079 Tips for Mixing Jazz Music

On this episode, we talk about mixing Jazz music and what makes mixing it different than mixing any other genre.

Show Notes:

Jazz Mixing tips we discuss:

  • Why all snare hits are not created equal (volume).
  • The feel of the mix is more important than the individual notes.
  • Why you shouldn’t necessarily worry about “trendy” mixing.

Raw Transcript:

Announcer: This is the MixCoach Podcast, episode 79. This week on the MixCoach Podcast we’re going to talk about how to nail a jazz mix.


Jon: All right, Kevin, this week we’re talking about jazz and genre conventions. We’ve kind of been in these series where we’re talking about things that you do and certain styles of music that are maybe different or unique to that style of music. So, for example, bluegrass. Last week we talked about that you want to bring up the G-runs and leave things a little bit more natural. With rock music, you’re evening out things. Country, you focus on the vocal. This week we’re going to talk about jazz. And they’re some things that are specific to different genres of jazz, there’s more like orchestral things that kind of happen. There’s acoustic instruments mixed in with kind of these smooth-tone electric guitars and such. So what are some things, specifically I guess on these new kind of things that you don’t necessarily have in other genres? What are some interesting things that you would do to say the strings in a jazz session that you may not do in rock session that has strings?

Kevin: Well, when I think of jazz I just think, timeless form of music.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: Not make anything hypey. And if I’ve noticed anything from our members when they mix jazz, especially the new guys, the guys who hang around for a while, there’ve been guys who’ve been members for four years now almost.

Jon: Yeah, and they’re great mixers.

Kevin: They are great.

Jon: I can’t praise them enough.

Kevin: I know, I’m the same way man. They keep submitting mixes. They just tend to nail it every time.

Jon: Yeah, they get better and better man.

Kevin: I know. I know. But the thing to remember with jazz is that, let’s just say you’ve got a traditional jazz song, and you’ve got a guy playing with brushes. And then one time he hits the snare kind of hard with the brush and it sounds like a rock snare or something that’s a little louder.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: They will try to get the brush sound to be significant with the drums.

Jon: Yes. That’s a good point.

Kevin: They’ll try to get the drums loud.

Jon: Well, they try to like even out where they say, “Well, I really want those ghost notes.” Ghost notes that he’s playing to be prominent, and to be as loud as these big hits. And I think what you’re saying is that’s not how they would anticipate it being, that’s not, “Hey, let’s make these ghost notes as loud as the big hit.” It’s kind of like leave that in the background a little bit.

Kevin: Right. The jazz thing seems to kind of ebb and flow. There’s a natural progression of dynamics. And if we can apply it to orchestral music too, which it’s a timeless form of music too. The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made in orchestral mixing music is to try to make everything loud. They don’t want that. In jazz, it’s more about the performance of the instruments, about the performance of the musician, and the tone of the instrument that they’re trying to capture.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: Not pure volume, but just nuances of – sometimes I’ve even heard them stumble on notes and it’s like, “You know what? That doesn’t make a big deal to me because the sentence that I said with the phrase that I played said everything I wanted it to say even though I mispronounced a word.”

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: That’s what you should think about when you’re thinking jazz, it’s not about perfection of the music, it’s about the feel of the music more than anything.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: And I can’t stress enough how important it is for on jazz music to make the instrument sound natural, like you would in bluegrass. Any timeless form of music, make sure the phase is good, make sure that you’re capturing that over and above everything else.

Jon: For example, guitars, a lot of times in an electric guitar in jazz, sometimes their very kind of muffled and they don’t have a lot of high end, but a lot of times I’ve heard mixers counteract the natural tone that the guitar player was getting out of the amp and try to hype up the high end and cut out the mud. And that’s not really what they were going for. They were going for that kind of muffled and understated tone on a guitar.

Kevin: Right.

