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 email@example.com.
Too Late! I’ve Only Got 24 Hours To Fix My Horrible Mix
OK, so you didn’t have a chance to read the first part of this article before you made the mistake of promising your mix to someone in the music industry and, as it stands, the mix just isn’t going to cut it. What do you do? Well, there are a variety of options and, as with almost everything in life, it’s only a matter of money. After explaining a bit about why a mix may be horrible, I’m going to give you three financial scenarios and how you can repair your mix in each of them. By the way, no matter what the scenario, be clear with the engineer up front that you’re under a considerable time crunch and give them an exact deadline. This way, there can be no misunderstanding about when you need your mix.
Why Does My Mix Sound Horrible?!?
For the sake of this article, we’re going to limit ourselves to the mix itself as the culprit. Often, especially early in one’s recording career, the bigger issues of a mix go back to the actual recorded performances. Unless the players/singers involved have a decent amount of studio experience, their performances tend towards the tentative or worse. But as I said, we’re going to assume the performances are solid and it really is a mix issue. Mixes can sound bad for a variety of reasons and this article is not really the venue for a technical explanation so I’ll keep the following descriptions brief. If you’re a beginning sound engineer here are a few things to think about. With the instruments, it generally comes down to a lack of each instrument having its own place in a mix whether for reasons of volume, panning, EQ or compression. With vocals, the issue is usually clarity (level, EQ & compression) and effects (reverb, delay, etc.). When a mix sounds dull and unexciting, it’s generally because things are over-compressed. If you’re not a sound engineer and you’ve gotten your mix back from someone who is (or claimed to be) and you’re not happy, the above descriptions are a good place to start when describing your problems to your new mix engineer.
Scenario #1 – Money Is No Object
For obvious reasons, this is the best position to be in with a bad mix and very little time to fix it. There are some real miracle workers out there who can take a crummy mix and bring the whole thing to life in relatively short order. Also, even though these folks are busy, it’s likely that not every one of the projects they’re working on is urgent. Your best bet would be to come in, explain the urgency of your situation and bring the mix (and mix files) with you so the engineer in question can give it a look/listen on the spot. Without necessarily saying you’ve got all the money in the world to throw at this mix, simply say that you understand this is last minute and you need their best work right away. Ask them what their fee would be (they ought to be able to give you a very close estimate) and accept. This is not the time to haggle as you’re asking for a lot from someone who is probably busy enough to say “thanks but no thanks” if you start to negotiate. By the way, whether you have the money right now or not, it’s in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the best engineers/studios in your area. You might not need them now but some day you might. It’s generally free to go visit a studio and talk to the owner or engineer and get a sense of their capabilities and rates.
Scenario #2 – You’ve Got A Few Hundred Bucks
You’ve got a couple of options here. First, you might want to ask a top engineer if they know of anyone who’d be willing to work for less. Often, top engineers have assistants who do good work and would love a chance to work on something at a more reasonable rate. A second-and perhaps better-option is to consider the world of independent producer/engineers who are in every town especially the music towns of Nashville, New York and LA. These guys might not have the reputations of the big engineers but will still do excellent work at reasonable rates.
Scenario #3 – You’re Out of Money
Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re kind of screwed. You can pass up whatever opportunity was 24 hours away and hope that when your finances are a bit more flush you can go in and repair what’s wrong. Or you can turn the mix in as is. In this scenario, I’d almost always opt for passing on the opportunity. In the music industry, it’s very easy to poison the well by turning in something that isn’t ready for prime time. It’s better to make up an excuse and pass than to turn in something half-baked.
However, there are a few other options. First, the same top engineer that has assistants might also have interns. These guys might get the use of the studio from 2am to 8am and would be willing to work for nothing to gain experience and your loyalty. It’s certainly worth asking the top engineer if there are any interns who’d like to do the mix. The downside, of course, is that you’ll be working with an intern and there’s no guarantee you’ll get something better than what you’ve already got. Then again, you might. Second, if you’re really creative, talented, and lucky as all hell, there may be another way. Let’s assume you’ve got a terrific song and an almost “sure thing” to get it placed. You can always offer an engineer a significant piece of the pie if/when the song gets placed. Let’s assume the engineer loves the song and understands that there’s real potential. In a best-case scenario, the song does generate income and you end up giving half or more to the engineer. Be aware that this could end up being much more money for the engineer than the original mix would have cost you had you paid directly. You’ll have to chalk it up to experience and look at the placement as more of a resume builder than an income generator. I feel the need to say that this scenario is extremely rare. Most talented mix engineers are making a living by being paid for their work and not by taking chances on songs that are brought to them by unknown clients at the last minute. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I’m a firm believer that if you want to earn income from your music, you have to treat it like a well-run business.
Your Best Bet
No matter which of the above scenarios you find yourself in, you’ll have sacrificed the one thing that music has to offer over most other businesses…fun. By adding a tight deadline, you’ve just introduced stress into the equation that, in most cases, could have been avoided. As I mentioned in the first part of this article, when it comes to mixing, your best bet is to be methodical, patient and sure you’ve got a mix you’re proud of before you start finding uses for it. After all, this is music we’re talking about and enjoying the process of making it is one of the best things a career in music has to offer.