AUDIO TIPS: Mysteries of Mixing

by Brian Knave

If talking about music is like dancing about architecture, then perhaps talking about mixing is like somersaulting about perfume. That is, music is better listened to than talked about, and its mysteries and pleasures simply cannot be elucidated by symbols alone. Likewise, the mysteries of mixing don't readily yield themselves to words. For one thing, there are too many variables; musical style, instrumentation, audience, and gear, to name only a few; for absolutes to be of much use. Mixing music is as much an art as making it; and in one sense, it is making it; and therefore is irreducible to formula.

Just the same, the problems commonly encountered by amateur mixers are deftly handled by the pros on a daily basis, so it stands to reason that talking to the professionals can shed some light on the process. I spoke recently with three renowned mix engineers about how they deal with common mixing problems. They were understandably reluctant to suggest one-size-fits-all solutions, but they did provide many helpful tips and the occasional gem of insight on a number of topics. In fact, I was able to incorporate many of their suggestions and improve my own mixes right away.

MEET THE PANEL: Even if you don't recognize the names of the mix engineers I interviewed, it's pretty certain you've heard the fruits of their labors. Each is a veteran who has mixed (not to mention produced) dozens of best-selling albums, and none is a stranger to platinum. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, all three are musicians, as well.

Producer and mixer Chris Lord-Alge, who resides in Los Angeles, was a 1998 Grammy nominee for Faith Hill's Faith and a 1992 Grammy nominee for Lindsey Buckingham's Out of the Cradle. Lord-Alge has platinum credits from his work with Green Day, Fastball, and Savage Garden. Other recent credits include Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, and Barenaked Ladies.

San Francisco-based producer, mixer, and engineer Mark Needham, though best known for his work with Chris Isaak, has also mixed (and in some cases recorded and produced) platinum-sellers for Bruce Hornsby, Meredith Brooks, and Cake. Upcoming releases include albums from Lindsey Buckingham and Simon Says.

Los Angeles-based producer and mixer Ken Kessie has mixed several chart-topping singles and seen platinum sales from albums he did for En Vogue, Tony Toni Tone, Celine Dion, and Bel Biv Devoe. Upcoming releases include works by Vanessa Williams, Carl Martin, Assia, and Eklipse.

VOICE RECOGNITION: For vocal-based songs, nothing is more critical to the mix than a consistent, just-right level for the lead vocal. As Lord-Alge puts it, “The vocal leads the track.” To determine an appropriate vocal level, Lord-Alge suggests monitoring at a low volume. “If the monitors are cranked up really loud, “he says, “ the tendency is to put the vocal too loud in the mix.”

Lord-Alge also emphasizes the importance of choosing the compressor that will “add some personality to the vocal, which is the bottom line, and help it sit in the mix just right. Generally,” he says, “you can't go wrong with a UREI 1176, the blue one is my favorite on vocals. An LA-2A is not going to hurt you, either. And sometimes an LA-3 will do the job. Between those three you've got it covered.” Needham also praised the 1176 for vocals, as well as the new Drawmer 1969 compressor.

To get the vocal correct in the mix, Kessie focuses on, “excitement, fader rides, and clearing out the track to leave some room. Mick Jagger is known for wanting his vocal, ’in the red,’ and that's something I aim for, too. I will run my vocal compressors hot, add some tube or Neve preamp distortion to the track, and mult the track to another channel where I can push the high end. All these combine to bring the vocal close to the edge of disaster , which is exactly what I want because it draws in the listener's attention. Next, I do fader moves to ensure that all the words and tails of words are strong. In addition, I will duck breathing noises that are too loud and esses that are peaky. However, I won't eliminate breaths between phrases because that makes it sound fake. Anything in the track that competes with the lead vocal gets knocked back a bit with EQ, compression, or fader rides.” Needham uses various fail-safe techniques to create a mix that has the perfect vocal level.“First I work to get the vocal intelligible all the way through at a level that feels good to me,” he explains. “ After that, if there is any question, I do alternate mixes , for instance, a vocal-up and a vocal-down version, including ones with the background vocals up and down. In some cases, when working on Pro Tools, I'll do an instrumental mix with the vocals split off to separate tracks. That way, if the vocal is too loud in one spot, I can go back in later and correct it. The same thing applies if you need to go back and make a ‘clean’ version of the song for radio release. With the vocal on separate tracks, it's easy to chop out a word and replace it. ”Needham typically ends up with six or seven mixes, at the minimum, but I've had as many as 20 different mixes of a song. It’s a lot easier to print them at the time than to try and do a total recall later. ”Kessie also runs multiple mixes as standard procedure.

