Thread: The Mixing Learning Curve

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  1. #1
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    Default The Mixing Learning Curve

    The Mixing Learning Curve

    There was a time I had no clue how to mix a record + thought I may never learn. I believed mixing was a singular skill. And one I didn't possess. But I discovered none of these things was true.

    Mixing is instead a combination of a number of individual techniques that when combined create great sounding mixes. And I had always been learning to mix. I was slowly acquiring each technique, one by one over the years, as my mixes were getting better + better.

    But the improvements were so subtle that at no time did it feel like I was getting any closer to actually knowing how to mix. So, if you are feeling frustrated with your mixes, keep working at it, they ARE getting better. When I was moving along the mixing learning curve I actually had no idea I was even on it. But there is a learning curve + you're on it. The fact that you're reading this tells me so.

    But wouldn't it be better to know you're making progress? And more importantly...

    WHERE Are You On the Curve?

    After I've told you that you're actually learning how to mix, you always have been, and don't worry, it's okay if you can't tell... just trust me... you are. Well, that's a pretty unsatisfying answer to the question. So, if you're trying to gauge where you're at with learning to mix, let's take a look at a couple of ways you can tell.

    First, every mix where you improve your ability to get a better sound on any element, you are improving your mixing techniques. Because mixing isn't a big skill, but many smaller skills. Like how to get a great sound on kick, snare, hat, toms, cymbals, bass, ac gtr, el gtr, piano, organ, pad, horns, strings, bg vox, harm vox, lead vox, automation, lead vox rides, etc. Each new technique you learn, perfect + improve upon, means you are getting closer to learning how to bring it all together + get that big sounding record quality mix.

    So, create a checklist + start checking things off that you already know how to do. And start working on the stuff you don't. (Uh... duh, Charles.)

    You're Getting Warmer

    Second, there was a point in time when I knew I had passed an important mixing threshold. One that signified I was getting really close to knowing how to mix.

    I'd been engineering for a number of years @ the time. The last 2 of which I had actually been mixing... but I was never satisfied with my mixes. My clients liked them well enuf, but they never really impressed me as being great. They were okay, just not really as good as mixes I heard by other mixers. They didn't really sound like a record to me.

    But...

    I knew I was getting close with my mixing skills when I started noticing that, as I listened to records by other mixers, I heard things in them that I knew I didn't like. If I was the mixer, I knew I would definitely do those things differently. IOW, I understood what they were doing; how they were doing it; I didn't like it; and I knew exactly what + how I would do instead. And these were really good mixes.

    When Great Mixes Suck

    This had never happened to me before. My normal reaction to a mix was simply awe, reverence + a "man, I wish I knew how to do that" reaction. So, the 1st few times that this thought occurred to me--that I would do that part of that mix differently--I didn't even understand what I was thinking. I couldn't relate to it. It didn't make sense.

    But after it happened a few times I realized that this was a big deal. If I wasn't simply impressed with another mixer's mix, but in fact disagreed with some of the choices they were making, that told me that I must be coming into my own as a mixer.

    And it was within 6 mos or so of having these reactions to other mixes that I finally had that experience of hearing my own mix playback + being impressed that it really sounded like a record. @ the time, I was really proud of that mix's sonics, but more importantly I felt it's musicality was the best of any mix I had ever done.

    The mix was right for the song, artist + time. And the artist was blown away by it as well. Actually he was flipping out. He was a big artist who'd had a lot of hits who knew a good mix when he heard one. It was the strongest reaction I had ever gotten from an artist up until that time, which also let me know I had done something different + right with that mix.

    Your First Great Mix

    So, hopefully these suggestions + guideposts will help you judge where you are on the mixing learning curve. You are getting closer to knowing how to mix with each one. Just keep working on your mixing + listening to the mixes of other mixers.

    One day you too will hear things in great mixes that you think suck + you would do better. And very soon after that you will hear a great mix coming from your very own faders.
    Last edited by Charles Dye; July 17th, 2008 at 02:20 AM.
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Superlative!
    Allen 'Big Al' Wagner
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve



    Great Post! Thanks for that one.

