When you face a rude awakening that you're just not that good at mixing

When you face a rude awakening that you're just not that good at mixing
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#1

I came to the realization over this last week that I’m gonna have to get a lot better at mixing than I am right now if I really want to build this studio up as a regional competitor.

I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.

I’ve started loosing important clients because I can’t compete with the Nashville and Atlanta circuit on speed and turnover needed to keep smaller labels and managers happy. It’s purely and simply a time management and mixing chops thing. At my level, there’s absolutely no blaming this on gear or quality of the tracks. There’s really zero excuses for it at my level. And I’m also realizing that if I’m having a hard time keeping up with this just in music, I’m gonna get killed at the next level of audio post production before I even get this new company and new building off the ground.

It’s not DAW/operator speed holding me back. Its not workflow or anything with technical either. I can match the sound quality coming from a lot of other studios, but it’s taking too long to get a fully competitive track from the recording through the mixing stage into the mastering stage in two or three days. Why? I have to keep going back and changing things to get them sounding good enough.

What’s taking me a ridiculous amount of time is not having a good enough sense of how to process certain sounds in ways that don’t require hours of restructuring later on in the mix. When you hear the raw bass track…or a raw vocal track…its about knowing what you need to do to something to get it to the end result with a minimal amount of frequency maneuvering and FX processing. Then being able to say OK…this vocal is fine…what does this track need next?

Tutorials are not the answer. Neither are ‘mix courses’. And training videos. The problem is that they don’t address the hear it/fix it process in a way that teaches you to know when a vocal is really working. Or a guitar stack is really sitting adequately to where you can move on. This is part an experience thing, part an intuition thing, but its also a learned processes that I don’t have have access to learning where I’m at in South Carolina.

You’d say practice more. Right? Its easy to pull up a track and mix it for practice. I have hundreds of tracks available to practice on. But I don’t know how much freely mixing in the safety of your own expectations will prepare you for the ridiculous amount of pressure of a high-stakes mix. And for the unfamiliarity of being handed a session from a respected tracking facility. Everything changes as you move from mixing local bands into regional acts and that have managers, agents, marketing teams and investors get involved. It puts a level of pressure on you that I haven’t had to deal with before.

I’ll figure out a way though this. What’s the say…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? :slight_smile: We’ll get there.


#2

You seem to have a lot of experience with a lot of different things. It’s surprising to hear you’re in this place right now, but I understand there may be a lot of anxiety by propelling yourself into a higher level of scrutiny.

Intuition is certainly a strong factor. Gut instinct. Follow your heart, etc. Part of that is “getting out of your head” meaning not overthinking things all the time. You seem like a very strong Thinker, so perhaps the touchy-feely and warm-fuzzy part of the mixing process is challenging from a “feel” perspective? Brandon once talked about Confidence being a huge part of the gig. Sometimes it’s based on experience knowing that from past experience you can handle anything, and other times it’s that bold confidence in self and that you’ll find a way to make it through crushing odds by sheer luck and determination. I think there’s some research that people that believe they will be successful tend to end up being successful, and those that have doubts end up sabotaging themselves. Obviously it’s more complex than that, but there’s some “power of belief” that can sometimes move mountains when evidence and facts would suggest otherwise.

I’m puzzled about the “learned processes” and your perception of lack of access to learning. Are you talking about the ability to work in a busy industry city where you can network and share ideas, or study with other people, mentors, etc? I guess your location could create some challenges when trying to compete in big markets, unless you had years of history in those markets prior to relocating to Bumpkinville. :slightly_smiling_face: You seem to study lots of things, good resources, and then attempt to put those things into practice.

Are you attempting to be too big for your britches? Grow too fast? Perhaps it’s time to focus on what you’re particularly good at and preferably what you also enjoy. Cut out the non-essentials and be known for being especially good at one thing. You’ll still have to take risks to get there, but it sounds like you are trying to take too many risks in areas where you don’t feel solid.


#3

A couple of thoughts.

Have you read Zen and the Art of Mixing? I read it a couple of years ago. I can’t remember exactly what was in it, but I believe it may address some of your feelings. It’s not very long.

Secondly, have you tried the technique of putting strict time limits on yourself? I do that when I feel like I’m taking too long on something. There’s something about having a deadline that can get our brains to focus and come up with a very good solution in very little time. What if you sat down and decided how long you wanted various phases of mixing to take you? Like, “1 hour for this, 1 hour for that,” that sort of thing. Then just stick to it, no matter what. That’s all the time you get. You might surprise yourself how quickly you can work when you simply don’t have more time to do it.

Mixing is a shit ton of little decisions. I read a book a long time ago called The Path of Least Resistance. (Very influential book, for me.) At one point he talked about getting better/faster at making decisions, and that a good way to start was by taking 10 seconds to order something at a restaurant. No pouring over the menu. Just glance at it and pick something that you think you’ll like. He said he got better at it over time and is almost always is happy with what he chooses. I say this because maybe it’s a good way to build your intuition for mixing too. Just force yourself to do it fast, and then you’ll get better at mixing fast.