BASS INSTINCTS: Finding the right level for bass guitar is also tricky. Needham and Lord-Alge both stress the importance of using familiar and trustworthy monitors as well as monitoring on multiple playback systems.“The only way you're going to know for sure is multiple referencing,” says Lord-Alge.“If you know the speakers and the room, you should be able to get the right bass levels. But alternative monitor systems are very important: a boom box, headphones, a car stereo.”

Needham recommends comparing the mix in progress to other mixes.“Before you start,” he says, “or in the middle of a mix, pop in a CD that has good mixes in the same style as the music you're working on. That should give you a good sense of appropriate bass levels. And if you're not familiar with the room, be sure to have a familiar system in your car that you can refer to.”

Another common bass-related problem is insufficient high end.“In rock stuff,” says Lord-Alge, “they never seem to record the bass guitar bright enough. So it never cuts through unless you add a lot of midrange to it. The trick is to find where to boost the EQ so the bass will peak through under the guitars. ” Needham suggests another solution: “A lot of times I'll either remic the bass through an amp or use distortion effects to get a little more grind out of the top end of the bass. Lately, I've been using the Tech 21 SansAmp on bass quite often.”

As for favorite bass compressors, Lord-Alge again praised the 1176: “My favorites for bass are the black ones, which are discreet” .Needham favors LA-2As for miked bass and also uses the Empirical Labs Distressor (see Fig.3) on the direct signal, as well as “some of the sub programs out there, such as Aphex's Bass Maximize.”

DRUM - BASS: A related challenge is getting a good marriage between the kick drum and bass guitar.“Make sure to compress the kick so that it's punchy but not ringy,” Lord-Alge advises. “But don't compress it to the point where it starts to ring and vibrate, because then it's going to eat up the bottom end, not to mention bring up all the leakage. Generally, you want the kick and bass to have an equal amount of low end. Then match the two together until it feels right.” Lord-Alge says he prefers not to cut any low end from the kick but that often he will, “suck out some of the 400 Hz to get rid of the boxiness.” Once more, he recommends monitoring at a low level to ensure the kick “cuts through enough but not too much, and to make sure it doesn't have too much ‘point’ on it.”

Needham advises keeping the kick and bass at good levels relative to one another to avoid problems during mastering.“That way, if there's not enough or too much low

end overall, it's easy for the mastering engineer to bring both the kick and bass up or down together with EQ. If the kick and bass are out of whack, the mastering engineer is not going to be able to fix it.”

Needham typically starts a mix with the kick drum and then works on the rest of the drums before bringing in the bass. But he warns about equalizing and compressing the drums and bass separately from the mix because of potential EQ imbalances and phase cancellations. “Keep in mind the other instruments that are going to go around the bass and drums,” he says.“For example, if you bring in, say, a string section, or some really loud guitars, the top end on the kick drum and bass tends to get eaten up. After compensating with EQ, the kick and bass may sound too bright when you solo them, “but they're just right when you put them in with the other instruments.”

Kessie, who claims he's “always experimenting with things you're not supposed to do,” describes a different way to mix kick and bass.“I leave the kick in the center and pan the bass to both sides of the stereo spectrum. This can be done a number of ways. For example, you can mult the bass off to another channel or send it to a chorus unit - my fave is the TC Electronic 2290.My newest trick is to mult the bass and send it to two channels of an Aphex 106 Easyrider quad compressor. I then set the Process controls [which control attack and release times automatically] opposite to one another - one side fast, the other slow - and pan the two signals hard left and right. The slight difference in attack/release times makes the bass nicely audible in both speakers, allowing me to run the bass louder without burying the bass drum. When both sounds coexist straight up the center, there's less room for either.”

As for compressors, Needham loves the Distressor, both on kick and snare, and Lord-Alge says that “the built-in compressor on the SSL consoles is usually sufficient for kick drum. ” On snare, Lord-Alge alternates between a “Distressor and an old Neve 2264X in limit mode. The Distressor is good because it's so adjustable.” WHEN THE LEVEL BREAKS Another difficulty beginning mixers often encounter is determining how heavily to apply effects to a mix. Of course, this depends on the song and the market; however, the pros agree that, in general, less is more. “My philosophy on effects is to run as little as possible,” says Kessie. “The main reason is clarity - there is usually a lot going on already, and effects can take up a lot of room. Also, I want to make ‘classic’ mixes that will sound good 20 years from now. Anytime you load on the current ‘flavor of the day’ effect, you run the risk of dating your mix - just listen to any hair-band mix from the '80s.One of the biggest mistakes in amateur mixes is too much reverb. The best approach is to get the mix working as dry as possible; then, if you need some ambience, sneak it in.”