    Marco.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Thx a lot for the info charles...im one of the ones, like you that tends to think my own mix sucks and end up giving up on it, so its good to hear things like that and know even if it doesnt sound like a record to me, im still improving if i keep trying.

    Heck, I havent even been at this very long, and Im already finding myself picking things apart and being disgusted by how some mixes sound...then again there were always some sounds in songs i couldnt stand to begin with.
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  5. #5
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Printing this posting it on my door
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Great post, thanks Charles.

    I sometimes listen to old mixes that I had done and felt I had struggled with at the time of mixing. I MOSTLY find myself pleasantly suprised at what i hear back, now that the perspective has changed and I am listening now as a music fan, not as the engineer/mixer (not focusing on that 1/2 dB I wanted to shave off the hats).... it's like giving myself a pat on the back, and a re-energising feeling when I'm in rut with a particular mix etc
  7. #7
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Great post Charles.

    It sounds like you had a gradual coming together of your skills. First getting your engineering skills together and then taking it to the next level at the mix.

    I'm presuming your engineering "apprenticeship" was served in commercial studios on consoles with OTB processing?

    Reason I ask is - there is now a great deal of information out there in books and on the internet about what and how you should be doing things but until you hear what it should sound like, you can never truly understand IMHO.

    My biggest Eureka moments were the days I spent in a commercial studio looking over someone's shoulder and hearing the difference.

    Before that I was learning in a bedroom and taking 10 steps back for every 1 step forward armed with knowledge which I never truly understood.

    In these days of closing studios and disappearing apprenticeships, the womb can be very proud of things like the MixIt events - the last one especially. Everyone had a level playing field and most importantly, got to hear what a level playing field should sound like. You could write a million words about it and it still wouldn't successfully describe it.

    In the meantime, I tell any budding AE who's serious to get a job in a studio if they REALLY want to learn quickly. I don't envy the amount of sacrifices they have to make in order to do so these days....

    and check out the womb of course....






    Sorry did I mention the womb?








    Yes, thats THE WOMB



    Paulie.
    Cheers,

    Paulie.
  8. #8
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    My biggest Eureka moments were the days I spent in a commercial studio looking over someone's shoulder and hearing the difference.
    That opportunity is fading away rather quickly. Some of the few big places left are "intern mills" with little interest in teaching the craft.
    Last edited by RWC; July 17th, 2008 at 01:16 PM.
  9. #9
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Thanks, guys, glad you like it.
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    I'm presuming your engineering "apprenticeship" was served in commercial studios on consoles with OTB processing?

    ...

    My biggest Eureka moments were the days I spent in a commercial studio looking over someone's shoulder and hearing the difference.
    Yes, to your 1st question, paulie.

    ...

    Can you describe these Eureka moments in more detail?

    What kinda things do you recall learning while watching someone else?

    Can you be specific with a few examples?

    Thx!
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  11. #11
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Morning,


    Reason I ask is - there is now a great deal of information out there in books and on the internet about what and how you should be doing things but until you hear what it should sound like, you can never truly understand IMHO.

    My biggest Eureka moments were the days I spent in a commercial studio looking over someone's shoulder and hearing the difference.
    I never had the chance for looking over someone's shoulder and hearing the difference. Sniff.



    That's why all my mixes suck.




    Best,

    Marco.

    __________________
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    HA!













    You thought that was all I'm gonna write about it ? And how right I was about my mixes ? Sorry, I've got to mention some things more....










    Well I think it could be an opportunity to have that chance watching someone doing it (I mean the mixing). But I also think that it definitely has it's advantages to struggle through the whole thing by diy - by that you will get the understanding about what exactly you're doing in a kind of self-experience way. The other way round you've got someone to ask, I see that and it can be a big time-saver. But from the learning-intensity pov I think the diy-way is getting deeper into your mind.





