MIXING in the DIGITAL AGE
With the industry’s shift to digital, mixing records (We still say “records”) is, in many ways, a very different process from the days of analog. Of course the basics of mixing have not changed. It is still the process where all the individual sound elements (instruments/vocals, effects, etc.) are blended together, adjusting levels, placement, and tone. When automated mixing came into use, it made it possible for a computer, connected to the mixing board, to assist in the mix. However, the computer could only control volume and mutes. All the rest was done in real time, by the engineer, and anyone else who happened to be in the control room at the time.
Fast Forward (if we can borrow that term from my analog tape days) to what mixing in the digital age has become. Now. . . . . the computer can control virtually EVERYTHING!
We can automatically change effects levels in the middle of a lyric, pan things right or left at precise moments in the song, and using a single EQ plugin, we can have it change the tone on a vocal from the verse to the chorus and back.
That is only part of the story! Today, all the sounds we record appear on the screen as wave forms that we can see. This enables us to get rid of noise, bring up volume on individual notes or words, even copy and paste sounds from one part of the song to another! We can add to, or even replace drum sounds. We can stretch notes, and change tempo without changing pitch. We can take a vocal note that is “questionable” and have it be absolutely IN TUNE!
And because all of this is controlled by the computer, we can come back a week later and recall, with 100% accuracy, a mix that we had previously worked on . . . . . a process that took hours back in the day. This allows us to make changes that the artist, after listening to the mix for a week, decided were needed. For someone who spent a lot of time mixing in the analog world . . . this seems like Star Wars!
The point is that we have almost unlimited control over the sounds and the mix! There are countless things we can do today during a mix, that we couldn’t do in analog. However, there is another side to this kind of control. . . . . . . . TIME!
Today, we can do so many things, get into such detail, that mixes, even with all of the assistance of modern computers, typically take longer!
For example, with virtually unlimited tracks, producers often record multiple take of instruments or vocals. Often, the best takes are not selected until the final mix process. That, coupled with moving parts around, and the incredible power of track editing, makes today’s mixing, in many ways, like arranging.
Ultimately the artist must decide how much time you want to spend in the mix process. It comes down to how the artist would like it to sound, what are the artist using the mix for, how good was the recording in the first place, and the final decision maker . . . . . the budget!
At Lucky Run, we have several ways we mix, according to the client’s needs. The most popular seems to be what we call the “85%” mix. After talking with the artist and getting their overall concepts regarding the song and the mix, the engineer will get started on the mix, without the artist having to be at the studio. The engineer endeavors to get the mix 85% of the way there.
This includes is creating sub-groups for certain instruments, cleaning up noise on the tracks, creating reverbs and delays to be used by the various instruments and voices, replacing or augmenting various drum sounds, setting up basic EQ and panning. The engineer will then send the artist the 85% mix (usually via the Internet as an mp3). This will allow the artist to take some time, listen to the mix, and make notes.
The artist will then book time in the studio with the engineer to make whatever changes they deem necessary. Since the majority of those decisions are subjective, it has been proven to be more efficient if the artist is with the engineer to determine such things as “how much more bass in the chorus”. The artist takes the revised mix home and listens. If there are any more minor changes, another session, with the engineer, is booked. If not, the finished mix goes to mastering
. . . . . . . . which is a whole process in itself!