Lord-Alge offers the same advice: “You grill the steak first and then put the sauce on it - you don't put sauce on it while it's grilling. Get the mix sounding good relatively dry and then add the sauce as needed in the places where you feel it adds some attitude. ” Lord-Alge also emphasizes the need for clarity and suggests how to maintain it: “In general, don't put an effect on everything. What you want is clarity - and you're not going to get it unless you leave some things dry. The more goop you pile on, the less definition you get.”

Needham again recommends the fail-safe option of alternate mixes: “If there's ever any question - say, you're worried about a certain delay - simply make one mix with it on and another with it off.” Does Needham ever notice uses of effects on other people's mixes that he thinks of as a mark of amateurism? “Actually, I get some of my best ideas from people who are working in home studios because they're not afraid to try things that are totally off the wall. It’s amazing some of the creative effects they come up with. I usually tell people to bring in those mixes as well as the effects boxes they've been using. Or, if they have extra tracks, they can just print the effects - because often, when you try to duplicate them later, you never come up with something as good.”

CROWDED HOUSE: A common mixing problem is clutter, which can occur when two or more instruments are playing in the same frequency range and thus competing for sonic space. “The trick here,” says Lord-Alge, “is to identify the instrument [in the cluttered part] that's most important to the song and then to move the other instruments out of its way with panning, EQ, or whatever. What you don't want is the middle of the mix all jammed up - try to keep as much out of the middle as possible. There's no rule, of course; it's all instinct. If you have to add a boatload of EQ to make it work, then that's what you do. You're not going to sit back and say, ‘Oh, I think that's too much EQ.’ If it sounds good, who cares how far the knob is turned?”

“I will look at any and all options to keep a mix sounding clean and uncluttered,” says Needham.“If I can't get it to work by changing the EQ or the panning, then it's time to ask, ‘Is this the right part?’ People just getting into mixing often don't realize that the most dramatic tool on the console is a mute button. Rather than just turning things down because, they're a little muddy, sometimes it's better to turn them off, whether just for a section or for the whole tune. Of course, that could be a touchy situation - the band comes back in and realizes you've taken out three guitar parts in the verses! But say you have a piano and guitar playing basically the same part - by leaving one of them out and then bringing it in later to build the second verse or the chorus, you can create a more dramatic difference between the sections.”

Kessie echoes Needham: “Often, the best way to fix poor tonal balances is to mute one of the offenders. Other options are to remove clashing regions with EQ and panning. For example, use panning to make one part stereo and the other mono. I think many mixers avoid putting sounds straight up the middle - but sometimes a key rhythm part panned dead center can really glue a mix tight. Another solution is to use depth: by adding ambience to one part, you can make it seem farther away than the other. Auto panners and other motion-based effects can also be used to differentiate parts: having one part in motion will separate it from a part that's static.”

CAN'T TUNA FISH: Digital-audio editors have provided a relatively easy solution to a problem that can ruin the best of takes - an out-of-tune part. But it wasn't always that way. “Ten years ago,” says Needham, “I used a device that allowed you to control pitch with an automated fader. But you had to do it by ear, which was hard - especially when a note was bending and you were trying to creep the fader up just enough to keep it in tune. ” Once, to deal with some out-of-tune background vocals in the days before digital tuning programs were available, Needham washed them out a bit with echo and chorus and turned them down low in the mix. “People actually dug the sound - ‘Wow, what a mysterious background level!”

These days, dedicated mixers rarely deal with tuning problems. Instead, the problem is often handled by engineers who specialize in tuning vocal tracks - the producer sends the vocal out and it comes back tuned. As Lord-Alge points out, “Tuning is an issue for the producer and the artist. Hopefully, they've sorted out any tuning problems prior to giving you the tape.” Still, any mix engineer worth his salt knows how to tune a vocal track. “The great thing about tuning programs,” says Needham “is that you can rescue a troublesome line that has an emotionally great performance. I usually work on Pro Tools, so I mostly use Antares's AutoTune. But some people get a little carried away with AutoTune: they use it in auto mode and >start taking out pitch bends that are supposed to be there and that support the emotion of the delivery - and sometimes those little pitch bends are what make the vocal work.” Lord-Alge frowns upon of the extent to which tuning correction has become commonplace and is concerned that the ubiquity of digital fixes can

lead to a certain slackness in the recording process.“You know, I'm getting a little tired of hearing that AutoTune sound. Instead of, ‘That's close enough - let's just AutoTune it,’ have the artist sing the part a couple more times; have the vocalist get some attitude into itand get it in tune. An extra ten minutes isn't going to hurt. If the singer just can't hit the note, then AutoTune it. Don’t just use it out of laziness.”