    ...maybe it didn't get deep enough in mine (cough), but im still working on it...


    Best,

    Marco.
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  12. #12
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    i hear ya, Marco...there arent any major studios around where I live...and i currently dont have the means or the time to travel to where there are some, so Im limited to diy learning, which is why as soon as i have the extra cash Im gonna get charles' dvd, and why i belong to forums such as this, so i can learn as much as i can and maybe someday start my own small studio.
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Interesting post, Charles.

    I have to say, I had a very different learning curve.

    When I started (between the world wars ), I tended to think that a "mix" was no big deal.
    The record sounded 'like the record' pretty much all along as you worked and you simply had to ride the pots or faders to put it all together at the end.
    But the decisions, with a few small exceptions, were already made.

    I probably recorded the effects on each channel in order to have the sounds locked in, and also for the practical reasons of either not worrying about them being available later on or to free them up for other things (like printing reverb so that the plate was free for the vocal in the mix, etc.)


    Even as I moved into more and more tracks, it never occurred to me that a mix was a big deal.
    I could still mix a song in a few hours, happily.

    I remember an assistant once telling me that someone else had a mix up on the desk for 2 days, and I remember saying "doing WHAT??"

    But somehow over the years that time frame changed and I started spending more time worrying about little things and 'refining' elements and so on...
    Automation certainly had something to do with this.
    But I was now doing a mix over night into the next day before printing and one song a day became the norm.

    But honestly now, I find myself moving back to the 'no big deal' approach, and thinking that a mix isn't tough if it's RECORDED well and the sounds and decisions are already there.
    Balance it (and these days even the balance comes back everytime, right?), ride the vocal, and print it.


    I know I've said this before, but I tend to hate my mixes and feel it's just WRONG up until that moment when all of a sudden it just sort of snaps into place and sounds RIGHT... and then I print it, because I know that too much fiddling beyond there can pull the thread and have things go horribly wrong again in a hurry.

    I often like other people's mixes, even when it's NOTHING like anything I would ever do.
    What I don't usually like, is mixes of my OWN recordings done by other mixers.
    With the exception of guys who've worked with me regularly (like John Agnello or Dave Thoener), I usually hate those.
    I hear my records the way I hear them.



    anyway... interesting discussion.
    Last edited by weedywet; March 4th, 2009 at 10:46 AM.
  14. #14
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    The Mixing Learning Curve

    There was a time I had no clue how to mix a record + thought I may never learn. I believed mixing was a singular skill. And one I didn't possess. But I discovered none of these things was true.

    Mixing is instead a combination of a number of individual techniques that when combined create great sounding mixes. And I had always been learning to mix. I was slowly acquiring each technique, one by one over the years, as my mixes were getting better + better.

    But the improvements were so subtle that at no time did it feel like I was getting any closer to actually knowing how to mix. So, if you are feeling frustrated with your mixes, keep working at it, they ARE getting better. When I was moving along the mixing learning curve I actually had no idea I was even on it. But there is a learning curve + you're on it. The fact that you're reading this tells me so.

    But wouldn't it be better to know you're making progress? And more importantly...

    WHERE Are You On the Curve?

    After I've told you that you're actually learning how to mix, you always have been, and don't worry, it's okay if you can't tell... just trust me... you are. Well, that's a pretty unsatisfying answer to the question. So, if you're trying to gauge where you're at with learning to mix, let's take a look at a couple of ways you can tell.

    First, every mix where you improve your ability to get a better sound on any element, you are improving your mixing techniques. Because mixing isn't a big skill, but many smaller skills. Like how to get a great sound on kick, snare, hat, toms, cymbals, bass, ac gtr, el gtr, piano, organ, pad, horns, strings, bg vox, harm vox, lead vox, automation, lead vox rides, etc. Each new technique you learn, perfect + improve upon, means you are getting closer to learning how to bring it all together + get that big sounding record quality mix.

    So, create a checklist + start checking things off that you already know how to do. And start working on the stuff you don't. (Uh... duh, Charles.)

