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5 Tips for Navigating the Mix Revision Process

One of the quintessential steps in mixing a recording is the revision process.

It’s difficult to get a mix right by one’s own standards in the first go. It’s even trickier to do the same by someone else’s standards.

The revision process can be a great opportunity to make things great, or a downward spiral toward a mix no one likes. Here’s my five tips for navigating the revision process.

1. Understand Your Client Before the Mix Begins

Knowing your client, their expectations and their tendencies will save you a lot of headache. The majority of clients are simply motivated to get the best sounding record possible. That means you need to understand their definition of “best sounding,” because anything that works away from that expectation will end up on the revision list.

A minority of clients are motivated by insecurity. They don’t necessarily believe there is a “best” version, so they need to explore every possibility. These clients will tend to become either addicted to the demo version, as it’s the only version they’ve become comfortable with, or they will become addicted to the revision process because it gives them a sense of control.

In the case of these particular clients it’s very important to help formulate a final vision of the record well before you’ve finished, and to stay in constant communication along the way. Continually asking questions and getting their ideas not only helps give you a path to mix, but also reassures the client that you are working to bring the best out of their record. Insecurity can be hugely damaging to the creative process.

2. Start with ‘The Client is Right’

Here’s a bit of logic. We can take it as a given that the client wants the best for their record. Even if the revisions seem off or odd, the client is almost assuredly requesting those revisions for a reason. When the client gives you revisions that you question, assume that the client is right and try to make a version that works with the client’s intention.

For example, if the vocals are already somewhat low in the mix and the client asks for the vocals to come down further, try to figure what they are really trying to do. Maybe the vocals aren’t really as important as you think.

Or maybe the client wants the vocals to feel further away, rather than simply come down in level. Perhaps the vocals will work down if they’re given a bit more EQ presence, and that may open up the lower midrange for something else. Point is: try to see the artist/producer’s perspective.

3. Save and Catalog Every Version

Making revisions is somewhat of a domino effect. Once one thing changes there often becomes an apparent need for something else to change. And then something else follows suit. Suddenly, one revision note has triggered a whole host of changes.

Most of the time this results in an overall better mix. But sometimes you lose a bit of something that was great in the original iteration.

Save every revision as a new file. Mark it very clearly.

“Crazy Song 1” is not efficient. “Crazy Song – V1 – 10-20-2014” is much better.

Name your prints in a way that corresponds with the session they belong to.

If “Crazy Song – V1 – 10-20-2014.wav” is the name, you can easily identify it along with the “Crazy Song – V1 – 10-20-2014.ptx” session.

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This will help when you need to go back to a previous version of the mix, which inevitably you will need to do at some point.

4. Don’t Make It All about the Mix

One of the most difficult aspects of making a revision is determining what really needs to change.

Many times when something doesn’t sound right, it’s my fault as the engineer. But frequently enough, when something sounds off it’s simply because it is off.

The problem can often be traced to a poor recording, timing or pitch errors, or a poor arrangement choice. Sometimes elements just need to be muted. Other times, another element simply needs to be added.

If you don’t feel you can get what’s needed with what’s presented — make a change. I’ve added vocals, percussion, swapped bass parts, muted guitar doubles, muted backing vocals, created drops, stutters… all sorts of stuff to get the record right. Most artists are ok with this. They came to you for your expertise so they have at least some degree of faith in your judgement. But again — keep the lines of communication open.

5. Remember: It’s Not Your Record!

The song belongs to the artist, and the song belongs to the listener, but the song does not belong to you.

As the engineer, your job is to try to find objectivity within a subjective field. Put the artist and the song in front of your own ego, and learn to let go a bit.

This can be tough because the song will be a reflection of you. And you were chosen as the engineer for your tastes. But ultimately the job is about getting an artist’s vision to come out of those two speakers as closely to how the artist intends it as possible.

Conclusion

Mixing is a personal experience. You put hours into a record. It can be rough when someone wants it changed.

If you keep these five things in mind, the revision process will be smooth sailing, and will usually yield better results. Might even lead to you making better decisions down the road in future mixes.

Now, normally I would invite people to share their revision tips in the comments. This time however, I’m inviting folks to share their revision horror-stories instead. It’s coming Halloween time and nothing is more frightening than the client who requests ten revisions just to end up sticking with the first mix. [Evil Laughter].

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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: Weiss-Sound.com

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