Kessie offers an approach for those times when tuning programs aren't up to the task.“AutoTune doesn't always work for more extensive tuning problems. In really difficult cases, it helps to be running a synched-up sequencer. Then you can drop the offending line into a sampler and use the pitch wheel of your controller to do some amazing fixes that the automatic programs aren't capable of. You can also edit the pitch-wheel MIDI data to get exactly what you want.”

WAYWARD WALLOPS: One mark of a seasoned studio drummer is the ability to play backbeats and other groove-defining parts at consistent levels from hit to hit - a skill that can take years to hone. Not surprisingly, many young drummers have yet to develop that level of control. Hence another common mixing problem: how to deal with inconsistent drum and percussion hits.

In Kessie's view, there is a right way and a wrong way, depending on the capabilities of the engineer and the studio, and on how much time is available. “The right way,” says Kessie “is to replace the weak hits with samples of the strong ones. It’s best to do this on a digital audio workstation, as all triggering devices will induce a delay. A delay may work on the snare, but a delayed kick will ruin a groove. The wrong way is to compress the hell out of the offending sound, because usually the amount of compression needed to compensate for a weak hit will over compress the strong hits. Fader rides can sometimes do the trick, but the fact is that a softer hit turned up louder doesn't sound like a harder hit.”

Needham is quick to point out that “sometimes the inconsistencies are what make it work.” But in general, his approach jibes with Kessie's. “In a situation where one important hit was done correctly and musically right, but only once by the drummer, I would probably copy that hit and paste it where it's appropriate. It’s nice for variety's sake to have more than one good hit, though.

“One thing I use a lot,” he continues, “is Digidesign's Sound Replacer. Not only does it allow you to replace a sound completely, but you can also reinforce the original sound with layers of other sounds, for example to improve the attack, consistency, or tone of a drum hit. Of course, it can be used creatively, too - for example, I've used it to make a kick drum sound bigger in a chorus.”

DIFFICULT PHASE: Phase problems occur most often between stereo or multiple mic signals, but they can also happen between stereo effects, the direct and miked signals from a guitar amp, and even separately recorded tracks. Whatever their origin, unresolved phase problems can spoil an otherwise good mix.

The simplest phase fix is to use one channel rather than two. “If you have an acoustic guitar on two tracks and you can't fix the phase problem,” says Lord-Alge, “choose whichever track sounds better by itself for the mix and just use that one.”

As for correcting phase problems, there are a number of approaches. The first step is to figure out where the phasing lies.“You put the two channels up,” says Needham, “and it's pretty easy to hear the phasing as you bring one of the faders up and down - the whole middle just drops out. Usually one of the channels is 180 degrees out, as on bass guitars where the DI is out 180 from the miked amp. But that's an easy fix - just flip the switch on the console.”

“Phase problems often occur on live drums because of all the mics,” says Kessie. “I'll start with the kick, add one track at a time, and flip the polarity of the new track until the sound is fattest. Sometimes I flip background vocals out of phase because they feel better that way. And sometimes I flip loops and drum-machine parts if it makes them sound better. Careful listening is the key.”

But what about more subtle phasing, such as phasing between signals on a stereo-miked acoustic guitar, where a simple 180 flip doesn't fix the problem? “In that case,” says Needham, “I may actually move one of the tracks in Pro Tools - that is, jog one slightly one way or the other in time until the two tracks line up. You can watch the waveforms or just listen until it's right. I usually do it by ear. I may use the waveforms to start with, but in the end what matters is how it sounds.”

Lord-Alge suggests a similar fix that can be done without the luxury of waveform editing.“In a worst-case scenario, put a delay on the second channel and nudge it a few milliseconds until it feels right. A couple of milliseconds will usually fix it; the trick is to move it just enough to make it sound good while listening in mono.”

Although the pros hold differing opinions about how important it is to mix specifically for mono compatibility - “The only place you find mono speakers these days is in old pickup trucks!” jokes Lord-Alge - they agree that it's wise to check the mix in mono from time to time.“I always check in mono before I print the final mix,” says Needham, “as well as at various stages along the way.”

