All Mixed Up

I spent most of the week-end mixing. Mixing is the stage of a recording project where you take all the various tracks of sound and blend them in a way that is pleasing to the ear.

I approach the mix as four phases.

The first phase is preparation. I go through each track and listen for any flaws… extraneous noises, bad notes, pitch. I clean up each track so that all of the basic elements are polished. I then listen to the tracks as a whole and correct any other issues such as timing. On this particular project I went through about 500 tracks. I guess you can imagine how much time it takes to do that kind of work. Not much fun.

The second phase is placement. I do a preliminary level of the various tracks in the soundfield taking into account position in the stereo field and overall volume level. I will also start the process of setting preliminary EQ and compression. I usually build the mix by starting with drums, bass and lead vocal. I will then fill in the rest of the sounds.

The third phase is tone and effects. This is where the mix gets complicated. Hearing is a highly subjective experience and there is no one right sound. And, with all the choices of processing, the variables of what type of sound and what type of effect are literally infinite.

The fourth phase is candidate mixes. Automation gets programmed, effects printed. I listen to the songs on a variety of playback systems to ensure best possible fidelity. At this stage, I release the mix for review and comment. Generally we might cycle through several iterations before the mix gets final sign off.

For the life of me, I have never understood why artists want to be part of the mixing process. This is arguably the most challenging part of a project and it requires a lot of focus and effort. I am nearing the fourth phase right now and it has taken almost 200 hours of effort to get there. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to look at me editing waveforms for hours on end or listen to a kick and snare loop for hours on end.

Sometimes I wonder why I do it myself. It is funny. Time loses all perspective when I am in the studio.

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