Of all the advantages of mixing in the modern software based DAW, there is one huge negative. No, it’s not digital summing. It’s the fact that we have too much visual stimuli when mixing. In other words, there is too much too look at that we aren’t actually listening as well as we could.
Via Martin Cathrae Flickr
How To Increase Brain Activity
Just this weekend I was sitting in a workshop at Sweetwater’s GearFest, listening to Grammy award winning engineer Frank Fillipetti talk about recording and mixing in the modern DAW. At one point in the presentation he displayed images of two identical brain scans of a person. Scan #1 showed the brain activity when listening to music with eyes open. Scan #2 showed brain activity when that same person listened to music with eyes closed. And it showed considerable more brain activity happening.
It turns out, the amygdala (or the emotional center of the brain) increases in activity dramatically when presented with aural stimuli and no visual stimuli. Visual stimuli actually impair our ability to listen critically. The point? Looking at your DAW when mixing is a handicap.
Looking At Your DAW Is A Handicap
Fillipetti’s point was that by looking at our computer screens while we mix, we don’t listen as critically as say if we mixed on a console and had nothing visual to be drawn to. And if you think about it, from your own experience, don’t you notice more about a song if you close your eyes? You begin to visualize every instrument more clearly. Your brain picks up steam and gets to work.
When “watching your mix” in the DAW, your brain doesn’t have to work so hard. The result? You aren’t listening as well as could be. You’re at a handicap. You can’t make the absolute best mix decisions possible. It’s kind of scary if you think about it!
Some Solutions To The Problem
So enough about the problem, what are some solutions? Fillipetti’s preference is to use a control surface with actual faders. That way he can close his eyes and make fader adjustments without the assistance of a screen. Clearly it would be hard to move your mouse around, grabbing faders, with your eyes closed.
If a control surface is out of the question, here are some other simple suggestions. After an initial static mix with your mouse and screen, close your eyes and listen through the whole song. Take mental note of what tracks seem out of place. Then open your eyes, make the adjustments and continue. You can also do this toward the end of the mix. Sometimes I’ll even turn off my computer monitor and listen through a mix while taking notes of what I hear.
Turn On Your Super Hearing
If closing your eyes instantly yields more brain activity and focus, then it’s like having super hearing at your disposal. Anytime you want to hear your mix better, simply close your eyes. How awesome is that?! You can literally hear your mix more accurately with something as simple as closing your eyes.
Don’t miss this powerful hack simply because it’s simple. Sometimes the simple solutions are the best ones.