I get asked the question about what makes a great mixing engineer a lot. It seems most people think it’s some voodoo magic audio equipment that only the top mixing engineers can afford. Well, that’s not the case at all and I’m going to try and dispel that myth.
A lot of the top audio mixing guys now only mix “in the box” and are using the exact same plug-ins that you do. What I’ve noticed through my years of experience of being a mix engineer/studio rat, is that it boils down to 3 simple things……
- Communication skills
Practice – I’d have to say this is probably the most important part of what makes a great mixing engineer. Just like at anything, the more you practice mixing, the better you’ll get at it. It’s a craft. No one is born a natural mix engineer. The more mixes you do a week, the more experience you get. The better you become. It’s that simple. As a mixing engineer, you want to get to a point where you’re not having to think at all about the technical side of things. It’s getting to the point where you can flawlessly turn your technical knowledge into the creative vision you hear for the song. Constantly practicing will get you there.
My mixing has only gotten better with age and I think the main reason for that is that I’m constantly learning new mixing tips from people and mixing songs every day, working on my craft. Even now, as experienced as I am, you can always be learning new things every day and adapting to new technologies. Try taking 20 minutes out of your day and learn a new mix tip. Do that for 6 months and put them into practice and see how much better you become. There’s so much free information on youtube and a plethora of online music tutorials available at your fingertips that there’s no reason not too. Also, another great tip is to listen to mixes that inspire you and A/B them against your own mixes. This technique is great to see where you’re coming up short on your mix and to make the correction accordingly.
Listening – Listening and knowing what the song needs. This is another huge aspect of becoming a great mixing engineer. Every song is going to be different and present you with a different set of challenges, whether it be a lot of room noise in the vocal, or the guitar has crazy amounts of high end that’s taking up all the space in the mix, whatever it is, you as the mix engineer have to diagnosis the problem and be able to confidently make the right decision.
Plugin “presets” that sounded great before in earlier mixes aren’t always going to work on a different song that’s been recorded differently. This to me is what makes being a mix engineer so much fun. It’s always a different equation every time to solve a mix problem. If I used the same plug-in and gear the exact same way on every song, I would be bored to tears! There is really no right or wrong way to do something. It’s all about trusting your ears. I can be doing some crazy compression or EQ cuts that visually make no sense whatsoever, but if it sounds good within the mix, you bet I’m going to do it!
Communication Skills – Being able to effectively communicate with your mix clients is crucial and I feel like one of the most overlooked traits of great mixing engineers. Mixing music can be very subjective. What you think is a great mix, your client might think is overly compressed or has too much bass in it. Everyone has different tastes. What’s important for you as a mix engineer is to respect the creativity of your artist’s song and take into consideration their suggestions. Your job is to see their vision and take it to that next level they couldn’t. One great way to point your mixes in the right direction is to ask the artist for a couple reference mixes. No one is a mind reader. If they like tons of reverb on their vocals, this will tell you right away. I’m not saying not to make mixing suggestions if you completely disagree with them on a certain direction, because I promise you, you will. But always try their ideas out and maybe give them a different version of where you were hearing the song go.
What you have to remember as a mix engineer is at the end of the day, the client is paying you, and they’re the ones who have to live with the end result of the mix forever. So making them happy and being able to effectively communicate both their ideas and yours together is vital to becoming the great mix engineer you want to be.