My good friend Rob Mayzes is currently hosting a great free mixing event, which lets you get direct access to some of the top mixing engineers and educators in the world.
This event is held to support Cancer research, and while you can attend the live event for free, you can also buy the recordings of all of the videos for $29, which will be donated to the Cancer Research Institute in full.
Learn more and grab your ticket here.
Rob has written a wonderful article for us, sharing the 8 most important tips he has learnt from interviewing world-class mixing engineers. So without further ado, thank you Rob for hosting this wonderful event to support a good cause and for sharing these great insights with us. – Take it away!
8 Things I Learned from Interviewing World-Class Mixers & Educators
Over the last few weeks, I have been interviewing some of the world’s best mixers and educators for an upcoming online event, Mix School.
If you want to watch all of the full interviews, including my interview with Warren, you can claim your free e-ticket here.
I gained a lot of valuable insights throughout filming due to my unique positioning as the event host and interviewer.
In this article, I want to pass on my 8 most valuable insights to you, so you improve your mixes and take a big step closer to your goals as a musician or engineer.
Grasp the Technical First
A recurring theme through these interviews was the importance of creativity.
But before you can get really creative with recording and mixing, you need a basic understanding of the technical. You can’t jump straight into the creative side of mixing and producing records.
Spend time forming a solid foundation of technical knowledge before you start trying new things. You need to know the rules before you can break them!
Warren told me that some of the mixes he hears from his students are highly creative. For example, the band might sound like they are playing in a jazz club, and the track has an awesome live feel.
But at the same time, these highly creative mixes lack a good tonal balance and don’t usually translate well.
Instead, a mid-way point must be found between technical proficiency and creativity. The mix needs to sound great and translate, but still be creative and unique.
That’s just not possible without a good understanding of the technical aspects of recording and mixing.
Then… Forget the Technical!
Once you have a good grasp of the technical (for example, you are confident using a compressor to achieve any desired outcome), it’s time to forget all of that in order to become truly creative.
After years of practice and learning, these technical processes become subconscious. You no longer have to think about how you are going to adjust the settings – you just have an intention and follow through.
That’s the point where you should actually avoid thinking about the technical too much.
Instead, approach mixing with the right side of your brain – the creative side. This level of unconscious competence is where the magic happens.
Subtractive EQ in the Preparation Phase
I have always seen subtractive EQ as part of the mixing phase. But Jason Moss of Behind the Speakers considers it part of the preparation phase.
This shift in thinking has numerous benefits. By removing room resonances, low-end noise and other ugly frequencies BEFORE mixing, you can save time in the mixing phase.
Try applying surgical EQ in solo to each track as part of the prep phase, at a low volume…
Then, by the time you first throw up all of the faders to get your initial balance, the mix will be much further along.
This means less ear fatigue and more confidence early on.
Hardware Processing and Emulation in the Preparation Phase
When Ryan Samuel Bentley receives a project to mix, he wants to add more character to lackluster recordings before he starts mixing.
To do this, he passes the tracks through external hardware where appropriate BEFORE he starts mixing. He re-amps guitar tracks if the tone is lacking.
When he doesn’t have the outboard equipment available, he prints hardware emulation to the tracks in his DAW.
By adding character and improving the tone of the raw tracks as part of the preparation phase, you can reap the same benefits as applying subtractive EQ before mixing. The less time spent mixing with all of the faders up, the better.
Let me give you an example of how you would apply this in your mixes. As a completely ‘in-the-box’ mixer, I have no hardware or outboard equipment. What I do have, though, are great plugin emulations of classic EQs and compressors.
A lot of these emulations impart their character on the source without the need to adjust with the settings too much. So by simply printing these plugins with minor changes onto the track, I can improve the tone and add more flavor.
Using vocals as an example, I could load up a LA-2A compressor emulation plugin, apply 2-3dB of gain reduction and then print the effect onto the track.
Now, when it’s time to throw all of the faders up and start mixing, the vocal already has more character.
Different Approaches and Systems for Each Mix
When I asked Matthew Weiss about his usual approach to mixing (does he start with all the faders up, or bass first, vocals first?), his answer surprised me. But it made perfect sense.
