Ed Seay: (Mix Engineer) “The tough part, and the last stage of the mix, is… (the time) it takes for me to make it sound emotional and urgent and exciting so that it’s just not a song, it’s a record. It’s not making it just sound good, it’s making it sound like an event. Sometimes that means juggling the instruments or the balances or adding some dynamics help. Thant’s the last stage of when I mix, and that’s the part that makes it different or special.”
So how can we get to that point?
More than just being technically correct, a mix must be as interesting as a good movie. It must build to a climax while having points of tension and release to keep the listener subconsciously involved. Just as a good film feels larger than life a great mix must sound larger than life. The passion and the emotion must be on a level where the listener is sucked in and forced to listen.
So, this brings us to the beginning… What are the steps? How do we accomplish such a feat?
1 Try to find the direction of the song. What is this mix headed for? This can be more than just a style of music, or a reference mix that it is meant to “sound like”. This is what emotion is the song trying to build to? Sadness? Joy? Depression? Love? This is deceptively harder than it seems because many times before a song is mixed it’s direction can be somewhat sprawling. Your job is to identify what the writer, artist, and producer are trying to say.
2 Develop the groove and build it like a house. Once you’ve identified the direction the song will take, you strip everything away and start with the basics. Here are MixCoach we’ve talked many times about building a mix like a house. The foundation comes first… Drums… and Bass. Once this is moving the way you want it to, move on to the Guitars… and Keys. Then any supplemental elements like Horns or Strings. Then add any lead elements… Lead Guitars… Lead Synths. Then add the vocals last. With each layer you add, you build a better, stronger mix.
3 Find the most important element and emphasize it. After getting the mix 95% to where you want it to be… You’ve only got 15% more left. (nope that math is right 😉 This is the part where you think back to the moment you found the direction of the song. How can we take the good mix that we have, and make it come alive with the emotional direction of the song? Automation, Effects, and Emphasizing. Nothing is sacred, if it’s not serving the overall direction, don’t emphasize it… but anything that pushes the song toward that point of emotional purpose and meaning (that the lyrics will reflect) needs to be emphasized. When you’ve worked through the song a couple times, making sure that every nuance is right. Sit back and listen. Listen at different volumes. Listen in mono. Listen from another room. Listen in iPod headphones. Does the emotion translate? If so… Congratulations, You’re done.
My conclusion is that this skills are only developed by experience, it takes lots of practice and patience. The more experience you get, and the more guidance from great mixers, the faster this process becomes. So make sure you get out there and keep mixing. And if you would love a community of professional mixers to share with, and learn from. As well as a place that offers a different session to mix every month with tutorials, interviews, and walkthroughs. Head to www.MixCoach.com/Member