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Thread February 28, 2015 editorial: comments

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1 February 28, 2015 editorial: comments

Mixing: A Puzzle with Infinite Solutions

Mixing is a pretty remarkable process, when you think about it. It requires more decision making than most activities you’re likely to engage in, and it offers endless opportunities for creativity. You’re dealing with multiple tracks, each of which can be set to a particular volume relative to each other, and can be automated to change volume over the course of a song. You can pan all the tracks anywhere in the stereo spectrum, and you can change the frequency response of a track by EQing it in an almost infinite number of ways.

What’s more, for each track you can decide which of numerous effects to add, each of which typically has multiple parameters that can be set to in countless different combinations. There is no single “right way” to mix a song. Yes, you usually must be true to the genre, but after that, it’s more like a work of art than a puzzle with a single answer.

Whether you're a novice or a pro, mixing can be an exercise in frustration at times. There are plenty of occasions when it’s hard to know if you’ve gotten it as good as it’s going to get, or whether you should keep going. A mix that sounds like a keeper when you finish working at 2:00AM can sound a lot different when you listen in the car the next day, when you discover that the vocals are jumping out, the snare drum is too loud, and that you forgot to pan the percussion tracks.

But one of the satisfying things about mixing is that the more you do it, the better you get, and the more you understand the subtleties and intricacies of the process — it’s similar to playing an instrument in that way. So even if you find frustration at first, you’re only going to improve with experience. And the better you get, the more rewarding it will be.

For me, at least, it’s also infinitely interesting. There are so many things to learn, and so many different approaches one can take. For example, if you read our interview with Darrell Thorp, the engineer who just won three Grammys for his work on Beck’s award-winning Morning Phase, you’ll discover that he uses a panning scheme in which everything is set either fully left, center, or right. There are no in-between settings. It seems extreme, but you can’t argue with success. But as with virtually every other aspect of mixing, there are numerous ways to approach it, all of which can sound great when done skillfully.

So what do you like the most and least about mixing? 

Have a great week.

Mike Levine

U.S. Editor