Approaching a Mix
Our blog is going to be written by the teachers here at The Academy of Production and Recording Arts. My name is Derek and I have been working as an audio engineer for 12 years. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some great projects and have spent thousands of hours in the studio learning my craft. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to audio, and strive everyday to be better. Through this blog I will share some of the things I have learned over the years.
This first post will be short and simple, but important nonetheless. One question I always seem to get from students is “what is the easiest way to screw up a mix?”. The simple answer is, if you avoid listening to the song, you’re destined to fail. The song holds all the answers. All you have to do is avoid messing it up.
Picture this: a singer starts singing softly during a verse, she builds in volume and intensity during the pre chorus, and reaches her climax during the chorus. Why is she doing this? Because dynamics are exciting! The easiest way to disrupt these dynamics is to slap a compressor across the entire track without any thought. The better approach would be to use clip gain/automation to allow the performance to have dynamics, but still be at the correct volume during each section. An even better approach would be to split the 3 sections into separate tracks so that you have fader control over each section. This also gives you the added advantage of customizing the compression on each track, which is a great way to focus your compressors onto the micro-dynamics only.
Great mixes are the ones that do the song justice. If the song wants to get louder, you should not stand in the way. If an instrument is screaming for your attention, it needs to be featured and louder than the rest. If an instrument is destined to be in the background, mix accordingly. These all seem like basic tips, but I hear these mistakes time and time again in professional mixes. Moral of the story is: before you touch any fader or processing be sure to listen to the song first, it will tell you what to do.