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Thread June 3, 2017 editorial: comments

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Mike Levine

Mike Levine

1064 posts
AFicionado
First post
1 Posted on 06/03/2017 at 10:00:03

Musings about Mixing

One of the recent articles from Audiofanzine’s long-running series, “A Guide to Mixing Music,” is called “How to tell when a mix is done?” I’m referencing it here, because that’s a topic that I think about a lot — usually after I’ve been mixing for several hours. Nantho, the story’s author, makes some excellent points. None is more significant than, “I always take at least one day between the final mixing session and the validation.”

It’s quite amazing how much perspective you gain when giving your mix (or pretty much any creative project) a little space. When I come back the next day and listen, I’m almost sure to find a few aspects that are obviously out of whack, but which I didn’t notice at the end of a long session. 

I usually have a moment — relatively early in the mix process — where things are sounding quite good, but after which I start to veer off in a questionable direction. The problem is knowing when I've reached that crossroads. That's why I make a habit of saving incrementally. That way, I can revert back to an earlier version of the mix when I discover that for the last hour I’ve wandered off into the weeds (and I mean that metaphorically, not in the smoking sense).

Even when I’m satisfied that I’ve got the mix to a good point, there’s always the question of how it will translate to other systems. Thus, I begin the process of listening on systems outside of my studio, such as my car and my living room stereo. I find it ironic that we spend all this money on studio monitors and acoustic treatments — aimed at providing a flat frequency response — and then end up making our final judgments about our mixes on consumer systems like car stereos. 

I've interviewed a lot of mix engineers for Audiofanzine (you can find a lot of those interviews here), and I often will ask them “How do you know when you’re done?” They invariably say that they’re capable of discerning, with a pretty high level of certainty, when their mixes are finished. Naturally, these are accomplished mixers, with world-class skills and lots of experience, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, it’s impressive that they’re able to keep their perspective throughout the process, and know instinctively when they’ve gotten the mix to a finished state.

They also have the advantage of working with deadlines, which doesn’t allow them the luxury of endless recalls. I tend to do better in situations where I’m mixing someone else’s music and have a deadline, rather than when I’m working on my own music and can keep putting off the decision to call it, “done.” The total recall you get in a DAW is a wonderful thing in many ways, it makes it harder to complete a mix, and brings out the perfectionist in me.

Mixing is an broad subject, with many facets and many variables, and everyone seems to approach it a little differently. It’s endlessly challenging, but that’s what makes it so interesting. It's a subject that I never tire of, and I could go on and on about it, but, alas, I’ve come to the end of this month’s column. Back at you on July 1st. 

AstraLeadGuitar

AstraLeadGuitar

16 posts
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2 Posted on 06/03/2017 at 13:02:14
Hello, Mike,

Yes, indeed - mixing is an endless challenge and can be far more time-consuming than the actual recording process! Reading your article, I found a lot in common with your musings. I and my musician parents find mixing a necessary but long-winded chore. One the one hand, it's exciting to be getting to the end of finishing a song. However, there's also sometimes a slight nerve-wracking feel to it all in the sense that one feels that "this is it - the song must sound right!" Very often my dad has an idea half-way through about how to change panning or the sound of the mix. And the issue of leaving it a day or more and coming back to is essential to give one a vital fresh pair of ears.

Although one should expect perfection from mainstream radio music, their mixes are not immune to faults and can have niggles on occasion. One of the main ones is that the vocals are not mixed loud enough with the backing drowning everything out. Or that one particular instrument is too loud.

The search for perfection (without reaching the realms of obsession) is a laudable aim I think!

I don't know about you, Mike, but I find that the mixes in songs from the past, say from 30 years ago or more, were approached with a lot more care than they are now. For example, stereo panning of instruments, application of effects, clever little touches here and there, and so on, made listening a joy.

Happy mixing everybody!

Astra: Lead Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter.

www.astramusic.org

[ Post last edited on 06/03/2017 at 13:04:11 ]

robertm2000

robertm2000

16 posts
New AFfiliate
3 Posted on 06/03/2017 at 13:47:00
Reminds me of a quote supposedly from Michelangelo: "How do you carve a horse?" "Simple - I take a block of marble and chip away everything that doesn't look like a horse." Extend that to mixing and it comes out "How do you mix a recording?" "Easy - you just turn down everything that is too loud."
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