Switching to mono may introduce another problem: disappearing stereo effects. As Needham explains, that happens because many stereo effects processors - especially inexpensive ones - create a stereo spread by flipping one side 180 degrees out of phase with the other.“One solution,” says Needham, “is to use two separate but identical processors to create the stereo effect. For example, rather than using the left and right outputs from a Yamaha SPX90, use the left outputs from two SPX90s.That way the stereo image doesn't collapse when you go to mono. Of course, another solution is to use the effect in mono.”

Kessie often uses two effects that seem to go “outside the speakers”: a TC Electronic 2290 chorus patch and a 3D processor called Spatializer Pro. “These effects sound great in stereo, but they disappear in mono.I don't mind, though: when the mix is in mono, there's usually too much going on for one little speaker anyway. If the mix gets tighter and a little dryer, that's okay by me.”

ART OF NOISE: A crucial, albeit pedestrian, task for any mixer is making sure all tracks are free from extraneous noise such as unwanted breathing, chair creaks, guitar-strap noise, squeaking drum pedals, and so on. How do the pros clean their tracks? It varies.

Lord-Alge, who works primarily on an SSL console and a Sony PCM-3348 digital 48-track, says, “The first thing I do is make my own copy of the client's tape. Then I tidy up: I put the tracks where I want them to be and I go in and erase everything that's not supposed to be there. If I run into noises - clicks and pops or whatever - I'll either erase them or mute them.”

“Automation is a lifesaver here,” Kessie says, “and noise gates are another. If you don't have either of these, then clean the tracks on a digital audio workstation. But don't erase live drum tracks just because certain drums aren't being played - the sounds of adjacent drums resonating are part of the sound of the kit, so I like to keep those in there.”

Needham says he can usually find any unwanted noise just by listening to the whole mix - but if he can't locate a particular noise, he'll solo everything all the way through until he finds it. He then uses mutes to block the unwanted noise, and he also mutes any instruments (except for drums) that aren't playing. “You don't want to hear someone tuning up a guitar or moving around or whatever.”

As for extraneous breaths from an instrumentalist, they don't bother Needham much.“Usually you can just take out any breaths that are really annoying by riding with

an automated fader. With drum sets, though, I've had to go back and use Sound Replacer - for example, on a track where a mic has fallen out of the clip and is sitting on the tom. On vocal stuff, I've gone back and taken good breaths from other parts of the tune and stuck them in where needed.”

Another common noise problem is accidental distortion, whether from a mic, preamp, or digital recorder. “This can be almost impossible to get rid of,” says Kessie. “It seems that no matter how hard you filter the sound or turn it down, you can still hear it. The best solution is to replace the offending note or phrase with a nondistorted one from another part of the song if possible. If the distortion is on a lead vocal, maybe one of the precomped tracks can be bounced in for a quick note or two. If that fails and you can't get rid of the distortion, try adding more by running the track through Line 6 Amp Farm or a SansAmp. That way, it will sound as if it's supposed to be distorted.”

POTS AND PANS: Poor panning is another common mix problem. “Sometimes you'll hear a mix with multiple guitar tracks, yet it sounds like one giant washy guitar,” Needham says. “ What I like is a wide stereo spread so the song sounds as open and big as possible. It says something that the best mastering engineers - Ted Jensen at Sterling, for example - really know how to widen the stereo spread.”

Needham will do whatever it takes to make a mix more exciting, with little or no regard for what may seem natural. “In some cases I might try to keep the natural acoustic spread of the instruments,” he explains, “especially if the whole band was recorded live in the studio with no baffles. But more often the reality of the recording has absolutely no bearing on the way I pan things in the mix. I might even pan an instrument to a different place during the chorus to make the mix more dramatic.”

Lord-Alge espouses a pan philosophy similar to Needham's. “The trick,” he says, “is to get interplay on the sides. I use three different pannings: left, right, and center. On occasion, if I'm really jammed with percussion or extra guitar parts, I'll use more of the spectrum. But generally, it's hard left, hard right, and center. Start with that and if it sounds too wide, bring in the reins. But start out as wide as you can go.”

Multiple stereo tracks mean more panning options, but here Lord-Alge made an interesting point: “If you pan everything stereo - the guitars, the keyboards, the drums, the background vocals - the mix becomes super mono. Then you have to say, enough of this stereo crap - let's put some things left and others right so we can get some interplay.”