Jon: Something you mentioned about orchestral music and the dynamics there. Orchestral music, whenever you’re a string player and you’re looking at the sheet music, they will have dynamics markings on them. And so if you counteract all of the composer or the arranger’s dynamics markings and all of the players’ dynamics that they’re playing, that’s not a piece of the music. Whenever they put the dynamics where, “Hey, I want this to be quiet here, but I want it to be forte here, and they have very specific dynamics markings and loudness that they want whenever they capture this stuff.

Kevin: Right.

Jon: So whenever you mix you want to capture that as well.

Kevin: Right. So there’s several different styles of jazz music. I was listening to some music this morning from Larry Carlton from back in the day and I was listening to some Koinonia stuff. Some of the jazz stuff, Koinonia was L.A. session band basically, Abraham Laboriel Jr.

Jon: Got you.

Kevin: Abraham Laboriel Jr.’s dad, that was a base player and he was just phenomenal. But you listen to any of those records and they’re a little bit trendy. They’re just a little bit trendy. You can hear the verb trails and stuff like that, but they’re not a lot. Most modern pop jazz, you could say, is little bit trendy but not a lot.

Jon: And they even still slip in completely timeless songs in those same albums where it’s just a classic jazz thing. Even like in a Bublé album, while there are some like poppy or trendy – the bass or the drums are doing some trendy beat. But then there are also these moments of complete timelessness. Where, if you listen to Bublé versus Sinatra, it’s the same kind of mixing. It feels like the same mix.

Kevin: When you’re talking about Bublé, I think of jazz with him. I know maybe he’s not considered jazz, I don’t know, but I just think about the way it’s recorded is to me jazz.

Jon: Kind of like a jazz-pop.

Kevin: To me, one of my favorite mixers, Chris Lord-Alge, I don’t dig the way that he mixes Bublé’s stuff because – and this is a good example maybe, and this is just my opinion, I love the way Chris Lord-Alge mixes, and I love Bublé’s records. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine, or a friend of ours, Steve Genewick, helps record those records and everything.

Jon: Hey, Steve.

Kevin: Yeah, hey Steve. I’m not dissing anybody’s style but I’m just saying the difference in styles if you listen Bublé, let Chris Lord-Alge mix his stuff. Well, they hired Chris because of Chris’s style of mixing. But Chris’s style of mixing is rock and the kind of music was jazz.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: So when you put those two together, to me, those will be trendy jazz mixes in the future, which I don’t know if it’ll be as timeless as some of the traditionally stuff like Al Schmitt would have mixed on that kind of stuff.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: So the thing I’ve noticed about jazz, bluegrass is they’re always careful – and this is almost a mindset, they’re real careful to pay homage to the guys who’ve gone before.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: Like in bluegrass, a Bill Monroe thing. And they’ll play the lick just like Bill did it. They’ll play it out of time slightly and rigid like Bill Monroe did. And in jazz they’ll play it the same way that Dizzy would have played it or the Birdland stuff.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: They will play kind of that way, and really they don’t really want it to sound that much different most of the time. In traditional jazz, they don’t really want it sound that much different than it did on the original recording. Just recorded better or more modern, maybe.

Jon: Yeah.

Kevin: So, the thing about jazz to think, is a lot like bluegrass and any timeless form of music, the way it’s recorded and the feel of the music and the dynamics of the music will trump almost anything else.

Jon: And don’t try to counteract all of those things whenever you’re in the mixing process.

Kevin: No, if anything, you want to accent it.

Jon: Emphasize it.

Kevin: Yeah, emphasize it. So, jazz is one of those things where it’s really not that hard to mix if you keep in mind that you’re letting the performance and the dynamics trump almost everything else. I think you’ll nail the mix almost every time.

Jon: Absolutely.

Jo: Thanks for listening. This has been the MixCoach podcast. The podcast dedicated to making your next recording, your best recording. For more tips, tutorials and even a free course, be sure and visit us at mixcoach.com.

Do you have any tips on Mixing Jazz?

By Jon Wright

As a graduate of MTSU with a degree in Audio Engineering and Technology Jon has been working as a full time mixer and engineer in Nashville. He loves running, writing, and all forms of entertainment. He also enjoys long walks on the beach with his wife.

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