Training yourself to mix. Tip - think like a chess player

Training yourself to mix. Tip - think like a chess player


Have a quick thought I figured I would share.

Lately I’ve adopted a technique I learned from years of chess playing and applied it to music. Its made for an interesting experience when being in the room observing Grammy winning mixers in action.

Chess players hit a rating level called an A class which is the rank right below expert. Which is below master. At this point, everyone knows the mechanics, the techniques and the repertoire (combinations) of moves to position the pieces at an advantage. They begin to study what’s called positional play. When grandmasters play, each move is recorded then published in a magazine or online. To study, what a player does is replay through the moves of grandmaster games. Then without looking ahead, they pause at a critical position, then try and guess the moves for both sides. Six to ten moves ahead, the student visualizes where the pieces will most likely be on the board, then assess ahead of time what advantages/disadvantages this will place each player in if they were to make certain combinations of moves. You then check to see if you were right. This helps develop a players strategic instincts. They then check them to see if they were even close. There is no shortage of ‘literature’ to study, as new games are being played. There are also move by move commentaries that are available to students.

So the problem with Chris Lord Alge tutorials is that they’re edited. They often don’t show trial and error. There is an advantage I’ve observed from being in the room with some of the best mixers in the world that you don’t get to observe in an edited video. You don’t get to see them make moves then change their mind. The other thing I’ve noticed is that they don’t talk. There is a lot of explanation in most online tutorials. And when you’re in a room with these guys, you don’t get to interrupt and ask questions.

So rather than just observing what they do, I’ve started jotting notes based on what I hear vs just taking in what they’re doing. Then trying to guess where they’re going next as I’m following along. To a certain extent this works with videos if there isn’t a lot of commentary. But what I eventually realized is that there is a difference in the rooms. Its not as cut-and-dry as chess playing because there are many different ways of addressing a problem - and also because there is no win-loss criteria in mixing. Nevertheless, I’ve found that this has begun to help develop my own instincts, and its helped me get the most out of the precious time I’ve had the privilege to spend learning from industry leading engineers.

Good chess players develop an incredible sense of time management. So do chefs when they’re cooking. Its been fascinating to observe the differences between where master engineers focus their energy and where they don’t. This can’t be developed in a formulaic method because each song is so different, which is where I find a mix engineer must rely on strategy as well as instinct.

I have yet to discover how to make this process applicable to others who don’t have the luxury of working with this level of talent - sometimes live stream seminars are great for this, so long as they’re an actual mix session and not an advertisement for Avid products or something lame like that lol.

Food for thought!


I did this very same thing with a series of videos I was using back in the day. This helped tremendously. I was able to hear what I THOUGHT he’d do, and sometimes I was right, but often I was wrong… however, I was totally able to hear what was wrong about it. :+1


This is what I really enjoy about Warren Huart’s live YouTube broadcasts (even watching the recording). During the live feed you see the Chat Room and he actually takes suggestions and will try things and change his mind. Sometimes he even answers questions, and someone can influence how he mixes. I don’t know how he does that, it would drive me crazy it’s so ADD. But he has his center and his ground of what he does, and he’ll explain that as well if someone’s suggestion is not that helpful.

I like this strategy idea, even just in my own mixing philosophy. Mixing can be so complex, any one of a thousand small decisions can impact something else down the line. Boosting the high end can deplete the low end, and vice-versa. Carving one instruments EQ curve can affect how all the other elements glue. I’d probably even go so far as to call it a “holistic” view of mixing, or a shamanic web (gestalt). The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Checkmate that mix where there’s no moves left! :grin:


Really? Have you tried? Or do they make it clear from the start?

I ask because I don’t mind it myself. When a client is in the room and I’m mixing, most of them ask questions related to the process. I think it’s a good opportunity to develop the relationship, and also to also to give them the value of my experience and knowledge. Granted, I’m not a top level service provider but it surprises me that they don’t want to communicate during the process, I would have expected them to have a similar outlook to my own.


Around some of the more experienced guys I’ve find this to be an edicate thing. The best way I can describe it is trying to be really invisible and have them forget you’re even there. I guess just being mindful of not doing anything that would pose any kind of distraction.

Sure… if they’re mixing your project you certainly can, but when I’m there purely at the luxury of their good graces for no other reason than being a special snowflake, then I won’t even interrupt them to find the bathroom. I’ll go look for it myself lol.

Also, clinics and masterclasses are supposed to be classes. They’re there to teach, and its a little different than observing them on the actual job. There’s a good number of times where for a clinic, someone is bringing a mix they’ve already finished then re-creating it as a demonstration.



They’re human beings. Surely they would welcome intelligent questions about their work? I mean, if you’re not sure, you could always ask one question: “Would it be ok to ask a couple of questions during the session, or would you prefer me to stay quiet?”

Of course. You have a brain, you can find you own way to the bathroom. But otherwise you seem to be regardiing these people as unapproachable gods. That’s not healthy. What’s the worst that could happen if you ask a few questions?


I’ve been seriously thinking about doing some completely live mix videos with no edits. I just wonder how many people have the patience to sit through that many hours.

Maybe if I had Aardvark offering commentary it would be better.



Some of these POV videos are interesting, though not overly helpful on a technical level.

When someone makes a video, people seem to expect to be entertained. Live mixing sessions are not inherently interesting to watch on video. Like any other masterclass, the person watching it has to be at a certain skill level before they can really connect with whats going on. I would think that demonstration videos are often more interesting than routine technical videos. I saw one of Lebron James doing training drills. After about 5 min, I was like… why am I watching him jump rope, do pushups, lunges, and free throws and chit-chat with his coach? It was very interesting to see WHAT he does, but incredibly boring to watch him do it lol.

So I really don’t know. I wonder if being in a formal environment specifically to watch someone mix makes you able to focus and pay attention much easier than it would watching a live video, but I really don’t know. I’d check it out if you put it together!


Yeah. That.

I say this within reason. I was simply referring to not interrupting them while they’re trying to concentrate. That may have come across as more extreme than I intended it to.


Amen to all of that