Why I Mix Alone

I’ve been engineering, mixing, and producing for years, and it takes a lot to make me cringe. There is one question I am asked from time to time which causes me to say “oh no” under my breath… that question:

“When are you mixing? We would like to be there.”

Before I tell you why I DON’T like this question, let me first explain how I DO understand why they ask it.

For newer bands or musicians, it’s exciting for them.  This is the part of the process where all their hard work in the studio comes together and starts sounding like a song.  That’s exciting!  They’ve spent lots of money so far, and are spending even more for me to mix it, so they want to soak in the experience.  I get it, I really do.  And, I am sensitive to that.  They want to be there to see the process and how we get from chaotic shambles of tracks to a well-polished masterpiece of musical art (or something like that)… and they want to be there to share their ideas for what should be happening in the mix.  That’s where we enter the grey area… too many cooks in the kitchen.

Let me explain.

If you give 1000 mix guys the same group of tracks to mix, you will get 1000 different mixes, each one being called “done” or “mixed” or “final.”  That being said, if they are hiring and paying ME to mix it, they’ve likely heard my work or come recommended to me, and want MY mix.  Pay attention, I said “MY” mix, not “MY and the guitarist’s” or “MY and your brother’s” mix.

When the musicians (and anyone they bring along with them) sit in on mix session, the mix is no longer mine.  The drummer wants more drums, the guitarist wants less drums, the singer hates his voice and wants “more effects” on his voice but he doesn’t know what kind… it gets crazy.  And in most cases, whenever I’ve allowed the band into the mix session, at the end of the day they end up going back to my original mix ideas with a “yeah, you were right, undo that.”

Additionally, I hear this a lot: “I let a music friend of mine listen to this and he said you should blah blah blah…”

Of COURSE they said that!  As soon as you ask “your music friend” for criticism of a mix, they become an expert and start saying what THEY would do.  Are they a mixer?  If so, pay THEM to do THAT to the mix.

Are there exceptions?  Absolutely.

Whoever is paying for the project has final say on things, and deserves to be happy.  So, if that’s the band, and they REALLY want that left overhead track turned up 10dB louder than the lead vocal, you have to bite your tongue and do it.  This is where a pseudonym comes in… a nickname that you use for projects you don’t want your real name associated with.  Just kidding… kinda.  I don’t want my name on a mix I don’t agree with, so I’ll tell them not to credit me, or find another mixer to do whatever they’re saying.  If it isn’t my mix, I don’t want it to be credited as such.

The band DOES deserve the right to express their opinions of the mix and offer suggestions, without a doubt.  When I mix, my rate includes my mix plus two revisions.  I tell them to get together and collectively make a master list of notes or suggestions for the mix, then I will do one of the following:

  1. Make the change.
  2. Compromise and meet in the middle.  “That’s a good idea, but what if I turn it up a little and eq it a little differently to make it pop?”
  3. Politely explain why I don’t think their idea is a good one or why it won’t work.

Sometimes it helps to remind them that they hired me for my mix.  It’s a little bit of a power play, and I am not a jerk about it, but it works.

So, in conclusion, I highly recommend the band NOT being in the studio as I mix, but if they insist, I’ll let them… but they need to respect the boundaries.  Maybe you don’t have this problem, but for me, that’s how I operate.  🙂

Robert Venable
Recording Help