Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, engineer and the owner of recording studios in both Nashville and New York City. Cliff is also a regular contributor to EQ Magazine and Pro Sound News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once you’ve decided to up the ante and put your music online for the world to hear, it’s in your best interest to pay close attention to every step in the recording process. One of the most vital of these steps is the mix of your song. It’s not enough to have a great song. You need a great recording and a strong mix is an essential part of any great recording. The art of mixing (and make no mistake, it is an art) is not a skill everyone possesses. It’s well worth your while, even if you’ve recorded your tracks yourself in your home studio, to seek out an experienced mixing engineer. While there is no substitute for a dynamic, exciting musical performance, a good mix can enhance every aspect of that performance so that the final sonic result truly makes your song stand out. On the other hand, a poor mix can severely compromise even the best song and performance. Only you can write and sing your songs. That makes you an expert in those areas. However, unless you’re also an expert mix engineer, I’d highly recommend going to someone who is.
I get it. Everyone wants to save money. I do, too, but there are places to save and places to invest. In an effort to keep recording costs down, many musicians have purchased their own recording equipment. This is terrific and there’s never been a better time to buy affordable, high-quality gear. As long as you’re as passionate about learning the engineering process as you are about your music, you’ll do great. Owning your own recording equipment also takes a lot of the pressure off when it comes to experimenting in the studio. Finally, it allows you to record as many takes as necessary to get the performances you want without worrying about the clock. However, one way to make the absolute most of your recorded performance is to let an expert mix them. It’s amazing what a talented, experienced mix engineer can bring out of a mix that might otherwise get lost or obscured at the hands of a less able mixer.
Before You Mix
Before I cover in greater depth what makes up a good mix, let’s go back to performance for a moment. No matter how great the mix engineer may be there are some things you simply cannot fix in the mix. To be more specific, there is no way to “mix in” a great vocal or instrumental performance. What makes a performance great might surprise you. For example, sometimes it’s what you don’t play that counts the most. In my experience, the best studio musicians are the best listeners. What I mean by this is that great players base their instrumental performance on whatever else is going to be played in the song so that all the instruments work together as a whole to serve the song and NOT their individual egos. Playing too much is the hallmark of an amateur studio musician. Secondly, the timely use of dynamics (where to play louder/softer or with greater/less intensity) is essential to a mix that breathes and has shape to it. Simply moving up and down a volume fader won’t do the same thing. When it comes to singing, all the Auto-Tune and reverb in the world won’t give a vocal performance real sincerity and emotion. All this to say, make absolutely certain that the performances are exactly how you want them before you start the mix process.
Stay tuned for Part II, coming up next week!