Every time I work at a mixdown, I alway try to find something I can learn from and apply it to the next mix. This really is nothing new for me because I have been doing recording and mixing for almost 30 years, starting from a 4-track reel-to-reel in my bedroom. This last mix was definitely no exception.
I sought the advice of a friend of mine, who is a very successful engineer and producer, and also makes a lot of the drum samples that I use within my mixes. The things I learned from him on this mix were eye opening. He just listened to my mix and was able to tell me what was wrong. He then gave me some great tips and techniques that I applied and got an eye-opening moment from them.
The one main thing I really managed to internalize from this mix was the importance of mixing at lower volumes. I wouldn’t say that I mix loud. After all, I do want to protect my ears as well. However, it is loud enough to alter the perception of certain frequencies… you know, the ol’ Fletcher-Munson curves and such. So, I was instructed to turn everything down very low… almost whisper volume. I should then balance the mix at that volume. I should also work with the vocals at that level. Once I get it working at that level, it will work at any level. When I was mixing it loud, my ears must have been compressing the vocals, so it didn’t seem that loud compared to the rest of the mix. However, at the whisper level, I could barely hear the music above the vocals. Once I brought the vocals down and could hear the music and the vocals together, I the proceeded to mix the vocals at that level, supplying whatever automation I needed for it there. Once I got it, I turned it up and listened. The vocals sat right in at that point. I was amazed at how well that worked. It’s funny how I heard many times from Charles Dye that I should mix at a low volume. It just didn’t sink in until now. Now, between the vocals and the bass, it all sat in nicely.
I learned other lessons as well, such as the fact that if I need to, I can split my tracks up into multi tracks. I don’t need to have the vocals sitting all on one track. I also don’t need to do everything on one track. Tonight, I used two kick tracks and emphasize the click frequencies in one of them and brought them up under the main kick. All of a sudden, the kick sounded totally clear and I didn’t need as much compression as I had on it before. That was totally cool! All these available tracks and I have only discovered its power now.
It’s things like these that make me glad that I feel I don’t know a lot, despite the many years I have done this. It opens me up to learn new techniques. Now, I can’t wait to work on the next song as not only will I apply what I have learned from this mixdown session, but I know I will learn new things from the next session.