Mixing In Modern Electronic Music Production
Historically, the production of electronic music has tended to be viewed
through the lens of traditional pop/rock production techniques. While this
may be fine in certain circumstances, upon closer inspection it becomes
clear that many traditional practices employed by producers working in
a pop/rock paradigm can take on very different definitions when used in
the context of modern electronic music production. These potential differences in approach have, for many years, been underrepresented in academic research exploring concepts in audio engineering. In turn, this trend
has resulted in a pedagogical gap in the design of teaching and learning
programs where electronic music production is concerned.
The similarities and differences between the disciplines of traditional
audio production and that of modern electronic music production are
beginning to garner more attention academically. However, for the purposes of this book, we wished to focus on one area in particular, namely,
mixing audio. Moreover, we felt strongly that it was of great importance to
invite artists working in the area to join the academic discussion directly.
As such, what follows comprises an ethnography of sorts, specifically
focused on mixing approaches as discussed by electronic music producers.
Our sample included numerous nationally and internationally recognized
DJs and producers, whose work as musicians and composers we’ve long
admired. We asked each participant in the study to supply biographies,
which can be found at the beginning of the book under ‘Chapter 10: Interviewee Biographies’. Our ultimate hope is that the following conversation
will highlight which aspects of mixing electronic music are shared with
traditional instrumental production and which aspects seem unique. We
leave it to future researchers to follow up on these leads.
How would you define ‘mixing’?
Rick Bull Mixing involves finding the unifying elements (har-
(Deepchild/Acharné/ monic, melodic, dynamic) within a piece of sound/
Concubine): music, and ensuring an internal coherence and synergy
between these elements, to produce a finished work
ready for mastering. Mixing is an essentially intentional
yet artificial process of engineering a physical ‘space’,
power, dynamic, and ebb and flow, within any given
work. It’s a process of trimming some of the errant,
or distracting, or undesirable elements in a recording,
while referencing others, to reflect the intention of the
author. Mixing is a great and powerful sonic fiction,
placing a listener or dancer within an imagined sonic
terrain, in such a way that the recording process might
become more or less transparent, thereby allowing the
listener to best inhabit the desired sonic imagination of
the author. The goal of a successful mix is generally to
transmute musical elements into a seemingly effortless
musical narrative, and to use tools such as EQ, compression, panorama and relative volume to best support
many multiple voices within an evolving audio narrative. Mixing seeks to create the illusion (generally)
of transparency, when often it is far from transparent.
Smoke, mirrors, voodoo, silence, tension and release . . .
Adam Marshall I’d define it in two ways, depending on the context. First,
(Graze/New Kanada): mixing in a production sense, I’d define it in the traditional way: of arranging and recording certain settings
during production or final mix down. Second, I’d also see
mixing in a DJ-specific sense, where it’s a live performance of in-the-moment matching, cutting, fading and
riding two (or more) records during a DJ performance.
The main difference between the two would be that mixing in traditional production practice is usually a tightly
controlled and planned operation, with a specific desired
outcome, whereas mixing in a DJ sense is more of an
in-the-moment experience where a lot of the magic (or
chaos) happens (or occurs) when taking chances.
Pierre Belliveau Mixing is finding the middle ground for all tracks to
(Gone Deville): live together without stepping on each other too much.
Mixing is about giving each layer its own space within
Noah Pred Mixing is the process of balancing, blending and merging
(Noah Pred/False multiple sonic elements into a coherent whole that
Image/Concubine): fits the desired character of the producer—be it crystalline, murky or anything in between.
Phil France Mixing is the stage of the process that you come to
(Phil France/ when you’ve got a track sounding as good as you can,
Cinematic Orchestra): before mastering.
Ryan Chynces (Rion C): Mixing is the art of combining distinct layers of sound,
or sound recordings, to produce a unified whole.
TJ Train (Room 303 I’d say it’s blending different instruments and sounds
/Night Visions): together to allow the space for each
instrument to be
heard both independently and together
Mixing is balancing audio elements to create the perfect output, where everything is clear—an audible
balance of sounds created purposely for your desired
audience or media output
Summary and Conclusion
In the conversation transcribed and arranged above, a number of themes
regularly surface, and a general consensus on approaches to mixing audio
in electronic dance music contexts becomes readily apparent. Indeed, it
seems clear that the artists above approach mixing in a manner largely
peculiar to electronic music production. Mixing seems interwoven with
the production process at large in our sample’s workflow, while in other
genres it remains largely a discrete activity carried out at a time and place
removed from the compositional, recording and editing activities involved
in a record’s production. This seems to have led, in turn, to an equally
unique conception of mixing’s general function in record production.
Mixing In/and Modern Electronic Music 169
According to the artists above, mixing emerges in electronic dance music
genres as a ‘creative’ more than ‘corrective’ process. In some cases, in fact,
artists seem to treat mixing as a creative process wholly indistinguishable
from—that is, holistically ingrained within—all of the broader composition and production processes that go into making a record.
‘Liveness’, albeit a ‘liveness’ peculiar to electronic dance music genres,
also seems to have played a crucial role in the way our sample developed
their mixing practices. Initial experiences of mixing audio in a live DJ/performance context seems to be an almost universal early experience here. This
‘live’, ‘on the fly performance’ approach to mixing audio lends itself to an
open approach to the process, leading to an openness not just with the products of mixing but with regards to the process itself. The artists we spoke to
seemed willing to experiment not just with how a mix should sound, in other
words, but also with what techniques and tools belong to the ‘mixing stage’
proper. Moreover, the fact that electronic music productions are created with
the dance floor and DJ performance in mind also seems to play a guiding
role in mix practices. Traditional rock/pop productions often aim to convey
the spirit of performance, while the artists we spoke to seemed to suggest
that electronic music productions are performances in and of themselves.
Another point to consider is that the majority of electronic music
productions discussed above took place exclusively ‘in the box’, that is,
within a DAW environment. Even when artists ‘came up’ in analog environments, they claim to now almost always work in primarily digital contexts. This has a number of crucial implications for mixing. As Rick Bull
noted, the technical democratization of production tools has promoted a
similar democratization of production roles, as artists previously cut out
of production and engineering processes now find themselves equipped
to participate and oversee those processes completely (if they so desire).
At one time, songwriting was the preserve of the artist, after which the
production process would then be relinquished to professional recording
engineers, producers and mix and mastering engineers, all playing discreet
roles in often-discreet specialist facilities. With advancements in computing power over the last two decades, coupled with the relatively affordable
prices of most computer recording software, the means of production is
now freely available to artists willing to make a moderate initial investment. In turn, this has led to a situation where artists also have the tools to
‘teach themselves’ previously esoteric aspects of the production process,
leading to a further willingness to experiment with aspects of production
once considered the exclusive purview of specialists.
Obviously, much more could be made of the conversation above than we
have room to do here. Our goal in compiling this conversation was simply to
begin the process of examining the unique position of mixing in electronic
dance music genres and to allow the artists doing that mixing a voice in
broader academic considerations of their crafts. We would simply conclude
by expressing our sincere gratitude to the artists who participated for allowing us this glimpse into their artistic practices and considerations. Clearly
much more scholarly work needs to be done to fully grasp the various
nuances of electronic dance music production practices, and it is our sincere
hope that this chapter provides readers with a useful entry into that process