Help! I Have 24 Hours to Save a Horrible Mix

The mix is horrible. As this article will come in two parts I’m going to spend the part one of this article giving you ways to completely avoid this situation to begin with. Then in part two I’m going to give you ways to salvage a desperate situation based on three different budget scenarios. How To Avoid the Above Situation in the First Place I understand how exciting it can be when you’re nearing the end of a recording project. You can almost count the money you’re going to make from sales or royalties. Stop! You’ve spent years perfecting your craft. You’ve taken your time and learned to sing write songs play instruments and in some cases even to engineer your own material in your home studio. Why would you try and rush one of the most critical stages of the game? A mix is the culmination of all your effort and should be handled precisely and patiently. My sincere recommendation is that you never promise a song to anyone in the industry for any reason until you’re dead certain you have a finished mix you can submit with confidence. By avoiding situations where you’ve promised something you don’t have you won’t run the risk of not delivering and appearing undependable or worse yet turning in something that’s sub par. Set yourself apart from the stereotype of the flaky musician by delivering what you say you’re going to when you say you will. It might help to remember that at a certain level in the music world talent is a given. You have a better chance of differentiating yourself by being a professional in all senses of the word. The Mix Process Whether you’re mixing the song yourself in your home studio or working with a professional mix engineer take your time. Listen to the mix on the speakers in the studio in your car on a boom box and Steve Jobs help us all on those crappy $30 ear buds that come with every iPod. Of course your mix won’t sound as good on a boom box or through ear buds but it should still sound clear. You should be able to hear the vocal and distinguish the individual instruments without for example the bass making the speakers rattle so much that nothing else is audible. Also it’s been my experience that singers tend to want their own vocals too low in the mix because they’re either self-conscious or they think because they already know the words that the lyric is clear enough…or both. My recommendation is to bring in one or two friends (ideally not musicians) to listen to your mix and give you their honest opinion. Musicians as a rule tend to listen to the wrong things in a mix. The average listener will give you valuable feedback like “I can’t hear the guitar because the drums are too loud” or “I can’t hear what you’re singing.” Musicians tend to get into the nitty gritty and often can’t keep the big picture in perspective. The one exception would be if you’re a relatively new engineer and you’re uncertain about how your mix sounds. In this case it might be worth your while to talk to an experienced mix engineer and even hire them to give you detailed criticism about things you can do to improve your mix. Working With A Mix Engineer For non-engineers the main thing to remember when giving your mix to a professional mix engineer is to let them mix. My recommendation would be for you to explain to the engineer that you’re going to leave the mix to them and you’d like them to let you know when your mix is ready to review. Then take the mix home listen to it on various sound systems (as I mentioned above) and take detailed notes about what you’d like to go over with them when you see them again. For example instead of saying that there are some words in the song that aren’t loud enough you’d do better to say “in the second chorus the word “aardvark” is a little too low.” It is infinitely easier for an engineer to go over a checklist of things to review in a mix than it is for you to have them stop playback every time you think you hear something. In other words do your homework and use your studio time with the mix engineer to methodically tweak whatever needs tweaking.   When It’s Done It’s Done By following the approach I’ve mentioned above you’ll avoid the gut-wrenching feeling that you’ve got an opportunity you’re going to miss or screw up if your mix isn’t ready in twenty-four hours. My final piece of advice for this section of the article is to remember that once you’ve signed off on a mix it’s in your best interest to let it go. Like songs mixes can be tweaked and tweaked ad infinitum but my hope for you is that you’ve got enough else on your plate to know when to say when. Do your best and move on. The more you go through the process the easier the “letting go” will become. Stay tuned for Part II of this article coming soon. Weblogs