My Mix Is Missing Something, But I Don't Know What?
This is something I hear a lot. You, as an artist, work really hard to get your song sounding great! But after many attempts it is just not there. "I was adding this, then adding that", and it sometimes feels like its a guessing game and hoping something, anything will work.
Well, to be honest, this happens to most bands and artists who try to engineer their own songs. To be brutally honest, it comes down to a few things: experience, knowledge, understanding mixing gear and ear training. I used to be is this boat several years ago when I played in bands. I did all the mixing myself and I thought I was the greatest Mix Engineer in the world! To my ears, it sounded just the way I heard it in my head. Then after a few days later, when comparing it to other artists in the same musical genre, I found it lacked something. I figured it must be the gear that I was using, so I bought more gear. Nope that wasn't it. So what is it? Why couldn't I get my final mix to sound professional?
Because mixing and mastering became my passion, I decided to go to an audio engineering school (Berklee College of Music) and everything I could do to create the best mixes I could. In just a few short days at school I realized my mixes were not remotely close to professional standards. This was shocking to me, because in my head they always sounded so great, but when compared to other commercial mixes they were flat, booming, muddy, and downright terrible.
After getting my education, I thought I was ready for the world! My mixes improved greatly and I thought I was"the shit". Still after letting my ego settle down a bit, I noticed that there was a lot of mixing engineers out there doing some fantastic commercial mixes, far better than I could do. What I found is that yes, school was a tremendous help, and yes getting to work with some of the all time greatest Mix Engineers was important, but really what was needed to get to that promised land was time. I needed time and experience to develop careful listening skills. I needed time and experience with the gear to know which EQ or plugin was needed and when to use them. World famous Mix Engineer, Dave Pensado, said "you not there until you've mix at least 200 songs, and yes I destroyed a lot of songs along the way to 200 mixes." Daves clients includes Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole, Trey Songz, Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Elton John just to mention a few, and yeah he is good. But even a Mix Engineer of his caliber had to take some bumps and bruises along the way.
This is the growing process of any art form. It is sort of like asking a bass player to now play perfect lead guitar during a recording session. A bass player practices bass all of the time, perfecting his skill. But if all of a sudden this bass player has to become a lead guitarist, he doesn't have the time in and the experience to play guitar as well as he does the bass. The guitar won't sound as professional. The same is true for mixing. So when you ask, "My mix is missing something, but I don't know what?", yeah you don't. You don't have the experience, the ears, knowledge of the gear and knowledge of many complex mixing skills. It is nearly impossible to be the best at something that you do on a very part time level.
So, what is the answer? Well, you can spend thousands of hours going to audio mixing school, then spend a few more years gaining the experience needed tp create the perfect mix, or you could hire a professional audio Mix Engineer with experience in the industry to do it for you. In the long run it is less time consuming and costly for you the artist/band. Think of your Mix Engineer as another member of the band using his/her expertise to make your song sound just the way it should. When looking for the for an engineer, remember, the cheapest doesn't always work. Good mixes aren't cheap and cheap mixes aren't good! But that doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune either. My suggestion is to always listen to the songs on the portfolio page provided by the Mix Engineer on their website and compare those mixes to commercial mixes that are out there. By listening to their portfolios and reading their reviews, you can choose an Engineer who fits your needs and the needs of your song the best. Always make sure that their work is guaranteed. Any reputable Mix Engineer will stand by and guarantee their work. Tell your engineer exactly what you want to get out of this mix. What do you want it to sound like? What are areas of concern? Write down all of your questions, concerns and ideas so when you speak to your engineer, they know what direction to take the song. Speak in one voice as a band. By doing this your Mix Engineer will get you the best mix possible and your song will sound the way you want it to. Remember, your Mix Engineer wants to make you and your songs sound great!
These are words of advice from someone who has been there many times.
Drew Puzia is a multi-award winning Mix Engineer at SoundBurst Studios in Las Vegas. Drew is certified in Audio Engineering from the world renowned Berklee College of Music. His experience spans over three decades in the music industry and he has recorded and mixed countless musicians in many genres of music.