As a sound engineer you go through the highly intellectual prosess of mixing and mastering with the ultimate goal of capturing the hearts of the audience. Even when you know how to effectively handle your DAW and various signal processors – bridging the heart and the mind can be a real challenge. It´s not, however, impossible and I have a «method» that I´ve applied lately to make this challenge a bit less challenging.
Balance your mix first!
Put on your intellectual hat and go through the process of balancing your mix. Basically start with the faders and then pan the different instruments to your liking. Panning, in particular, is often overlooked by beginners — that´s a mistake. Take your time and discover just how much careful panning can do for your mix.
Time to process – aim for «perfect» rather than emotional
I won´t go into technical details on this – youtube is a great resource in that regard. In my case I always start with «corrective» eq to tame resonant frequencies. Then, depending on the instrument, I throw on one or two compressors (fast-slow or slow-fast). After this it´s time for some coloring, using the EQ of your choice.
This can be a time consuming affair, depending on the song (and the band/musicians) you´re mixing for. Take your time and make sure everything is in balance, both within the individual tracks and within the mix. Leave out creative automation for now – concentrate on volume and panning.
Heart and soul
Take a break from mixing, at least an hour; then go back and listen through your mix several times without making any adjustments. Then take five! and listen again – this time with your heart. How do you feel when reviewing your mix. Do you notice any sensations in your body? What do you miss? For me, I try to think abstractly – closing my eyes and imagine colors, patterns, light and forms. Which colors are lacking, should some of them be stronger. Are there any patterns of breath and rhythm to the mix or the individual instruments that you´d wish to pronounce? How about the light and the forms? – What needs to shine, and when? – Are the edges too jagged or too soft? Let your feelings guide you. Don´t be afraid of experimenting – trust your ears more than the values on your signal processors. Go on some panning adventures – get crazy with filters and distortion – make those bus compressors really breathe… A great mix should trigger your emotions. Having the «perfect mix” might impress your stereophile friends, but if it does´t move you it´s, at best, a technical exercise.
Using this approach you can make most of your creative and emotional decisions starting on a good sounding, stable foundation. It has helped me – maybe it can help you too?