I've been reading a lot about mixing lately. Especially one book got me thinking. Mike Senior (Mixing Secrets for Home Studio) talks about letting the faders tell you what's needed. Long story short, you listen to the tracks and simply pay attention to the faders. Does every track feel balanced without the need of moving the fader? If not, what's the right tool for stabilizing the track? Is it a compressor, EQ, something else, or a combination of these all?
This is basic stuff for mixing engineers, but for me, as a composer, this perspective opens up a lot of new ways of looking at the process of making music.
Mixing is a lot like composing. Sure, the working methods of these two art forms are quite different. But they both share very similar philosophical foundation. They both aim for discovering the perfect balance of frequencies! That's what music is really about.
Our brain can process only so much information at a time. What's the message? What's relevant in order to deliver the message, and what's irrelevant? These are the questions that both a composer and a mixing engineer are solving in their own distinct ways.
This is exciting stuff, and I've discovered a peculiar thing while thinking about it. The more I'm reading about the work of a mixing engineer, the less frustration I'm feeling when working on my own music. How come? I'll give you one example.
Last week I was tracking some vocal parts. I thought it went pretty well. The performance was quite solid. Some minor inaccuracies here and there, but nothing too serious. Nothing that couldn't be fixed later on Melodyne. (Yes, I use Melodyne. End of conversation..)
For the rest of the week I concentrated on some other stuff and was feeling good about getting the vocals done earlier. Getting vocals done is always an important milestone!
But then something happened.. With time, those little inaccuracies started nagging me more and more. I started to gradually feel that the overall performance, and especially the attitude, could be better. More honest, if you will. Then I remembered what Mike Senior had talked about "letting the faders guide you".
No faders here literally, but the concept of really listening what you're doing is something that can be overlooked all too easily. Is the performance good enough or not? This is a relative question, of course. Good enough for what?
The question must be: Is it good enough for delivering the message I'm trying to deliver? Not almost, but with absolute clarity!
And the conclusion was: No it isn't. It's ok, workable, good even, but not perfect. It's a lot of energy that goes into preparing a recording session, tracking and editing. But you have to be honest to yourself. IF you're aiming for something very special..
All the energy put on a less than perfect recording session is simply one way of "listening to the fader". It shouldn't be a problem, but a crucial part of the solution! Now I'm that much closer to finding the right stuff. The stuff that's really relevant.
In order for sonar to be useful, there must be a signal to listen for. The "failed" recording session was the signal, now it's time to use the sonar and make the right conclusions. Now it's just a matter of using the right tools for getting the balance of the music happening. In this case the tools are a bit more practice and then a new recording session. Simple as that.
And simplicity is what you aim for anyways. When you listen to great music, no matter how complex it technically is, you feel that it's exactly how it should be. The message is simple and honest.
And this is because of one simple reason. The composer and the musicians (and the mixing engineer, too) have gone the extra mile to make sure the balance is just right. They have taken responsibility of their creative power and used it wisely. To the best of their potential.
When people reach this level of honesty, it doesn't even matter anymore if the song is technically good or bad, what style is it, and all this nonsense. It's honest music! That's the only thing that really matters.