Mixing: leave emotion at the studio door?

So we were talking about how to get the best out of vocals (EQ your own voice) , and the question of emotion arose.

Not whether singers should try to express emotion in their vocals, but whether engineers should try to impart the correct emotions fore the song through their work.

The inverse of that would be that engineers should simply get everything sounding pristine, clean clear (or distorted and unclear?). They should not mess with the intrinsic value of the song.

Personally, I believe engineers have a huge responsibility to take account of emotion, and I’ll try, briefly, to explain why.

I should state, at the start, that I’m a multi- instrumentalist and a solo artist/engineer/producer/mastering engineer. I work only on my own stuff which I write perform, mix etc. etc. etc. I an VERY aware that this means I come at the sound engineer job from a (some might say VERY) different standpoint. But I believe it should apply to all.

So you have the track, let’s say (since it’s what I know) there’s a couple of acoustic rhythm guitars, drums, bass, vocals, harmony vocals, a fiddle and maybe a mandolin or dobro.

So, picking one of those, I’m working on the fiddle, and I find that one of the high notes I played is harsh, screechy and upfront. OK, I can soften it down with a little EQ … notch out the harshest points and get it to sit right with the rest of the fiddle (I use Samplitude so I can EQ just that note without applying the EQ to the rest of the track if I want).
Maybe a touch of compression on the whole track would also help even things out, and pushing the track through catch-all roioim reverb (glue) will soften harsh edges too>
So I’m done? NO. I’m not.

Because the note may still be too strident for the really sad lyric that preceded it. This should be a nice silky high note and I have to work harder to get it to that. I might even have to find another instance of it to edit in to the fiddle line, a softer, more subdued thing that the screech I’ve just tamed.

OK. I used lots of adjectives there which stand alongside warm as utterly useless. My silky might be your wimpish etc etc.

But the point I’m making is this: if I ignore the song as a whole (so don’t listen to the emotion of the vocals, the content of the lyrics) I might NOT make the right decisions for the mix and I might wreck everything the writer, singer, performers were trying to do.

Now some of you will say (smugly): “Well everyone does that, don’t they?”

I fear, from some of the comments in the other thread, (EQ your own voice) that they may not. They want to do the mixing with complete emotional detachment.

I think they’re wrong. What say you?

I didn’t follow the other thread, so I’ll take this one at face value.

Everyone agrees that emotion should be preserved. The debate is over the best way to preserve it. I think its a little bit of a false dichotomy to say ‘either you preserve it or you don’t’. And what people identify as ‘emotion’ is somewhat subjective. Some people may appreciate subtle imperfections, some people think they just sound bad.

The most important skill in mixing is accurately identifying the elements that make the whole production special. And often those are related to how we experience the feeling put into a song. That understanding is instinctual. Mechanics and technique should never be in the drivers seat with anything in art.

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I understand why you opened this thread. What i think is that there is no solve-everything solution to mixing. But when you have put much investment in the song, you do need some rest to listen to it fresh. Because, You have emotional reserves from the previous stages of writing and composing. Those coulda-shoulda-woulda feelings left, may take away from the morale of mixing. Those kind of feelings come natural after you hear it too many times, and get sick of the song, and then start to see the downturns instead of the pros of the songs. Did you write a bad song? Cool mix it anyway. Later on, it’ll turn into lesson for the next. Important is to mix it anyway. For the thread which you mention, it will take a genius to remind to people their jobs without hurting them with the song. It’s just a spicy topic to talk about in the entertainment field. Most people want to distract themselves from their daily routines, not be reminded of how their job sucks, because well…70 percent of people believe their job sucks. In these instances where you can no longer go back and fix a word, It’s just better to take the song out as soon as possible and then learn from it.

Just my two cents.

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I’m with you on the emotional part of mixing, although I think there are 2 aspects to it.
Probably why big boys have assistants building their sessions, doing the tidiying up/editing before they enter and work on the “artistic” aspect.
When you’re doing everything from songwriting to production up until mastering, it’s hard to separate all those tasks anyway and practically impossible (for me at least, looks like the same thing for you) to stay objective and forget the emotional attachment to the song.
I suppose mixers, who do that for a living, are sometimes perhaps doing it like a mechanical thing, and find benefit in being detached from the emotional aspect of what they are mixing (I suppose it must happen often that they have to mix music that they simply don’t like!) but for us doing our own songs, I’m not quite sure it’s even possible, and most likely not desirable…

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If the vocal is the main “instrument” of the song, then emotion should definitely be part of it. Just imagine a singer saying the frase “I am cryig my eyes out” with the same emotion of “I like to eat steak”. It wont transmit anything.

If the vocals do not sound pristine and clean maybe that is whats needed for the song. take Tom Waits or Joe Cocker, for example. Sometimes an out of tune vocal works just right like in some sonic youth songs.

It is very subjective. And when working with your own voice it get’s even worse because it is possible that you don’t want to sound as yourself…


Emotion’s hugely important as a mixer, but I think the most helpful emotion is the excitement of hearing an awesome tune coming together. How can that not be inspiring? It’s the best feeling in the world when you get that moment where the mix just clicks and that last chorus bursts out of the speakers, and you’re moving in your chair with a smile on your face.

That feeling is so much easier to get when the music and performances aren’t yours, because you can detach your own ego from what you’re hearing and make the performances great in their own right.

It’s waaay harder when it’s your own music and performances, because to get excited by your own awesome tune coming together is just harder. There’s no surprises, you were there every step of the way. You have a fixed idea for what you wanted when you performed the song, and you might be mixing to that idea rather than the actuality of what’s coming from the speakers.

But, as a general rule, as a mixer you need to respond to the emotion that’s in front of you.


I think this depends on if the mixer and the producer are one in the same.

When mixing I feel like I should record it as clean as possible. But to work with the emotion the producer has implied should be in the sound.

If I have both roles I have to decide what emotional impact should be in the song and tweak instruments, chorus, etc accordingly. To do less would weaken the mix in my mind.

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It depends on what the artist wants. I always ask the question at the front of a recording session: “What input do you want from me in this session?” Some artists just want you to hit the red button when they say so, and to produce it all themselves (they’re almost always crap at it in my experience).

The greater majority are only to happy to receive help and input. In this situation I will do anything that I think will improve the end product. In terms of the OP, the first line of attack is to get the absolute maximum out of the performer. So if I think a note would sound better played with more/less emotion, then absolutely it is my job to try and elicit that out of the artist. Of course, actually doing that requires a great deal of psychology, patience, and mutual trust, and that expends large lumps of my available energy, hence I am usually exhausted after a session.

In terms of mixing, that philosophy continues. If the artist has given it everything they’ve got in the recording process then I surely must give it everything I’ve got in the mixing process. I have no shame, no principles, no morals, all of that stuff is nonesense IMO - it’s an audio recording, not a religious belief system. I will do whatever I think is necessary to get the best sounding master possible.