What is Mixing?
Today we're talking about mixing and I kind of want to start with a question. What is mixing? And I'm just curious because I think there's a lot of people who don't understand what mixing really is. So I want to ask you guys actually. Can we introduce everyone?
Totally. Let's go ahead and grab a mic and
I'm Aaron. Recording Tacoma just a freelance in engineering and production.
I'm John. I'm freelance and do all sorts of heavy stuff, orchestral stuff and live stuff.
Hi, yeah I'm Trent. I have a studio down in Lakewood called Soul Seven Studios. And I just do engineering production and music, whatever.
I'll start with you. So, what is mixing to you? What do you think mixing is?
It's one of those things like what does a producer do? There's kind of a lot to it. But basically it's kind of like taking the puzzle pieces that have been cut and made up and like putting them together into a cohesive picture and having some type of direction for it.
Mixing to me is just ta...
king all the different pieces and taking a step away from it either if it's from you're getting hired to put it together for someone or my own stuff or your own stuff. Putting it all together and shaping it so it's a pleasure to listen to. It's a direction. It's taking everything and putting it together.
Mixing to me is taking all the elements that you record and gluing them together and bringing them all out to be presentable audibly all across just evenly. Punchy and whatever catches your ear.
Okay so you guys have a pretty traditional understanding of what mixing is or what it should be. However, I think I've narrowed this down into different methods of mixing that get different outcomes. So today we're gonna talk about the differences between those and it starts with to some people mixing is drum replacement, reamping guitars, autotune and sound design. I know that might sound a little crazy because you guys just explained the traditional understanding of mixing, but I've been asked to mix a song and when I get it, it's DI tracks of guitars with no amp signals and I'm expected to create a guitar tone. It's midi drums. You know, there's no kicker, snare, mic. It's just midi signals that are supposed to be kicking snare hits. Pitchy vocals, you know vocals that for me, when I'm mixing a song I expect it to come to me completely recorded and edited and ready to be mixed. But what happens is, people will, they'll put it all together and they'll give it to you. And you'll send it back and they'll say, well the vocals they're pitchy. They sound flat. Well that's how you sang it. You gave it to me like that. So they kind of expect you to pitch correct it or something. And I really want to stress that that's not a part of mixing. And then sound design. You have a lot of people who say, hey can you add bass drops and can you add these, can you make big explosions. Well I didn't produce your song and I'm not producing your song. I'm just mixing it so why are you asking me to do those things. Now to other people, it's about balance. It's about energy. It's about tone, it's about width. I think that's the school of thought that I come from which is mixing a song should be about taking a magical moment, or combination of magical moments, and making it sound awesome. Really making that shine so that that translates across to someone else that's listening to the song. You know you want them to feel the emotion of what the artist intended. I feel like you can't really accomplish that when you're replacing snare drums and reamping guitars and autotuning vocals. So mixing is subjective. There's different approaches to doing this. So I'm gonna talk about three different approaches to mixing. I think I've narrowed this down into three things. And I kind of gave them names so pardon me if the names are weird. I had to figure out something to call these things. Alright so starting with creative mixing. This is more of the Andy Wallace style of doing things where you take the production that the band has put together. And the artistic vision is intact and everything's there and the song is great. But in order to achieve sonic glory. You know, make this song sound historical, he will go in and craft his own sounds. For example, you can have a snare sound and then he can trigger that snare with a different snare sample and send it to a reverb so that a reverb snare is actually. Let's say that the song has a high pitched snare, right? And then the reverb is using a low pitch snare sample to create a different type of ambience that he's looking for. So I'm calling this creative mixing. It's where you've taken the song and you're leaving the artistic vision intact, but you're adding layers of sound. You might add your own snare samples just for your reverb send. Or you might add one note on the guitar like the lowest octave of the note to make the guitar sound like they have more bass. Tiny little things like that. Little elements that add to the mix to achieve interesting results. The second method of mixing is production mixing. I'm calling this the typical, the classic method of mixing where you take a song and you don't add anything to it. You're not replacing any drums, you're not adding guitar parts, anything. All you're doing is just mixing the material that is there. And then there's the third method of mixing which is replacement mixing. I think there's a new generation of people who are getting into this who don't understand the difference of these three. So the replacement mixing is where you basically create the sound of the song from scratch. The material that has been given to you is DI guitars, midi tracks, basses supposed to be programed. All those things. So we need to know the difference of these three and we need to know why it matters. I want to kind of talk a little bit about how not every project is the same. So you're gonna work with different people and you're gonna work with different types of songs and your jobs are going to be different too. So those three variables are going to cause you to do a combination of these modes of mixing. You might work with an artist who doesn't want to completely decide the sound of the song in the studio. They might want to have that freedom of, well I'm not really sure what kind of guitar tone I want, but I still want to record now. I want to record the guitar part now and get that done and then we'll play around with guitar sounds later. That should be available to the artist because at the end this is art. So there doesn't have to be rules and there doesn't have to be narrow pathway to go down. So I look at this as like, not any one of these is more positive or negative