Matthew uses a different approach for every mix, depending on which approach best suits the track.
Is it a vocal-centric pop mix? Matthew uses the ‘vocal pyramid’ technique and starts by processing the vocals and then fitting everything else around them.
Is it a rhythmic hip-hop track? Matthew starts with the low-end (kick and bass) and builds from the foundation up.
Is it a live-sounding rock track? Matthew throws all of the faders up and gets the overall balance right first before focusing on the finer details.
Mixing systems are important and have multiple benefits. But you don’t have to stick to one system. Over time, give each approach a try and see what works for you.
Ultimately, though, it’s about doing what’s best for the music at hand.
Hire a Drummer Online
I don’t know why this never occurred to me, or why I had never seen it before, but you no longer need to work with musicians located near you.
Instead, Graham Cochrane of The Recording Revolution suggests sending your project to a drummer with a solid home studio and paying them to write and record a drum part for you.
Drums are the hardest instrument to record at home, so a lot of people rely on samples and drum programming software like EZDrummer.
But if you want a real, live musician to play and record drums for you, hiring somebody online is the fastest and cheapest approach. A quick search on Google should lead you to people who offer this service.
Find Your 1,000 True Fans
While discussing the best ways to produce radio-worthy mixes in a home studio, Graham made another good point.
You no longer need to be heard on the radio to make a living as a musician, so it’s no longer necessary for your mixes to be ‘radio quality’.
In fact, you only need 1,000 true fans to make a living as a musician. But what are true fans?
People who buy everything you release.
As long as your mixes don’t get in the way of your music, you can grow your following and become a self-sufficient musician without ever stepping foot in a professional studio or paying a mix engineer.
Reverb on Vocals is Making a Comeback
For a while now, the trend in modern music has been dry, in-your-face vocals with very little space around them.
Instead of using noticeable reverb on the lead vocal, delays are used instead to give the vocals a slight sense of space without putting them further back in the mix.
But Matthew Weiss has observed that reverb is making a comeback in mainstream music, especially on vocals.
Listen to ‘Lean On’ by DJ Snake and Major Lazer (feat. MØ) for a taste of reverb-heavy vocals.
Try using a small pre-delay (start around 10ms) on the reverb to make sure the vocal doesn’t lose too much of it’s clarity and aggression.
You can also try using parallel compression to bring the vocal further forward if the reverb puts the vocal too far back.
What Will You Learn?
I just shared the most valuable insights that I gained from these interviews, but there’s plenty more for you to learn.
The fastest way to make it as an engineer or musician is to surround yourself with people who are better than you.
That’s why most of today’s top mixers began their journey to success as assistants in big studios.
But these assistant opportunities are becoming harder and harder to find.
So what if you could surround yourself with a bunch of pro mixers…
…without paying a thing?
Imagine what that could do for your mixes.
You’d probably feel a whole lot more confident in your decisions, and proud of your work.
Mix School promises to do exactly that.
Over the span of a week (starting Monday February 6th), you can get access to 7 world-class mixers and educators… all from the comfort of your own home.
You’ll discover exactly how they think about music production and craft radio-ready mixes.
This free online event is hosted by myself, Rob Mayzes. Here’s the full lineup:
- Graham Cochrane
- Warren Huart
- Matthew Weiss
- Joe Gilder
- Jason Moss
- Ryan Samuel Bentley
- Rob Mayzes
You just can’t go wrong hanging out with some of the top mixers and audio educators in the world…
Get your free e-ticket here
There is the option to get an all-access pass for $29 if you want immediate access, and 100% of the profits are going to the Cancer Research Institute (you’ll get more details about this after signing up).
Cancer has affected us all, and we’re teaming together for this exclusive event to raise as much as possible and help beat cancer.
But if you want to watch for free, go and claim your ticket now.
See you there!
Rob Mayzes is an audio professional, musician and educator who has taught over half a million people about home recording and mixing through his website Home Studio Center.
I hope you enjoyed this article and I’ll see you at Mix School!
Have a marvellous time recording and mixing,