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4 Ways You Can Benefit From a Mix-Off

Ok, so what the heck is a Mix Off?

A Mix-Off is kind of like a Bake-Off, except with mixing records instead of baking cakes. People compete by taking the tracks from a song, mixing them, and then someone judges and declares a winner.

Now, there are inherent flaws in the idea of a mix-off. In real life the client and the engineer work together to produce the best result. This kind of back and forth rarely exists in a mix off. However, there are some benefits as well. Being able to listen to what other people did with the same record can foster your own understanding. And, reality dictates that engineering (like most specialized fields) is very competitive. Pushing yourself to do the best for the fear of losing a competition is fair preparation for the real world — where failing to do your best can land you without a career. That was pretty heavy, I know, but it’s kind of true.

Even if you’re an experienced engineer, occasionally slipping in a mix-off can be good for you. It’s surprising and very cool what less experienced people will come up with in attempts to prove they are creative masterminds.

Education is the most powerful investment when it comes to engineering. Mix offs allow for a unique way to gain perspective, so take a stab at it! Here’s some tips on approaching a mix-off:

There are two possible goals in a mix-off. The first is obvious: to win. Approaching a mix-off with the intention of winning requires a certain mindset.

The second goal should also be obvious: personal education. Again, this goal also requires a certain mindset. The two mindsets are not mutually exclusive but they can come in conflict.

1. Mixing for personal education

Here, the intention is to develop and advance your skills as an engineer.

Competing in a mix-off to win should probably be a secondary goal, though I often see it as the primary goal amongst competitors. If you come in with the mindset of personal education then mix to your own aesthetic, regardless of the instructions. You are fostering your own aesthetic and judgement. You can get feedback from other competitors which — taken with a grain of salt — can be very useful.

You can also listen to other people’s mixes, take notes, and inquire about aspects of their mixes. Most people are there to share. Keep a positive mindset — it’s easy to identify what you don’t like in someone else’s mix. Look for what you do feel was effective and dissect that.

2. Mixing to win


Here, the intention is to win the prize/fame/glory.

Be wary that engineering is more about fulfilling a client’s expectation than your own. In the real world we get to have a back and forth dialogue with a client (usually). If you feel strongly about something or your client feels strongly about something you can gauge how to proceed.

In a mix-off you don’t get that luxury (with some exception which I’ll get to). Most of the time the winning mix will be the one that fulfill’s the judge’s expectation. So read the instructions carefully, listen to the music thoroughly, listen to the reference mix if one is provided. Make qualitative notes about the mix.

Doing both

The best of the best mixes will fulfill both the judge’s expectation and incorporate your own aesthetic.

In the real world, being able to make your client happy while at the same time being markedly “you,” is absolutely key to developing a reputation. You want to be known for giving a client what they want in a way that no one else can.

I remember placing second in a mix-off behind an engineer who was not as technically adept. The other engineer had gone way off the instruction and completely reinvented the bass. The judge’s comments were that my mix “fit exactly what they imagined the record to be, perfectly. This is what we set out to hear.” Not bad feedback. The winning engineer received a comment to the tune of “you showed us something in our record we hadn’t initially imagined and we love. You took the record passed where we thought it could go.” Ultimately, the other engineer’s bold and creative decision beat out my experience and technical prowess. That was an important lesson!

My choice venue for a mix-off is First, there’s a real prize, rather than just personal prize. Secondly, they do a two round system where the top mixes are given feedback from the judge and given the opportunity to revise the mix. Currently they’re raising funds for a big re-launch and you can support them here.

For me this creates a more realistic scenario — the competition carries incentive for people to really compete, and the dialogue with the “client” is opened up to a certain degree. If you are developing your skills as an engineer I recommend you compete as much as you can. If you are an experienced engineer and get a slower moment in your schedule, I really recommend popping in and giving it a go — it can really help you stay sharp and you might be surprised what you may learn from it.

[Editor’s note: If you find dissecting mixing perspectives helpful, check out Dueling Mixes]

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch:

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