cares regarding of budget!) the best thing to do is to start mixing with “all faders up” to see what you got. I can just about guarantee that if is was tracked well, it will give you most of the information you need and then you can start making decisions.
    If you’re lucky, you may get a copy of the “rough mix” from the artist/producer to give you an idea of what their intentions were. Not a common practice these days for whatever reason. However, most of my favorite engineers/producers request a “rough mix” so they do have a realistic reference directly from those responsible for capturing the sounds at the critical stage of tracking.
    All in all, one of the most beautiful, exciting and rewarding things about mixing is having the ability to refine and enhance the emotions of a given piece by using our skills and abilities to present it to the listeners in a way that is dynamic, fresh and above all meet their expectations…
    Again, you guys are super stars! Keep up the good work;-)

    1. No doubt , Luis you have a interesting point here ,every mixing day it’s a learning experience
      very good to see you arround!


  2. What I find interesting is how he use of compression, and EQ but more so compression, when done tastefully and correctly can influence the emotion – the groove of the mix. When you start getting it right you find yourself getting into the song and forgetting what you are doing, thats when I think you know you are on the right path.

  3. @Richard… it is awesome when you’re mixing a song and you forget about the tech stuff and get into the song isn’t it?

    @Luis, good to hear from you buddy.

  4. Wow! As a singer and composer I just had to state my absolute amazement at reading this:-
    “2 Develop the groove and build it like a house. Once you’ve identified the direction the song will take, you strip everything away and start with the basics. Here are MixCoach we’ve talked many times about building a mix like a house. The foundation comes first… Drums… and Bass. Once this is moving the way you want it to, move on to the Guitars… and Keys. Then any supplemental elements like Horns or Strings. Then add any lead elements… Lead Guitars… Lead Synths. Then add the vocals last. With each layer you add, you build a better, stronger mix.”

    I guess this MUST be the way to go because you experts are apparently using these directions as a Mantra.
    I have to confess that to me, it is “Back to Front” in sequence thinking. How can you feel to manipulate Bass and Drums if you have yet to layer in the Melody?
    Unless I have the melody as a primary point of reference, there is no way I can start to add the other instrumental parts.
    I am thinking that a 3rd party person mixing on behalf of someone else would not have enough of the intimate awareness or purpose of the composer’s music or emotional intent to work like that. Unless they were one and the same person.

    Or am I missing understanding what you really mean about the rationale behind “Ideal” mixing procedure ?
    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM

    1. Hi Poppa ,
      I am glad that you like the concept. Yes build the mix from the foundation. yes you can start with drums bass, the way you decide that is finding what instrument should be featured the most along with the vocals, or if it’s an instrumental song what is the most important element and show it off. Then you start building the rest of the elements around the featured elements. This will help you to build a better, stronger mix.”
      You are definitely right on your thought you need to get in the song style to define what way to go.
      Ways to achieve that is using reference songs and seeing what elements move the song depending on the style.

  5. Hey Poppa,

    You do have a very valid point here. But I believe, this article does not imply there’s one ideal way to approach a mix. The concept of “developing a groove and building it like a house” is one that has proven itself for many years.
    The subject is presented here as a very valid technique to attain good results when trying to follow systematic approach or simply get to understand the song a bit more in depth before making final and more detailed mixing decisions prematurely.

    Yes, there are ways to discern and understand the purpose and emotional intentions of the artist/composer as a mixing engineer. However, it will depend on your very own musical and mixing skills, experience and background in general.

    Also, lets remember that the emotional content of any recording really starts with the performance itself. The mixing engineer’s job then is to first understand it, relate to it, and then enhance it; not so much to actually create an emotion that wasn’t there (in my opinion!). For example: automating volume on a vocal track to fake an actual voice crescendo (to my ear) will not convey the same emotion as if the vocalist had actually sang it that way simply because my ear expects tonal and timbral changes that we can’t create after the fact… Now, there are many things a mixer can do to create an impression that, depending on the listener, may have an emotional impact.

    In my own experience as a mixing guy, I learned and started following this very same approach. Over time, I have developed ways that work according to the tracks at hand. For example, I might start a mix just throwing the vocal up first and then adding other elements afterwards in no particular order. Or perhaps I’ll work with a string section before adding bass and drums… It all depends on how you perceive things and how you handle your own vision when mixing and trying to listen as you go.

    I’m glad you brought such a nice point of view. I hope I didn’t misunderstand you . Thanks for sharing:-)

  6. Poppa,

    I think it’s worth remembering we’re talking about the mix process, not the discovery all-faders-up part of the process or the writing/producing part of the process. In the discovery part, we’re listening to everything and learning/determining what’s most important and where we need to be pointing the mix towards.

    You bring up an interesting point, though. Without the context the most important part (most often the vocal) provides, how can we make the decisions necessary to highlight it?

    That’s why I’ll do a real quick HPF and gentle compression on the vocal (with the full knowledge that I’ll probably change those settings later) before digging in to the bass and drums. The bass and drums provide the groove. Without a good groove, there’s nothing to stand your vocals on.

    I’ll bring the lead vocals up so I can hear it and then start working on the drums & bass. That’s all I care about to start with: get a good, working groove for the lead vocals to stand on. I’ll then spend a little more time getting the vocals close (more EQ work and getting closer to the compression & de-essing…really, as ideal and perfect as i can make the lead vocal). From that on out, the vocals are always audible. Then, add in the midrangy rhythms to get the full impact of the groove leaving the vocals up the whole time carving the EQ around the already-there vocals. Then add the leads/counter-melody/backing vox stuff etc.

    To me, all that really matters is a fantastic-sounding lead vocal on top of as killer a groove as the recording will allow. Without those things, the song will never be good. After that, the other rhythm instruments and leads just compliment what’s already there.

    It all starts with a good grove and a good vocal. If you can get to that point, the rest of the song is just there to fill the spaces the groove & lead vocals aren’t taking up.

  7. My partner and i delight in, end in I discovered just what I’d been having a look intended for. You’ve got concluded my personal Four day extensive seek out! Goodness Cheers dude. Have a very excellent day time. L8rs

    1. Hi E.Perez , I am very glad that you find it useful , Please let me know if there is something else I can help with

      Have a great day


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