Mixing EDM: Producer’s Perspective
In my previous article, I wrote about some of the challenges and solutions of mixing EDM as a hired on engineer.
In this article I’ll be discussing some of the challenges the producer faces when it comes mix time.
Challenge: Relinquishing creative control
Handing over a beloved record to someone else can be daunting. Particularly if it’s the first time working with a particular engineer. The reality is that getting something to sound exactly like it does in your head is extremely difficult, and that’s if the engineer can really see your vision. Us engineers are a precious lot and can be tough to work with.
Solution 1: Communication
Before even beginning to work with an engineer, no matter how much you love that person’s reel, vet how well this person communicates. Have a conversation. Even very experienced engineers can get tripped up with mixing EDM, so expect some back and forth.
If the engineer seems to be the type of person who becomes more married to their own vision than yours, don’t even get involved!
Solution 2: Stay open minded
If you form too solid of a sound in your head before mixing you create two problems for yourself.
First, you’re setting yourself up for a long process.
Second, you may miss out on the opportunity for your record to grow or take shape in unexpected ways.
I recommend having a solid yet flexible direction in mind. A good engineer will have an objective perspective on the record that you can’t really have as the producer.
Challenge: Confirmation bias or second guessing
Let’s say you choose to mix the record yourself. Sometimes that’s truly the best way to go. But now we have a new set of obstacles.
The first is called confirmation bias. It means you get an idea in your head thinking it might sound good, you do it, and because you did it, you determine it sounds good regardless of how it actually sounds. Of course, if you are even somewhat aware of this issue it’s possible to swing the other way.
It becomes difficult to trust yourself even when something sounds good because you don’t really know if it truly sounds good, or just sounds good to you. Yikes.
Solution: Keep perspective
Mixing is both a creative and technical process, and in many ways the goals of a mix aren’t necessarily clear cut. So start by being patient with yourself.
It’s easy to get lost in both trying to make something work technically, or going crazy with creative effects. Whether you are the type of person who mixes as they go or waits until the song is all laid down to mix, always save where you’re at. Step away from the record for a bit. Come back, save it as a new session, and then start the mix fresh.
Begin with the assumption that you did everything right in the production phase and now you are just ironing out the kinks. If something sounds great without any processing, don’t start EQ’ing and going crazy. Just leave it be.
Most of mixing is actually about adjusting things to sound right against other elements. If you keep that in mind, and you have your sound selection and arrangement chops in order, you may find that simply printing the record unmixed actually sounds pretty good!
Challenge: Not reproducing the record
I don’t personally produce records very often. But when I do I always loathe the mixing phase. Because I know I’m walking into the minefield of constantly wanting to adjust the production.
I’ll burn myself out on a record trying to EQ a snare, because I spend an hour going through my whole library experimenting with new snare sounds instead.
We all want things to be perfect. We can be insecure, obsessive, semi-insane folks. But in reality, even the greatest records are full of flaws and imperfections. It can be really hard to embrace that concept, especially when we are striving for greatness.
What ultimately matters though is that the listener goes on the journey that we’ve created.
As long as the feeling is right, mistakes can be forgiven. And sometimes we get lucky and the things we thought were mistakes end up being part of what people like about the record.
The mixing phase is tough, particularly in a genre where the sound is such a vital part of the actual composition. When you work with someone else, they have to “get it.”
When you don’t work with someone else, you have to have the technical skill and be able to step outside of your own head.
Neither way is easy. But once you get the swing of it, the mixing process can actually be very enjoyable.
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