    You're Getting Warmer

    Second, there was a point in time when I knew I had passed an important mixing threshold. One that signified I was getting really close to knowing how to mix.

    I'd been engineering for a number of years @ the time. The last 2 of which I had actually been mixing... but I was never satisfied with my mixes. My clients liked them well enuf, but they never really impressed me as being great. They were okay, just not really as good as mixes I heard by other mixers. They didn't really sound like a record to me.

    But...

    I knew I was getting close with my mixing skills when I started noticing that, as I listened to records by other mixers, I heard things in them that I knew I didn't like. If I was the mixer, I knew I would definitely do those things differently. IOW, I understood what they were doing; how they were doing it; I didn't like it; and I knew exactly what + how I would do instead. And these were really good mixes.

    When Great Mixes Suck

    This had never happened to me before. My normal reaction to a mix was simply awe, reverence + a "man, I wish I knew how to do that" reaction. So, the 1st few times that this thought occurred to me--that I would do that part of that mix differently--I didn't even understand what I was thinking. I couldn't relate to it. It didn't make sense.

    But after it happened a few times I realized that this was a big deal. If I wasn't simply impressed with another mixer's mix, but in fact disagreed with some of the choices they were making, that told me that I must be coming into my own as a mixer.

    And it was within 6 mos or so of having these reactions to other mixes that I finally had that experience of hearing my own mix playback + being impressed that it really sounded like a record. @ the time, I was really proud of that mix's sonics, but more importantly I felt it's musicality was the best of any mix I had ever done.

    The mix was right for the song, artist + time. And the artist was blown away by it as well. Actually he was flipping out. He was a big artist who'd had a lot of hits who knew a good mix when he heard one. It was the strongest reaction I had ever gotten from an artist up until that time, which also let me know I had done something different + right with that mix.

    Your First Great Mix

    So, hopefully these suggestions + guideposts will help you judge where you are on the mixing learning curve. You are getting closer to knowing how to mix with each one. Just keep working on your mixing + listening to the mixes of other mixers.

    One day you too will hear things in great mixes that you think suck + you would do better. And very soon after that you will hear a great mix coming from your very own faders.
    WOW!!!! This is the best mixing preset EVER!!!!!!
  15. #15
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    I have to say, I had a very different learning curve...
    Killer post, ww!!

    I hear what ur sayin + it makes perfect sense.

    It's very cool to hear a different perspective from such a talented mixer. Thx!
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  16. #16
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Livin' La Vida Loca came on the radio at work today. Definitely impressive work. Explosive but not obnoxious. I hope you were at the "satisfied" stage by that time, Charles.
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  17. #17
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    Yes, that was one of my early "satisfied" mixes.

    I really didn't understand my process @ the time. I just did it.

    But over the following years I spent a lot of time analyzing what I did + asking myself over + over whenever I did anything during a mix, "WHY do I do that."

    The resulting answers lead to the writing of Hard Disk Life + Mix It Like A Record.

    And continue here.
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  18. #18
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    I love the power of the transition into the chorus. I understand some of that is production process that was done during tracking and also reflects the writing, but I think you nailed the mixing part of it too. Kudos.
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  19. #19
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    I once had an interesting conversation about the Eagles with Eric Schilling who used to work for Bill Symzick.

    Eric said he didn't think that Bill had ever spent more than 20 minutes on a mix in his life. Old school was to build the mix as you record with the monitor mix straight-lined. This was how you had to do it 4 track and the habit stuck with lots of folks. The headphone mix was pretty much the final mix and if compression was being used, that's how people heard themselves.

    We didn't work that way at Motown so this was a real eye-opener for me when I got to San Francisco in 1972.
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: The Mixing Learning Curve

    And then there were things that weren't mixed at all. Isn't that how Phil Spector worked?

    And there this item from the wisdom files:

    "Spector was vehemently opposed to stereo releases, claiming that it took control of the record's sound away from the producer in favor of the listener."

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