"How can I become a professional mix engineer?"
A question from an Audio Masterclass reader...
I have been working as a recording engineer for a few years. How can I take that big step to be a professional mixing engineer?
One thing that people working at a high level in pro audio have in common is that they don't tend to have that much in common!
In other words, everyone's experience is different, and what was the turning point in someone's career could be totally irrelevant to someone else.
In general however, we can start by saying that anyone who is already working as a recording engineer, and earning their living at it, is already doing pretty well. Congratulations on that.
But being a recording engineer isn't necessarily the most well-paid job in the world. Being a super-star mix engineer however can really bring in the dollars.
You could ask the question why is it that mix engineers are so well paid?
One reason is that record labels never really know why a record is a hit, particularly when it's a new artist.
If a new artist has a hit, was it the artist, the song, the producer, the hairdo, the dance moves... or the mix engineer?
Yes, the mix engineer is considered.
Unfortunately the recording engineer doesn't always seem to get this same consideration. He is probably hidden under the producer's shadow, rightly or wrongly.
So if a mix engineer has worked on a hit record, he or she is part of the winning formula.
You don't change a winning formula.
And of course when the mix engineer has a hit, his or her manager will want to up the rates for the next job.
So if you are a recording engineer already, how do you 'upgrade' to being a mix engineer?
As I said, everyone's situation is different. But one common factor is that to get work in any area of audio, you already have to have done it successfully.
So no-one will give you work as an assistant engineer until you have already worked as an assistant engineer.
No-one will give you work as an engineer until you have engineered a track that gets released.
And certainly no-one will let you sit in the producer's chair until you are a successful producer!
So it sounds impossible, except that everyone has to get started somewhere. But how?
The answer is that people often get started by chance.
One day a studio's assistant engineer doesn't turn up. So the guy who has previously been cleaning up gets to put mics on stands.
One day the engineer's car breaks down, so the assistant engineer has to take over for a while.
One day the producer has flu, so the engineer gets to offer a few of his ideas.
Get the picture?
With a mix engineer, the situation is different. You're not going to get a big-paying job by accident.
But you do have to create that first big-selling mix that shows you can do it.
And how do you do that?
Answer - by taking every opportunity you can to mix, and get people to listen to what you have done.
So for example, if you're working on a session and the producer decides that the recording phase is complete, ask if you can have a go at mixing it, in your own time (like the middle of the night).
If you think you have done an amazing job, and be harshly self critical, get the producer to listen to it.
If he likes it, he'll take it away with him.
Perhaps no-one, not even a seasoned mix engineer can make a mix that's better than yours. So your mix is the one that gets released.
Hey - you're a mix engineer!
OK, so I'm telling a story here. But it isn't that far from reality.
So all you highly-paid mix engineers out there - how did you get the gig?
In fact, if you're a successful musician, writer, engineer or producer we would love to know what happened to get your career really off the ground.
Tell us below...