How to give effective mix notes
Mix revisions are necessary step that all mixes throughout history have gone through. The essential communication link between the mixing engineer and the artist.
I strive to get the mix right on the first time, but your preferences will be likely be slightly different than mine so now is the time we make tweaks. Let’s get one thing straight – you are the boss. I try to remove my ego from the picture and help you achieve your sonic vision.
Example of helpful notes:
- 0:23-35 (verse and each repeat) turn down the background vocal phrase “be there” a little
- 0:55 I like the vocal echo you did on “Sunshine.” Make it a bit louder
- 1:34-1:44 turn down the synth track, it was meant to be more of a background part
- On the master, can we try to squeeze a bit more loudness of of the track?
Now that you’ve made the wise decision to bring a mix engineer onboard your project to bring your music to the next level, there are some actions and mindsets that can greatly help or hinder the process. After receiving the first mix, revisions are very normal part of the process. Sometimes it may be a tweak or two, while sometimes it may involve more. It is important to note and try to avoid these pitfalls which will ultimately help the mixing process and your music.
Listening Back in a Poor Environment
Yes, one of the main goals of the mixing process is ensuring playback sounds great on all systems; however, it is important to listen back to the music in both critical listening environments (tuned room, decent converters, studio monitors, and headphones) and through casual playback devices (computer speakers, iPod earbuds, boom boxes, and car stereos). It won’t sound ideal on every system, so it is useless to cater changes to one specific system as the change may very well negatively affect the majority of other systems. Do take notice of any reoccurring sentiments you feel as you listen through different speakers as these are changes that can definitely be made. When listening on different speakers, be sure to not only listen to your music, but also to recent commercial tracks in the same genre. This way, you are able to distinguish what nuances are caused by the system itself, and what you may be hoping for in the mix.
Not Setting Deadlines
At first glance, it may seem like deadlines impose unwanted boundaries to a project, add a stressful hurried feel, and prevent you from achieving perfection. Experience from myself and countless other engineers proves the contrary. Deadlines are vital to musical projects because they maximize time utility, encourage objectivity, reduce endless non-productive revisions, and conserve mental capabilities. Setting a solid release date around an album and building launch events during this time is a great way to ensure you stick to the deadline. There will always be little things that you feel could be better in a production, but the other side of that is that many small things you might have thought were important will disappear from memory. Remember, the audience is not near as nit-picky as the creator, so when it is time to accept the project as it is and send it off for printing, rest your mind and focus on your next tasks.
Requesting Endless Revisions
I’m not saying this out of laziness, I’m happy to perform any revisions you feel are necessary. I’m saying this because endless revisions actually tend to begin to work against you and the song. When mixing, first impressions of a song are key to making decisions based on feel. After hearing the song many many times, it is near impossible for the brain and ears to hear the song the same way it was heard the first time. Too many small changes can take the life out of the music at a certain point. I’ll always make any changes you request, and many times, we end up going back to the way it was before, after hearing what the change sounds like. Going back to point one, listen on different systems, compare to references, and listen casually to make fruitful revision decisions based on these factors and your original intention.
Being Married to the Rough Mix
Rough mixes can prove to be extremely valuable as they provide deep insight into your musical vision. They let me know important preferences such as volume proportions, panning, effects etc… I truly understand that you have probably spent a great deal of time on these rough mixes as well, so they are not taken lightly. Problems can occur when someone is too attached to their mix that they become closed off to new ideas for the mix. Much of this is a natural human response to hearing the mix a certain way so many times, so it is important to mentally be open to someone else’s approach. That is, after all, why you hired me in the first place right? 🙂 Before mixing begins, you are encouraged to let me know if you prefer a completely new approach to the mix, or for me to model the mix off of the rough mix and make a series of smaller, less noticeable improvements. For some, mixing it yourself may, in fact, be the option that leaves you most satisfied, so this is something to consider before hiring an engineer. Though, most of the time, you will be very pleasantly surprised to hear an expert mixer’s take on your song.
Listening From a Technical Point of View
No one other than geeky engineers will be listening to your track from a technical point of view, listening for subtle nuances and compression and EQ techniques. The normal listener listens for feeling, beat, lyrics, and melody. These factors are how music touches the human soul – the technical aspect is a just a tool to help the process. Be sure not to get too involved in the gear and processing that you forget the music you originally made and who it is for. Take a break from listening or even listen fresh the next morning. Insert the track in a playlist and listen to the track casually as a normal listener would. This way, you can make better judgments and forget the technical side of things.
Not Being Clear Enough in Your Descriptions
Describing sound in words can be difficult at times. For your convenience, I’ve provided a Glossary of Audio Terms which should help. It is helpful to be very clear in the exact changes you want and it may be good to reference a specific example from another recording. Providing a time reference (ex. 03:22-03:32 Chorus) and lyrics makes the process simple.
Making revisions can be a simple and productive process, aligning your musical vision with the mix and improving the production together.