Enriching The Mix Process
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Like all creative endeavours, mixing is a blend of technical expertise and personal artistic style with the ultimate goal of expressing and eliciting emotion. It involves constantly switching back and forth from your analytical left brain to your imaginative right brain. Throughout my career, I've found I can end up getting caught up in the technical details while losing sight of the emotional ones. I know when I find myself thinking about how it sounds rather than how it feels, I've veered off course. To combat this, I've continually tried to find and implement methods that help keep me anchored in the emotional end of the process while allowing the technical aspects to take care of themselves. In this post, I'd like to share a few of the methods I find work for me.
1. Visuals / Music / Words
This is something I found significantly changed my process and is perhaps worth a blog post of its own at some point. For the sake of brevity, I will just stick to the method itself. Several years ago, I started asking artists to provide me with visuals that help convey the emotion of the song. While mixing the track, I will then have the visuals playing on a slideshow on a separate computer monitor. The effect of this process on me has been profound. The images help me connect to the song on a deeper level and I found it immediately helped influence decisions on tools, treatments, and direction. It enriched the process in a beautiful and amazing way. I don't always get the opportunity to set this process up, but I love it when it comes together!
Not only do I want to know what sonic references the artist has, but I want to know what they listen to every day. What gets them pumped up and moves them. I ask artists to put together playlists that directly influence the direction of a mix, as well as songs and records that are influential and inspiring to them. I find this helps me to understand and relate to the artist better. Also, it helps builds a common language about music. So when the artist says gritty or bright, I know what they mean and if I don't they can point me to a song that sounds or feels that way to them. Plus, getting these playlists from artists exposes me to a lot of amazing music! Once I have the playlist, I put it in the rotation as soon as I can and I'll have it playing in the studio before I start mixing or while I'm on a break.
This is right in line with working with visuals and can be as simple as descriptive words displayed on a screen, to poems/lyrics, short stories, or all the way to full-on novels. Along with what the artist provides me, I also like to listen to the production or rough mix a few times and write down my own ideas and thoughts about the song. How does the song make me feel? What do I think it's about? What kind of picture does the song paint in my mind? I'll either jot these down on a notepad and keep them near me or I'll write them on the whiteboard in the studio make sure I revisit them when I'm on a break.
2. Preparation & Templates
Definitely not the most exciting topic, but an important one for me. Before starting a mix, I do everything I can so when I start mixing I can work as quickly and creatively as possible. This means my mix template and preparation process is quite involved and separate from mixing itself. I will happily invest the extra time needed to make sure everything is gain staged, routed properly, and has the starting points for signal paths I want in place and ready to rock. Throughout the setup and mixing process, I'll be taking notes on things to improve upon in my template, which I'm constantly refining. Setting up a mix is detailed and nitty-gritty work that the left brain loves! And once all of the boxes involved in setting up a mix are checked and I'm actually mixing, I feel like my left brain chimes in a lot less.
3. Workflow Over Sonics
I'm not going to lie, for too long I allowed sonics and purist mixing techniques to take precedence over creativity and workflow. Often this involved making things too complicated or using plugins or tools that were cumbersome to use. Creativity Killers. This was a hard habit to break. My workflow and plugin choices are now rooted in speed, flexibility, and fun. Don't get me wrong, sonics count, but emotion and workflow count a lot more. Also, there are so many amazing choices for plugins now that are both fun to use and sound great. For example, the Waves Scheps Omni Channel and the Brainworx bx_console SSL 4000 E currently are in heavy use on my mixes. I love working with them and for the majority of the processing I need to do, they cover it. They sound great, are incredibly flexible, fast, and fun. For signal paths and treatments that do get a bit more complicated, I'll either incorporate them into my template or I'll save the preset with Pro Tools handy Track Preset function.
I'll wrap this post up here, but if you have any methods you use to help keep the emphasis on the emotion while mixing please let me know!