Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers. And before we dive in, make sure you grab my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” Click the link above or in the description below to download this free e-book now.
The first big secret – great mixing is often pretty boring. I remember when I went to audio school, I took a class with a Grammy-winning mixer by the name of Kevin Killen. And the first day I’ll never forget, he pulled up one of his mixing sessions, and on the projector screen, the big ProTools window came up. And he scrolled through the session, and there were like four plug-ins on the whole thing. It was like an EQ and a compressor, and it was so boring. I expected all sorts of fancy mixing techniques and crazy parallel sidechain whatever. But it was so simple what he was doing, and when he pressed play it sounded amazing.
And the truth is we all love to geek out over these advanced sexy techniques, right? Because we think that that’s really what makes the difference. But at the end of the day, great mixing is often pretty simple. Simple tools like EQ and compression, and balancing volume levels, panning, that’s the stuff that makes the majority of the impact. And I know it’s not fun to talk about, but the best mixers are often using these fancy techniques a lot less than we realize.
Big secret number two – the best records sound great before mixing. The truth is when you’re a really good mixer, you get mostly tracks that are recorded very well. So the best mixers in the world are working on the best-sounding tracks. Of course their mixes sound amazing, because the truth is we all know that it’s most important to start with the right raw ingredients. And if you can get the recording right, and the production right, and if the performance is great, and the song is great, then the mix often just comes together.
It’s when we’re trying to bang our head against the wall making something that never really fit together in the first place sound good in the mix that we end up running into problems. So we can all learn from this, right? Going back to the recording process and the production process, treating that as really where we’re getting the majority of the sound of our record, and using the mixing process more as this finalizing process versus trying to make it all happen in the mix.
Even though our community tends to glorify mixers, in many cases they’re contributing an incremental improvement to the sound, but they’re not taking something that sounds horrible and making it sound absolutely incredible. In some cases that might be, but in the vast majority of cases, certainly at that top level, they’re working with tracks that already sound really good before they hit the mixer’s desk.
Big secret number three is great mixers love the mute button. Now this is a little bit of a dirty secret in the music-making community, but great mixers mute people’s tracks all the time. I can’t tell you how many times i’ve done this. I get sessions from artists or producers all the time and there’s so many tracks, and they’re all competing with each other, and nothing sounds good. And I just go through the session and get rid of the stuff that doesn’t need to be there. It could be extra mics, extra parts, background vocals – things that just are getting in the way. And by doing this, the whole mix opens up. It sounds clearer and better right off the bat before I’ve even done anything.
So whenever you’re in a situation where you feel like you’re piling on more and more and more, and things are just sounding smaller, instead of just adding more, think can I take something away here? Maybe I can get rid of this stuff. And by thinking more subtractively, and looking at what’s the fewest number of tracks that I can actually add to this arrangement, what’s the fewest number of parts that I need in order to convey the emotion, the tone of the song, oftentimes, the sound and the quality of your mixes will improve by leaps and bounds. It’s not about adding more, it’s actually in many cases about taking things away.
Big secret number four is that even the best still mix bad records. I remember when I was first starting out as a mixer, I worked on a lot of crummy-sounding music. And I would think, man I can’t wait for the day that I make it big so I can just work on really amazing-sounding records every single day.
The truth is this doesn’t happen for anybody. Even the best still work on crummy-sounding music sometimes. It’s true that as you get better and as you progress as a mixer, you end up working on better-sounding music, and the quality of the records generally improves over time. But there’s always going to be those records that either you’re not a fan of or are poorly recorded, or just, you know, don’t sound that great.
And the truth is that’s okay. Because I’ve learned that I have more to gain from working on crummy-sounding music, because it forces me to work a lot harder in many cases. If things just aren’t working together, if maybe the tracks weren’t produced well or maybe things just weren’t recorded well, the quality is poor, that actually forces me to flex my muscles as a mixer a bit more. And I find I need to work a lot harder on those tracks which will help me improve my skills as a mixer. So I’ve learned that sometimes working on some crummy-sounding music is actually okay. And even the best mixers are doing it too.
And big secret number five is not everybody loves your work. This is a big one because along my journey as a mixer, I’ve had my fair share of situations where I’ve done a mix for somebody and they just weren’t happy with it for whatever the reason. I did my best, I really tried to revise the mix to meet their needs, but we would just get to a point where it was like, you know what? I don’t know that we’re the right fit. And I used to think that I was the only one, that I was the only one out there who was dealing with this situation. But the more conversations I had with other really great mixers, and managers, and people who were working with mixers, the more I realized that this is just part of the gig.
The truth is whether you’re mixing other people’s records or producing them or recording them, this is such a subjective process in terms of what good really sounds like, and different people have different tastes. And some people are really happy with the rough mix, and so you take the mix in a different direction and suddenly they go woah, this isn’t like anything I wanted because they’ve been listening to the rough mix for two years. Whatever it is, you can’t make everybody happy. And this happens to everyone, the best of the best, the people who are just starting out.
So it’s not like you get to a point where, you know, you never have unhappy clients again. This is just part of the process. You do the best you can, and most people are happy. But there’s always going to be a small percentage of people that you just can’t make happy. Not everybody loves your work, and that’s okay.
Now don’t forget to grab my free e-book, “35 Mixing Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.” Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to mixing like a pro too. Click the link above or in the description below to download this free e-book now.
And before you go, leave a comment below this video and let me know – which of these five secrets was most surprising to you? And for more mixing tips like these, hit that red button below to subscribe to my YouTube channel, or check out my website BehindTheSpeakers.com.