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Who should judge whether or not a mix is good?

Who should judge whether or not a mix is good?

Made any good mixes lately? Who said they were good? Only you? Hmmm...

by David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

There is one ultimate arbiter of whether a mix is good or bad - the buying public. If they buy, then the mix must be good. If they don't buy, well there's something they don't like about the product and it might be the mix.

The problem is that other than holding focus group sessions (does anyone do that?), there is no way of telling what the public likes until the product is released. So someone earlier in the chain must decide whether the mix is good. So who?

Well let's consider the chain of record production. It goes like this...

  1. Songwriter
  2. Arranger (possibly)
  3. Artist
  4. Producer
  5. Mix engineer
  6. A&R Manager
  7. A&R Director
  8. Marketing department
  9. Buying Public

Well let's start with who doesn't get a say in the acceptance of a mix. If you are a songwriter, then unfortunately you fall into this group, unless you have an additional role elsewhere in the list. Think of the money though. 9.1 cents per track. Wayhey!

If you're the arranger then you will get paid, watch the record go on to sell millions of copies, and wonder why you don't get royalities on the clever countermelody you wrote in, which is actually why people are buying the song. No say in the mix I'm afraid, you're already slaving away on your next job.

As an artist things look better. As a recent graduate of American Idol or The X Factor you will have no say in anything. You'll do as you are told or be dropped. But when you have established your career, you will find that your say is increasingly respected.

Now, the producer. In the 'olden days' of recording, the producer had pretty much the final word, although they might have to argue their case through A&R. But now it is normal that the mix engineer will take over when the recording phase is complete. The producer will hope to see their work take wings and hear in the finished mix everything they could possibly have imagined, and more. And if they don't like the mix, well a producer with an established reputation should have the power to say, "Let's go back to the faders guys."

Ultimate power of course lies with the person signing the checks, and that, literally or effectively, is the A&R Director (or a senior A&R Manager) of the record label. He's the guy who has to be totally blown away by the mix. It doesn't matter if everyone else likes a mix, if the A&R Director doesn't think it's as great as it needs to be then it will have to be reworked, or re-done. Or given to a different mix engineer.

So to sum up, although the A&R Director is the ultimate client, any mix has to please a number of key people. The combination of all of their knowledge, skill and experience will - hopefully - guarantee that the track is a hit.

This article was inspired by Zen and the Art of Mixing by Mixerman, who has blown away so many artists, producers and A&R directors in his time that he now ties them down first.

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass
Thursday March 17, 2011

Readers' comments on this article...

Patek, Benin, Nigeria
Tuesday August 30, 2011

do you offer live training on sound production and engineer mixing and mastering
Anonymous
Wednesday March 23, 2011

it's cute, but still prefer tapeOP , but you could do it here too, just try a little harder please. as far as the chain is concerned you better be prepared to do it all including working for a living while your waiting for your big break
Jack Ketch, Anytown Usa, UK
Tuesday March 22, 2011

In the real world where I'll wager most of your readers live (wearing several hats at once), without record deals and lawyers and suits and ties, this chain is academic. The whole article could have been reduced to the one line: "...Ultimate power of course lies with the person signing the checks...". Talented or not that person is likely to be in the chair next to the mix engineer saying "more bass" because his girlfriend is the bass player.
Gauge Studios, Salem, Or, USA
Monday March 21, 2011

I tend to agree with Dave above... The average person is happy to be ignorant of production quality. I have musician friends and I have non musician friends and the musician friends are far more critical of music production and song writing quality then the others that think the drunk guy that just sang "I Love This Bar" at the local karaoke stop was "fantastic"! Most the general public likes the groove and sound of a song. They are more emotion based in their critique. If the songakes th FEEL good then they like it. I think good music production is more for the worlds musicians and artists... NOT the general public as it seems they don't care too much.
Dave, Highland, USA
Monday March 21, 2011

I think that the average person would not know if the mix is good or bad.I say this because I see live bands that are horrible as far as talent and sound,while my ears are cringing people are dancing.I don't get it.