One thing’s for sure. You will only learn how to mix multi-track songs together by doing and reading and learning and failing and reading some more.
The reason for this little article is not to discourage, but rather to ENcourage you to go for it!! You won’t be able to magically pull up a great mix out of thin air, ya just gotta dig in and get to it! If you’re not in the position to work in a studio or to record tracks at your place, then there are plenty of multi-track recordings for free you can pull from the internet.
Mixing is an art form that begins with understanding the architecture of the final product before or as recording occurs. Or, if a mixer is for-hire and not involved in the recording, the mixer should receive specific notes from the producer as to what the final product should sound like; what instruments are to be featured or what tracks are experimental and not final. In the absence of any direction, the mixer is going to create what THEY feel and hear is the best representation of the song. It’s all about the song! The producer may or may not agree with the mixer’s assessment. Since a huge part of THAT equation is all about successful relationships, here’s hoping for some great communication between the two.
On the other hand, some very well recorded material is going to speak for itself. When microphones are set up well and then engineers just get out of the way of good musicians, real synergy is created between heart, mind and soul! You will hear exactly how a song should be presented. Sadly, this is not always going to be the case, but we hope for the best.
To quote a famous engineer psuedo-named Mixerman:
“A great mix is one that brings the production of a great song to it’s fullest potential while effectively manipulating the listener’s emotions and focus, thereby forcing an appropriate and desired physical reaction while simultaneously causing the listener to sing.”
What a mouthful! I guess the best way to explain that is for you to pick up a copy of his book, Zen and the Art of Mixing.
But just to continue this line of thought: Remember, it’s all about the song. If the song is weak, the mix is irrelevent. A well-written song is going allow for a great mix. If a song is not well-written, it may turn out to sound OK, but a thoughtful approach to the desired end result when writing the song is going to make all the difference in the world as far as the potential of the mix.
Mixing is more about an attitude than it is about the technical aspects. Sure, you need to know some technical aspects. You need to yearn to GO BEYOND thinking that a mix is only the technical aspect.
A well-written song is one that takes the listener on a journey and pulls at the heart. A good sounding mix can come from less of a song, but a GREAT sounding mix is borne from the best written ones.