Mixing is one of the most exciting times in the creation of a record because it is when everything comes together… all the ideas from all the songwriters, musicians, producers & engineers (what must amount to thousands and thousands of tiny decisions) are unified into a single product.
Sometimes you, as the artist or band, will sit in on the mix with the mix engineer and other times not. But either way, you as the artist/band will be able to give feedback on the mix. This is essential but can be tricky! Here are some pointers to help make everyone’s lives easier:
- Before you go in to mix, really take time to listen critically to music that might be sonically similar to yours (this is especially important if this is your first release). Listen to where the vocal sits compared to the other instruments… is it louder than anything else or is it sitting under some instruments. Pay attention to what they want your ear to follow and then pay attention to all the other stuff (some of it might be a lot lower than you think). These are some of the things that mixing engineers spend decades analyzing and implementing in their own mixes. Why is this important, you ask?
- When listening to a mix, most people listen to their part. If you are a drummer in a band, your ear will be focussing on the drums. If you are a singer, you will be listening to the vocal. That’s ok but you also have to listen to your part in context of everything else. If you Mr. Singer only focus your ear on your vocal, you’ll probably just end up telling me to turn the vocal up because it is your part. But try to listen to the mix as a whole and with your references from above in mind… where is my vocal sitting?
- If there is an element of the mix that you are unsure of, before telling me to change it, rather first ask me why it is the way it is. This is particularly important if you are sitting in on the mix and you hear the engineer doing something unexpected or different. There is a good chance I have a reason for doing it (e.g. you hear me solo the acoustic guitar and make it sound really thin and tinny… yeah, on its own it sounds terrible but I have to get rid of all that mud so it doesn’t get in the way of the bass or other guitars). But even if you are not sitting in, give me the benefit of the doubt and ask me. This shows me that you trust my judgment and skill and creates a working environment where we are working together and not fighting for competing goals.
- Another great tip: sometimes you just need to listen to the mix a few times to let it all sink in. Maybe something does jump out at you on the first listen, but on follow up listens you understand why it was done that way and you learn to like it. Don’t just listen once before giving feedback!
- Remember, not everything can be loud. There is only so much space in a mix so some things have to be softer and others louder. Many times, artists will want the guitar louder, then the vocal louder, then the synth louder etc because they want to hear every element loudly! But you will just end up with a loud mess. Allow your engineer to turn some things down (or even off!)
- Try to learn the right terms and words to be able to communicate effectively with me. Or give me references (“I like how the vocal sounds in this song”). This comes with time and experience, but the better you are able to articulate what you want, the better I can implement your feedback.
There are so many more tips but these are a really great start to help you work with your mixing engineer to get the best possible mix for your music. I hope they help!