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How to get a good mix

An explanation of what it takes to become a record producer.

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Simple. Use a good engineer and stay clear! I mentioned earlier in the series that engineers acquire a vast amount of experience of working with music and sound, and they are the people who should be operating the faders - not the producer, unless the producer comes from an engineering background of course. If the producer sits in the studio from the moment the first fader is raised all the way through to the finish, he will be nothing but an inhibition for the engineer who would really like to get on and tinker with the sounds and try out lots of ideas, many of which might not work. So this will be a good time for you to take a walk in the fresh air and clear your mind ready to make an objective judgment on how the mix is progressing, two or three hours after you left the engineer alone with it. You may leave behind a few ideas or guidelines, or you may even encourage the engineer to go wild and try out some crazy things. When you return, you will hear your production in all its glory and you will be able to advise on what it is you want more of, what you want less of, or you could even say that it is entirely wrong and you want to start again. An experienced engineer accepts that the producer is in charge and won't take offence (he just won't work with you again!).

A trickier question is what makes a good mix. It's especially tricky for the engineer who has to learn every detail of how to get a good mix, since nothing will happen by its own accord. A producer on the other hand doesn't need to know the details but has to be able to recognise when something is right, and offer meaningful comments when it isn't. You need to keep in mind the purpose of the mix. Is it a dance floor mix that should sound great on a club PA? Or is it intended for CD listening at home? A radio mix should emphasise the 'buy me' factor, whatever it is that will attract the listener to the singles counter of the record store. The engineer will always sit in the optimum listening position directly between the speakers while mixing, but you will probably wander around the room. This is so you have the opportunity to hear the mix in less than perfect conditions, which is exactly the way the end user will hear it. Either they will be in a club with the bass turned up to stomach pounding volume, or they have a rubbishy home hifi with the speakers wired out of phase, or they are listening on a car radio in heavy traffic, with a hole in the exhaust. Your mix has to sell the song in each of these situations so while the engineer considers the finer points which will only be appreciated by those with good quality home stereo systems or a decent pair of headphones, you will be looking for the overall impact. If the mix sounds good from any listening position in the control room, then it probably is good. All studios have two or more pairs of monitors so you can check the mix on very high quality speakers or on the console-mounted near fields. You can also have a cassette copy made so you can check the mix on a cheap stereo system, on a Walkman or in the car. The more ways you can listen to the mix the better.

By David Mellor Thursday May 8, 2003
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