We are encouraged to promote ourselves, to sell our skills and services. This is often linked to confidence and sometimes pushes on to ego and, most of the time, this is ok and acceptable. It can become a little odd when we’re talking about being a mix engineer though, as no matter how much we big up our skills and speak with all the lingo, my motto has never let me down: ‘The play button never lies’.
Sometimes our terms and lingo can push into the realms of bullshit as, quite often, it is bullshit. If you have to spend 45 minutes explaining to your client what you’ve done with the bottom end and why – justifying it before you’ve even played the song – you kind of know, deep down, that you’ve fucked the bottom end up and what you’re doing is trying to convince the client that what you’ve done is good, prepping them with an over complicated monologue to ease them into your mix. Hitting that play button will tell the client everything they need to know with no explanation whatsoever. Buttering it up with meaningless buzzwords will get you one thing – no returning clients. Sorry, two things. No returning clients and a bad reputation. Ultimately, they will take your mix away with them and any verbal persuading you did in the moment will wear thin pretty quickly.
Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ album sold 1.2 million copies in the first week. Imagine if Ms Swift had to go to everyone’s house who bought it to do a 5 minute explanation of why it sounded the way it did. It would take her just under 11.5 years to do that. What people actually did was hit the play button. Reputation was mixed by Serban Ghenea, no further explanation needed.
The play button will also tell your client if you’ve tried to produce the track when you were asked to mix the track. Don’t get the two confused. If the artist has a producer and you’ve been hired to mix, the production is done. Stepping on the toes of what the artist and producer have done will win you no friends. You’ll hit play and they’ll say ‘What have you done to my song?’. In that moment, hopefully, the thought will hit you that you’ve offended both the artist and the producer and, once again, you’ve used mixing as a backdrop for your own narcissism. If you’ve finished the mix in good time and have time left over, do a separate mix of your ideas and IF the occasion arises and the artist is happy with your original mix, offer to play them your alternative. Don’t ever rush through what you’re being paid to do just so that you can get to your idea though. If you’ve done a good job, the play button will be your friend.
The artist and producer, if they are doing their job correctly, would have communicated to you how far you can go with the mix. This may be nothing more than a thoroughly decent ‘rough mix’ which tells you where they’re headed. Your job would then be to take it to, and beyond, where they ever thought it could be sonically. This is still not producing. Democracy in mixing rarely works. That doesn’t mean that there are no tweaks, there are always tweaks and recalls, but there needs to be boldness and clarity in the artists vision as there is really no such thing as the perfect mix. There is only a mix that blows away the artist’s expectations and intentions. Do you avoid using a particular reverb because you hate that reverb? That’s fair enough, but the more enlightened mixer would think more like ‘I hate that spiky, metallic reverb, but it’s the perfect reverb for this song, this mix and this artist’.
On a recent album I mixed, the artist didn’t use one of my mixes. After they’d lived with it for a week or so, I’d mixed it too nicely. It was a great compliment on not including the mix. So what ended up on the record? It was the original 2 track demo that we just did a little overall EQ on before it went off to mastering. They said they really liked the mix but it just didn’t fit the rest of the record. Ironically, this track was the first track I mixed that got me the gig to mix the record but over time, the artist’s vision for that song changed in the bigger picture of their album. I still love the mix I did of this song and the album has turned out great. Leave most of your ego at the door. Keep the bit that urges you to do great work.
The mixer is sometimes the producer. For a working mix engineer, probably not. Don’t ignore the artists vision and instead try to fill their head with bullshit, meaningless similes that make no sense in an attempt to con them into a record they don’t want and didn’t ask for. The play button will instantly fuck you, and not in a good way. That tiny little play button will suddenly seem 10 feet tall, towering over you, pointing down at your face. If it could speak it would utter one word ‘Wanker’.
The music – the mix – should speak for itself. Don’t act like a door-step sales rep. In years to come everything and anything you mix will be judged by one thing and only one thing. The play button. Because…
The play button never lies.