Embracing Your Mix Tendencies

| Mixing, Rant, Tips

The other day I had a somewhat frustrating moment with a client. The client was actually a producer and one of his artists had a song that needed to be mixed. I have worked with this producer before and had a great experience. After getting some feedback from the client after the initial mix, I learned something interesting about myself.

I Must Not Like Reverb

I was given some simple direction as well as a reference track that was the sound they were after with the final mix. It all made sense to me. So I mixed the song, got it pretty close to the reference track, and handed it over for evaluation. When the producer emailed me back with notes and changes he said something made me pause: “You must really not like using reverb.”

It was a confusing statement at first. The reference track was a reverb heavy song, very roomy sounding and natural. So I mixed in more reverb than I typically would and specifically tried to emulate the roomy sound desired. And here I was being told that it sounded a bit too dry, not even close!

Everything Is Relative In Mixing

So who was right? Was there not enough reverb? Or was there just enough? Well, in this situation the client was “right” in that he was paying for the mix. If more reverb is what he wanted, then more reverb is what he was going to get. The problem then is I’m creating a mix that actually isn’t the way I like to mix. So I’m pushing against my natural mix tendencies.

Is that a bad thing? Perhaps not. But the danger is when we forget that mixing is all relative and need to choose our words wisely. What is too much of one thing to someone, is not enough to another person. What one person says is dry, another person says is wet. What one person thinks is punchy, another person thinks is over compressed. When talking about warmth in mixes, Dave Pensado always says “Warmth is just another word for muddy.” Everything is relative.

What Are Your Tendencies?

What are your your mixing tendencies? What patterns and preferences do you find yourself making over and over again? Remember that everyone hears music differently, so your style may not match up with other peoples’ styles. You might not even like the way my mixes sound and that’s OK. Instead, simply learn to identify your signature mixing moves and embrace them.

I know I have to do this, otherwise I’ll find myself being swayed by the client every which way. The client knows what he wants, but at the same time you know what is best for the song. You are the mix engineer. The challenge is to be able to embrace your style and also follow the vision of the client or artist involved.

 

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17 Responses to “Embracing Your Mix Tendencies”

  1. DJ Olds

    So where do you draw the line!? If someone told Chris Lord-Alge to stop comping pro tools sessions down onto an old tape machine and ease off the compression I have a fair idea of what he would say and I suspect it might not be repeatable in church! Over compressed?! BUT I love his work. However as to the amount of reverb? That’s more delicate. To my ear “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins has too much reverb on both the snare and the vocal BUT in the end I love that track as do millions of others. And Beyonce’s vocal is always by my standards over compressed – yet I love her recordings!

    Reply
  2. Pierre Blanchette

    I for myself don’t like delay:) But i’m in love with reverb. To me reverb is a lot more emotional than delay. Than again. i grow up in the 80′s…:)

    By the way i think Dave said more something in the vain of Warm is just another word for dull;)

    Reply
  3. Sammy Qube

    I like delay very much especially the Mod Machine Delay plugin in Cubase 5 and i use it in almost every song. At first i didn’t like reverb but i recently tried my hands on it and am starting to like it because a client wanted his vocal soaked in reverb.

    Reply
  4. Bobby Phillipps

    I have a tendency to make mixes fairly aggressive (or punchy, however you want to label it) and shoot for a solid, but clear and tight, not quite warm, low-end. I also tend to have the snare just a hair on the quiet side while still being fat and snappy, especially compared to my brother, whose mixes, I would say, make the snare a feature more than a foundational element.

    As for reverb, I’m up there with you, Graham. I tend to shy away from reverb mostly because I like tight arrangements and mixes. Any reverb I add is minimal and more to either help glue the mix together, or to make certain parts breathe a little bit. If I want a sense of space, I tend to reach for a delay first, the exception being on the drumkit.