Kessie takes a different view of panning: “To me, mixes with hard left and right pans can sound fake and disconnected. I probably run narrower mixes than most guys because I like the way they feel. To me, a narrower mix just sounds more real and ‘glued together.’”

HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE: A sure sign of an amateur mixing job is a final cut that sounds good on some speakers but awful on others. A professional mix, on the other hand, translates well no matter what it's played on.

“The key,” says Kessie “is to use well-balanced monitors and to listen to your mix on as many different systems as possible. Cheap speakers, car systems, boom boxes, and headphones all provide information about which parts are too loud or are not cutting through. Listening at low volume is good, as is listening from the next room. Also recommended is taking ear breaks and playing some well-mixed CDs for reference. I would much rather work in a room with great monitors than a room with tons of outboard gear. You can always rent extra gear, but if the speaker/room combo isn't right, you will be back doing recalls or begging your mastering engineer for yet another miracle.”

Lord-Alge points out the wisdom of considering the lowest common denominator among listeners. “Ninety-five percent of people listen to music in their cars or on a cheap home stereo. If your mix doesn't sound good on a pair of small speakers, what's the point? A pair of $10,000 powered monitors may sound pristine, but no one else has them, so you're more likely to have a translation problem. An engineer with a little practice who checks the mix on a whole bunch of small, crappy-sounding systems can find the middle ground where it sounds good on everything.”

In addition to Yamaha NS-10s - the speakers he has mixed on for 25 years - Lord-Alge monitors on a small Sony boom box.“I have some big UREIs in the room, but I almost never turn them on. The fact is, 25 years on NS-10s haven't led me wrong yet. Of course, I use a subwoofer with them, and the sub is dialed in just right.”

Needham, too, stresses the importance of using familiar speakers.“I travel a lot, so when I'm out of town, I always try to rent the same model of car - there are two or three that I know the systems in. I always have my own speakers with me for the studio, of course, but a lot of times I'm listening in the car.”

Needham recently replaced the pair of Klark-Technic monitors he had been using for 15 years with a pair of JBL LSR28P powered monitors. “The LSRs are the first JBL product in years that I've been totally in love with. All the mixes I've done on them have translated great. I did my own comparison test of 15 or 20 different sets of speakers and for me the JBLs were the easiest to mix on.”

ALL MIXED UP: Kessie's warns against missing the forest for the trees. “Some producers are unable to prioritize; to them, the correct ping of an 18-inch china cymbal is as important as the lead vocal. They will spend hours equalizing a tom, or endlessly altering the hi-hat level until it's 5:30 in the morning, and the lead-vocal fader hasn't even been opened yet. Don't be one of those people. Prioritize, and then spend your time on the important things. Not everything needs a lot of attention. Big-time mixers know this. They make the important stuff so strong; the little things take care of themselves.”

In parting, Needham beat the drum for multiple prints.“Whenever you get to a place where one person thinks the mix is great and someone else doesn't, just print it to tape and move on. I’ve been in situations where after four hours the mix was sounding great and then five hours later it was like, ‘Aw, man, this sucks!’ But tape is cheap, so now, when I get to a point where I'm happy with the mix - that is, before I start deconstructing it and trying other things - I'll just print that version. That’s also good to do because then you have something to go back and compare to. ‘Damn, five hours ago we really had this nailed!’ And if you have that version on tape, you're covered. You can pack up and go home.”

Lord-Alge, who like Needham is legendary for turning out great mixes fast, puts the subject of gear into perspective.“How about getting the mix done as fast as you can? Use your instinct, find what makes the song work, and go after that. Don't dilly-dally. Make the song work quickly. What’s not important is going through tons of compressors and EQs on every instrument until you feel you have the right ones. Just put your favorites in and use those. Make the song work first before saying, ‘Oh, let me just try this goofy compressor on the background vocals and see if it adds something.’ If you get creative before you even have the song together, by the time you have gone off on your tangent, you won't know what you are doing with the song.

“A lot of engineers think the mix is about the gear, but it's not - it's about your gut instinct. The gear is just there to help you. The most important thing is to make the song work for those who are going to buy it. Period. You're not the artist; it's not your song. If the artist is happy and the label is happy and people respond to the music, then you have done your job. Sitting around playing with your toys isn't going to help make the song a hit. The trick is to gradually incorporate the tools into the process.”

For associate editor Brian Knave, the mystery is how to find time to mix all the songs he has recorded. Special thanks to George Petersen and Steve Oppenheimer.
MYSTERIES OF MIXING, By Brian Knave, Electronic Musician, Apr 1, 2001, thanks Brian

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