Where Are Your Mixing/Production Boundaries And Limitations? – From An Engineer’s Journal.


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Elliot

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This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s full of ambition and life application. I apply it mostly to my running, but it has implications for most other aspects of life: business, pastimes, and even music and mixing.

Seeing as we’re on a site called MixCoach. For our purposes, I’ll stick to the musical aspects of this concept. (If you want to hear about how this applies in running for me personally, I’d be happy to share some other time and perhaps in a different venue)

Before we get into a deep conversation about finding limits, we need to first decide that finding our limits is something useful. The main reason I think it’s an admirable goal is that finding your own limitations is one of the best ways to grow and stretch those limits. If you don’t know what your current limits are, how can you expect to blow past them when the time comes? How can we achieve our full potential without first taking stock of our current position? See my point? Before we can go beyond the things holding us back and fully realize our goals and dreams we need to first determine where our limitations stand.

Ok so I’ll start off by applying this concept to musical performance. As a performer you honestly won’t know how far is “TOO” far, until you’ve surpassed it at least a few times. Think about some of the best performances you’ve seen/heard (live or on a recording), they push the limits, they try new things, they are in your face and unapologetic. They might even make you slightly uncomfortable, and step over the line into “that’s just too over the top for me”. But many times that’s exactly what makes them stand out. In the end, pushing the limits as a performer (potentially being “too over the top” every now and then) is far better than having a sub-par performance that oozes mediocrity.

This concept can also apply to mixing in a couple different ways: technically and globally.

The technical side of this concept is that, when using an EQ or compressor you can always back a threshold or gain setting off, but you really don’t know how far you can go until you’ve gone well over that line. So when compressing, squash it until it sounds like too much and then back it off. The same goes for EQ: go slightly too far with your boosts and cuts, and then back them off a bit from there. This approach is used worldwide amongst audio engineers. And while it’s not something emotionally charged or even personally fulfilling, it’s something that’s important to learn early on, because it will help you the rest of your career.

When considered as a global concept in mixing, the idea takes on a whole new meaning. Most people are comfortable mixing their favorite styles of music. It could be country, gospel, rock, metal, etc. But outside of their specific genre(s) they find themselves like a fish out of water. Give a rock guy (who’s used to mixing with less than 30 tracks) a song with a full orchestra in it (usually 100+ tracks) and he might just lose his mind for the first 30 minutes or more. But to be honest, after our rock mixer has gotten one or two songs with full orchestra under his belt, he’ll start feeling more confident in his abilities. And before you know it, his limitations are stretched. Before he mixed his first orchestra, he didn’t know that he could pull it off. He didn’t know his true limitations… Or even if he had any at all.

Another example would be, if you were the type of mixer that hadn’t ever tried to get a really huge, bombastic, rock drum sound how would you know if I could even do it? What’s your workflow for that sound? Or say you hadn’t done much with female vocalists, what’s your “go-to” vocal chain? So the next time a producer approaches you to mix his female pop singer (and “by the way” he wants a huge, bombastic, rock drum sound on one song) should you just say “well I’ve actually never done that before and don’t feel comfortable with it”? No. I would say “absolutely” and grab this opportunity by the horns. Go find and stretch some limits.

So in the end, what does all this mean? You should take this quote, put in your wallet, type it in your phone, stick it to your bathroom mirror, whatever, as long as you remember it every time you face something you’ve never faced before.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Elliot

So get out there and start blowing away your boundaries! You’ve got nothing to lose.

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