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Introduction to mixing

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

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Much has been written about mixing from an engineer's point of view, not so much from a producer's point of view however. Many years ago, before the modern era of multitrack, recording and mixing were part of the same process. You had to get a good balance between the voices and instruments at the session because there was no way of making any adjustments later. In fact much orchestral music is recorded in the same way today, directly to stereo. Mixing directly to stereo is also very common for today's popular music, in live PA work and broadcasting. The reason that it is possible to do without a multitrack stage in these situations is that the engineer knows before even one fader has been lifted what the final recording should sound like - as close to the original as possible. Since skilled engineers can achieve such remarkable results, you might wonder why we need a multitrack stage at all. The answer is that it allows much more attention to be paid to each element of the recording in terms of sound quality, musicality and creativity. Paying as much attention to these three aspects as they deserve is why recording takes so long and why you have to put so much effort into it.

The producer should ideally start the mixing process as soon as the project gets off the ground. He should have an idea of the sound he is aiming for, allowing a certain amount of scope for creativity depending on the nature of the project, the requirement for creativity sometimes being great, sometimes comparitively modest. If it is a dance music record, for instance, then the producer will understand the style well enough to know the elements of the music that his audience demand, and will add to those elements new and different sounds and textures to push the style further into the future. If the producer knows how every step of the preparation and recording process is going to contribute to the final mix, then the mixing stage should be straightforward and successful. This means, among other things, getting the arrangement right and selecting the right sounds, making sure the musicians are playing in time and in tune, obtaining a good performance from the singer by whatever means necessary. If there is a problem in any of these areas, then you can only turn a deaf ear to it for so long - until the mix in fact. Any problems present on the tape at the mixing stage will have to be disguised or covered up. Those problems should have been corrected as soon as they occurred.

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By David Mellor Friday May 9, 2003
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