First off, there is no such thing asa “perfect” mix. If you listen criticallyand objectively to all the music floatingaround this orb we call PlanetEarth, you’ll notice that myriad sonicspectrums exist. There are thin and spiky mixes, fat and warm mixes,mixes with tons of bass, mixes that sound as if they were recorded insidea yak’s colon, mixes that are dense,mixes that are minimalist and airy,and on and on and on. And whatdoes this diverse assemblage of mixsoundscapes have in common? Practicallyevery single one of them hascharted a smash hit.
So, you see—the pressure is off.You can basically deliver almost anymix to an audience and score kudos,acclaim, and, if you’re really lucky, massive royalty checks. The real trick here has nothing to do with frettingover whether the bass is too loud or ifthe vocal sounds too thin. The mostpositive goal is ensuring that whatevermix direction you chose, it energizesyour music and blasts it right out of the listener’s playback system.
Of course, you can worry yourselfinto hamster sweats over that objective, as well, but let’s not gothere right now. Instead, let’s focus onthree tactics that can help your mixesseduce an audience without your having to spend days freaking outover whether to boost the midrangeon a snare track by 3dB or not. Youknow who you are. Read on.
This is an awful and merciless truththat few musicians have the guts toface. You can craft the greatest sonicmix ever rendered in recording history,and if your song is a dog, thatpuppy is going nowhere—that is,unless an angel kisses your foreheador Lady Luck takes pity on your sorryass. Personally, I’ve never been thatlucky, so I put a lot of energy in tryingto ensure the song—and the songarrangement—is worth recordingbefore I set up a single microphone. Knowing whether you actually have something to record is key, and, deepdown, I believe even the most egotisticalschmuck knows when he or shehasn’t done their best work. You justhave to admit it to yourself—which ispainful. But it’s worse putting tons ofeffort into recording sessions andmixes, only to discover at the end-ofthe-line that you’ve slapped a nicepaint job on a derelict wreck of asong that should have been tossedinto the “bad ideas” bin months back.So work that song viciously hard untilit gives you goosebumps from introto outro. If you can do this, I think you’llfind the mix will come together aseasy as vanilla-bean ice cream andchocolate cake.
One of the most interesting—andtime consuming—mix tactics I’ve witnessedis soloing an individual track,working judiciously on the tone andsignal processing for that one track,and then moving on to the nextsoloed track. The classic example isfocusing on the sound of the kickdrum, then soloing the snare andworking on that sound, then soloingeach tom, and so on. Um, did it everoccur to you that the individual mixelements you are so carefully dialingin must ultimately coexist with everyothe...