than the other. They're just just options. It's different ways of doing things. So know who you're working for too because you don't want to get someone's song and have this guitar tone that you don't like and then you replace it and they go, wait why did you replace my guitar tone? I gave you the guitar tone I wanted you to use. You don't want to just go out and do that. So you gotta have some communication with the people you're working with to see are they comfortable with me replacing the guitars. Do they want me to use their kickvsound or are they okay with me using my own. Or will they be comfortable with me blending in some samples, things like that. Let's talk about the pros and cons of each method. So with replacement mixing, the pro is you have total control of every moment of the song. You can make it sound exactly how you want because you're working with all the original signals. All the raw signals. The con of that is we lose the uniqueness of the artists' vision. You know, the magic that comes from mixing a song in the moment. Having the song all set up in front of you and ready to go. And you hit play and you start moving faders and stuff. That magic gets lost when you try and construct the song from scratch. When you're sitting their dialing distortion tones and stuff, how are you going to make good movements like in the energy of the mix. Now with the creative mixing, the pro is we can keep the artist vision intact. And we can add things, sounds and stuff to make the song sound bigger and better. The con is that's a fine line to walk between what they expect and what you expect. So they might have expectation of, you don't want to cross the line of the artistic endeavor, you know? So are they cool with you adding these sounds. And maybe they don't want you adding pads but you think the only way to make this chorus sound bigger is to add this pad. I want to add it. It's just going to follow the notes. I'm not really changing the song. I'm just making the chorus sound bigger. But the artist might disagree with you. So you need to have a comfortable understanding of that. And then with production mixing, the positive is, I think this is the true method of mixing. This is what produces the magical results. This is the stuff that gave us Bohemian Rhapsody and gave us the magical mixes that we have grown to love. However, with that method there is less control. And it's also very revealing. If there's no pitch correction and there's no editing and there's no snare replacements, every single mistake will be revealed (laughs). Which isn't always a bad thing. I mean, if you listen to Foo Fighters, it's pretty raw and rock and roll. It's not perfect. It's not to the grid which is awesome. That's what makes them what they are and their music would sound silly if it was mixed with replacement mixing for example. Okay so let's also talk about real quick what mixing is not. It's not editing. It's not adding keyboard parts unless you're doing this with the agreed understanding that we send you the song, but we also want you to add your artistic vision to it. And it's also not autotune. It's not pitch correction. So the other thing that's really important to understand about this point here is, that when you are mixing, you need to be capable of being creative and making movements on the song that are contributing to the creative sound of the song. When you are editing, when you are doing pitch correction, when you're adding, when you're doing replacement mixing, you're not in that flow. You're not in that mode of thought. Your mode of thought is to sound design basically. So you want to put yourself in a creative mode. And in order to do that, you need to have everything already pitch corrected. Everything needs to be completely edited. Not moving things around in time, but focusing on sound and sonics and the balance. So what do you do? Today's landscape requires flexibility. What do I mean by that? I mean that you have to think of this, every single job, every single song as a different situation. It's not always going to be one best way to do it. So good communication skills and talking to your client and making sure you understand the goals and the needs of the project. And not just assuming that, oh I'm just going to open this up and replace the drums and reamp the guitars and stuff. Figure out what makes sense for you and charge accordingly. So if you feel like it requires more energy and more effort to replace the drums, then maybe that is something you will charge more for. If you're charging money to do this. Maybe that takes more of your time. The third thing is, if you write something on the song, you should be getting points for it. I think there's kind of a lack of understanding in terms of how the business side and the musical side of it works. You have a lot of people out there who are writing stuff for songs and not being properly compensated for it. And I think if you are contributing to the song in that regard, you should get points for that. But at the same time, you should be realistic. If you're fighting over a part that you wrote for a song and the band that plays for crowds of 50 every night, it might not be really worth the argument. And that's not to say anything bad about the band or you, but pick and choose your battles I guess. Now for me, I always fall in between production mixing and creative mixing. I have a lot of people who want me to take a song and add my little creative flare to it. They want me to add extra sounds and things that weren't there in the original production because I've become known for having that as a good skill set. I was actually asked to do this so much, that I created a company called Mixing Bros. And that's what the company does is they build your songs from scratch. So you can send in your song. It can be midi tracks, DI, raw vocals. Everything just completely flat and we can build a whole mix and a whole sound around it. Now today and throughout this course, I'm going to be mixing in the box. Which is a completely different world than mixing analog. And I just want everyone to understand that the analog world, the in the box world and analog world, they're really not replacements for each other. I think they're just two different things. There's two different ways of accomplishing the same goal. Now with analog mixing, it costs about 10 times more to be an analog mixing engineer. To actually own a board and pay the high electricity bill. To have it turned on and stuff like that. So I just wanted to make it clear that this whole thing is about mixing in the box. And maybe some of these things will apply to the analog methods.