The Future of Mixing-Mastering
How long do you think the current model of mixing can
survive in the present market?
I think mixing is going to suffer a very slow death, if at all. The big engineers that people actually hear about, I mean, for the most part, the most
famous engineers are mix engineers. When people talk about record production, you only really hear about important producers and mix engineer
these days. There just aren’t that many tracking engineers making headlines lately. They exist, don’t get me wrong. But for the most part, mix
engineers are more of a going concern in the industry.
Take a look at the back of a record in your collection. It will probably say,
‘Produced by so-and-so’ and ‘Mixed by so-and-so’. But who knows who
engineered it? A record’s cover doesn’t usually advertise who engineered
it. The fact that it often advertises the person, or persons, who mixed it tells
you all you need to know about the status of mix engineers in today’s market.
So, yeah, I think mixing is going to survive for a long while still, even
as money gets tighter and tighter. Sure, a lot of people record in their bedrooms nowadays. But they still want what they record to sound good. And
they’ll pay to have their records mixed by someone to make sure that it
does! That’s where ‘bedroom producers’ seem to spend their money now.
Then they try to get it mastered by whomever they can find, or they’ll pay
the mix engineer they hired a little extra money to have them slap a few
things on the stereo bus and ‘master’ it. With mixing, almost everyone
understands that it’s something they have to get done, and that it can make
a major difference in the way their record sounds. So ‘bedroom producers’
these days usually won’t pay money to rent a studio—and the cost of renting a studio for a day, even, can easily, and quickly, quadruple what it costs
to hire a mix engineer to see a track through to completion!—but they will
put their money into mixing. And that seems to be consistent.
Anybody can buy Logic or Pro Tools, and sequence and track some
sounds. But they probably don’t know how to make those sounds sit well
together, sound optimal as a group. And they almost certainly won’t have
the experience to know how to make the mix decisions they make best
serve the emotional content of a song. They’re usually too fixated on just
ensuring that their mix is commercially viable to worry about aesthetics,
since so much expertise goes into producing even just a basic balance.
They need a mix engineer, and they know it. And because of that, I think
the current model of mixing, where you have a separate mix engineer and
a separate phase of the production process dedicated to mixing, will continue on strong for at least the next little while.
What, if any, general changes have happened in
mixing since you started?
There’s two different facets of this question that I could address. The first
one has to do with sonics in general. Has anything changed about mixing
sonically since I started? The answer is of course yes . . . the sonics are
always changing and evolving in mixing!
You hardly notice it while you’re doing it, to be honest. Sonics just
slowly evolve, as everything does. For a while, you’re doing things one
way, but then you get sick of doing things that way, or you hear a better
way when you’re listening to the radio, coming home from a session at
some ungodly early hour of the morning. So you slowly start to make your
kick drum, say, ‘tickier’ when you’re mixing. You get positive feedback on
those mixes, and the next thing you know, that’s how you treat your kicks.
The same thing will happen with how you treat your vocals, your guitars,
your bass. It’s really just a question of developing as an artist. You can’t
just deliver the same balances over and over again, or pretty soon your
mixes sound like they were in a different era. But it’s a slow process. And
engineers tend not to be particularly conscious of the changes they’re making to their craft as they’re happening. They just know that they want to
keep growing as artists, so they continually fine-tune their craft. And this
happens at an industry level. So the sound of mixes is constantly evolving
as individual mix engineers evolve the sound of the mixes they produce. It
goes hand in hand with artists developing their sound as well.
Then there’s the technical aspect of mixing. Things have changed technically, almost to a point where the way you mix now is entirely different
from how you mixed even just five years ago. Or it can be, depending on
which technology you decide to use. Plug-ins have gotten better at doing
the things they’re supposed to do, for example. That’s a big one in the last
ten years. In fact, some of the emulation plug-ins have gotten so good
that even the most stubbornly out-of-the-box engineers have gone almost
entirely in the box in the last few years. That’s definitely a game changer.
And, then, those changes in tools and techniques change
the way mixes sound in turn?
Of course. Engineers check out new plug-ins all the time. Sometimes
they’re impressed. It can be like a ‘Eureka!’ moment, in fact, stumbling
on a plug-in that does something exactly the way you’d always hoped a
plug-in would. You play around with this new thing for a few minutes,
immediately realize its potential, and then they you start using it on everything for a while. And the process goes on and on and on. . . . The process
of discovery never ends, really, so long as there are mix engineers who
believe they can improve their craft.
That said, people do still like mixing in traditional ways. People still like
mixing on consoles. Consoles aren’t really going anywhere anytime soon,
even if you need a bigger budget to work on one. But the older model isn’t
as popular as it used to be. People realize, now, that whether you work out
of the box or in the box is mostly a question of personal preference, and
even though each way of working has its pros and cons, they’ll both get
you equally professional results. There’s no need to work on a console, is
what I’m trying to say. But a lot of producers and engineers definitely still
want to work on a console, and they see the benefit of doing so. In general,
though, I think that a large-scale move to in-the-box workflows is a big
part of what’s changed, or is changing, in mixing these days, even if the
out of the box remains strong. And you can hear this change in the way that
mixes generally sound