The goal of every mix you work on isn’t clarity, depth, punch, or even warmth (whatever that means), rather it is to ellicit an emotional reaction from the listeners. In other words, your mix should “move” them. It could make them happy and want to dance, or it could make them melancholy or introspective. Or perhaps it could even help them relax after a long stressful day at work. Whatever it is, your goal as a mixer is to make the song powerful and relavent to the listener.
Getting Lost In The Science
I’ve admitted here before that I’m not a very technical person. I didn’t come into audio engineering from an “engineering” side of things. I can’t solder cables nor can I read a mixing console schematic. I can’t build a homemade mic pre, nor do I fully understand how impedance can affect microphone performance. But I do know what a gripping mix sounds like and I try my darndest to create compelling mixes myself.
The problem with the learning phase when it comes to recording and mixing audio is that you can easily get hung up on the science of things. You’ll come across a tip or technique that is supposed to help you get better mixes and you’ll zero in on that. You’ll try and recreate that suggestion in your studio and you get bent out of shape trying to make it work. Really what you should be doing is taking the tip or technique, trying it, and then seeing what it does or doesn’t do for your tracks at that given moment. Does it bring your music that much closer to impacting the listener on an emotional level? If not, move on.
Good recording and mixing technique should, in my humble opinion, showcase your music in the best light possible while at the same time removing as many distractions as possible. Distractions can be sloppy edits, out of tune vocals, or just amateur sounding drums and guitars that sound like they were played inside a toilet paper roll. If you can minimize the bad stuff then your mix has a better chance of “moving” the listener in a real way.
That’s a huge part of why I try to offer as many tips, tricks, and techniques as possible here on the site. I want to give you tangible tools that have helped me over the years to remove the newbie mistakes and in turn professionally present my music to the world. Each suggestion or tutorial can be one more piece of the grand puzzle to creating sonic drama (in a good way).
Having A Clear (And Simple) Vision
At the end of the day, whether you are recording or mixing, you want to have a clear vision of how your music should sound. Do you want the tracks to kick people in the teeth? Or should they bring listeners to tears? Should the music simply get people to tap their feet? You have to choose. Pick a vision for the mix, and then make your mixing decisions based on how it affects getting you there.
If you find yourself getting too bogged down in panning adjustments, plugin presets, automation moves, and even drum editing then you’re probably missing the point. Stop what you’re doing, listen to a great song that moves you personally, and then go make your mix do that!