    Reply
  5. Leo

    Had a similar experience the other week mixing. They wanted this horrible sounding amp (re-amping In The Box), and I finally said ok. When I finished the song they loved it and they didn’t even realized I had changed it! :P

    Reply
  6. Roger

    Funny that Pierre Blanchette mentioned the fact that grew up in the 80’s, and also loves reverb (I also grew up in the 80’s and love reverb).
    I believe that it does have a lot to do with your references and preferences.
    I personally hate recordings with very dry vocals, with one or another exception if the song specifically calls for it.
    I’ve been avoiding reverb on my mixes for a while, but I end up using delays in a way that ends up sounding closer to a reverb.
    As I’m mostly mixing my own songs, this isn’t a problem, but I understand that I would have to make different choices if I was mixing for someone who grew up in the late 90’s. ;-)

    Reply
  7. Andrew

    I’m surprise you got a pejorative response such as “You must really not like using reverb” Graham, especially since I would assume one hires a mix engineer not just on there skills alone but also because they admire their “taste/style.”It seems a bit counterproductive to hire someone when you don’t like their taste and style.

    Reply
  8. Martin

    The way I see it, the producer/artist will hire you on the basis that they like your previous work, so to say a comment like “you must really not like using reverb” doesn’t exactly help the situation. To be as blunt as that, I would think that wouldn’t give you the incentive to carry out the project with the excitement/anticipation you had in the beginning.

    I’ve had clients literally say to me “the china and hats suck” when I sent them a completely unmixed sample of the drum tracks after I’d comped and quantized them; as well as on this most recent project I’m working on, where the bassist said “I might as well not have recorded my vocals” because his backing vocals were a little low in the mix before I’d even carried out any mix tweaks for them.

    Reply
  9. Smurf

    I can not hear reverb…at all…..I could NOT match a reverb if my life depended on it…

    So I get the “Hate Reverb” comment a LOT!!!

    Reply
  10. Tony

    i tend to soft clip a lot of my tracks.. i just love that smack .
    i don’t mix for anyone else , but if i did i would tell the producer something like … “uh OK then come over and we will put in the reverb together that way you will know what is enough for you ” when he is there then i would give him the first mix to take with him as well “just in case”
    …. we had a saying when i was a baby musician… reverb is there to cover up a bad singer … ha ha now i know that not to be true however there is a valid point …also todays live music scene in eastern europe and especialy the german volks music , hungarian and Czech cover bands . the reverb is louder than anything else it swims in it … in other words it suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks….

    Reply
  11. Niklas J. Blixt

    Great post Graham! This is indeed one of the hardest thing you have tackle when your doing it professionally. The goal is always to try to make the one who’s paying you happy. But on the other hand I like to believe that they hired you to do the mixing they couldn’t do. Because if they could they should probably mix themselves. And if you’re an established mixer and got a reputation hopefully they hired you because of how you mix. But yet again it’s hard sometimes to make the client happy and to be satisfied yourself about the job.

    Reply
    • Graham

      Yes. The customer is all that matters in the end… but the customer isn’t always right :-)

      Reply
  12. Tryggvasson

    I went to a big ‘real’ recording studio once, in the live room, acoustic treatment everywhere, no reverb et all. I thought I was going deaf. As far as I’m concerned, too much reverb is when the reverb is louder than the actual track :). Delay, too. They just create, for me, an oneiric space which is only grounded by rhythm… the power of both worlds. The subdued melancholy of harmony and melody (actually, I don’t quite fully comprehend why the distinction between the two, polyphony is the unifying factor, but that’s a different story), with the tension of rhythm, which doesn’t let the song disperse into thin air and the listener have a ‘revisiting Edgar Allan Poe’ fit.

    And I’m glad you gave that Pensado’s quote. It’s only dawned on me recently, exactly that. One shouldn’t be TOO afraid of mud. Some of the best records, feeling-wise are more or less muddy. I guess, in the end, it’s just a question of (personal) balance.

    Great post!

    Reply

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