Hope it helps. It sounds like you’re moving into a new stage in your career that comes with some growing pains. I’ve been experiencing something similar at my job, and I know it’s tough. The pressure can feel overwhelming. Hang in there. For what it’s worth I think you can succeed. :slight_smile:


#4

Confidence. You have to be confident with what you are producing.

I am not talking arrogant. You know that you can do and will do better but you are confident that you are producing a quality product and as you get more work it will improve because you are always improving.

I was watching this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t82Ay-dNKSo and i thought it illustrated what i am talking about. his early pictures are not great in retrospect but he kept producing images and videos and it improves.

TAKE AWAY: perfection can not be attained so start creating/producing and be confident that you are producing the best you can at the time. it may not be perfect but it never will be so let it go and move on to the next task.


#5

This is exactly where I feel limited.

There’s also research that shows that people who are great usually learn from someone great :frowning:

I wondered that myself. I can’t just sit here and plateau at this level though. I’m pretty committed to moving forward and continuing to grow…but ‘too fast’ may have been the operative word. A little too much ambition got Julius Caesar killed…did it not? :wink:

Was thinking about that too.

Interesting! I read daily adventures of Mixerman but not Zen. I’ll buy it on my Kindle :slight_smile:

I can think of a million other tasks that will work for, but I’m not even sure how to apply to that mixing. I sort of do that when I’m cooking, writing replies to people on IRD, exercising, etc… I could be better at it I guess.

I’ve done a lot of stuff to try and be fast. I’m having trouble getting it right. If I’m really honest with myself, I’m not sure if I really have the endgame of the mix and the process refined to work at that level. I’m pretty sure if I had a better understanding of how to build and layer and blend sounds to get to that final mix, I’d be able to figure out how to get it faster. So its being of certain of your end result, then confident and accurate in the moves and critical decisions it takes to get there. I feel like I have a vague idea of what the problem is, I’m not sure how to address it.

If I recall correctly, I think Andrew @ColdRoomStudio has mentioned making a conscious choice to allow the mix to take longer than some of his competitors.

You’re right…I agree. But at the same time the production and mix have to stand up against guys you’re fighting to beat out over the work. Jeez. If there’s one thing I can not stand, its loosing lol.


#6

Haaaaaaa! That’s cool! :slight_smile: Watched the whole thing.


#7

OK, I guess you’ll have to decide what kind of mechanic you are?
Are you a SAAB, Dodge or a Honda mechanic?
Or do you “service all makes”? - Nothing wrong with that.
If you’re an “all makes” guy I guess you’ll start with a default algorithm to get the sounds and levels of the drums and bass right first - then add stuff in?
If you’re a Ferrari mixer then you’d obviously work with a specialized skill set.
No matter what you do, you’ll need to stop judging yourself so harshly. Cause it don’t impress me much…

Could you have mixed this?


#8

they say “look at the big picture”…but the flipside of that is that they also say “be in the moment”

maybe you are trying to think a little too far ahead? trying to compete with Atlanta and Nashville. Okay, so you are a one man operation trying to compete with a whole studio or a whole region or what?

Id think youd have to build things one client at a time and even Pensado or CLA can still only do one mix at a time. You cant worry about what business you are ‘losing’ while you are busy satisfying whatever business you already have

The confidence thing etc. thats a huge subject and who really understands how it all works?? But at some level i think we have to accept that we as individuals do have something special to offer and some people will like it and some wont.

And things can “turn around” in a sense to where eventually YOU stop worrying about pleasing THEM (perceived “big shot” regional label guys etc) and instead THEY start worrying about how THEY can try to be the lucky ones that YOU decide to squeeze into your schedule. Picture 2 label guys at the country club “aww man, i tried to get Jonathan but he was doing Frankys record. Franky always gets the best guys! dang it. I wish I had Frankys pull”

It gets abstract like that to where people attribute magical powers to “famous” people. Like if CLA adds 2db at 40hz its magic whereas if someone else does it then its just adding 2db at 40 lol. Its not the kind of thing you can calculate with the left brain etc

So id say, yes, do look ahead a bit to where you want to be in a few years time, but also be the best you can be at the level where you are right now and do the best job possible for those clients and try to enjoy it at the same time.

Are you at the point to where you need an assistant? maybe you need someone who can do simple things like mix prep blah blah to save you some hours?


also, just to throw it out there. A lot of what we fear doesnt even exist. All of this “my mix has to stand up against this guys mix” blah blah. Probably at least 80% of that is in your head only. All you can do is make the best mixes you can and keep learning as u go

We all have some niche that we will thrive in


#9

my life is so much simpler. im just trying to get a kick sounding right lol


#10

I need some Zen or something.
To be honest I dont even like mixing most the time because the tracking isnt very good.

man JK you might have to be a producer or mastering engineer and hire a mix eng.
most people dont do everything.
look at EMI’s structure a training period from tea fetch boy to button pusher to mastering then to mixing eng then Senior Mix Engineer then wanting of the Producer credit…

ears and gear…and hands on experience and books and zen…sometimes buying the gear si the easiest part it seems.


#11

have you put together presets for specific instrumentation and stuck with it? If I didn’t do that it would take forever to get through mixing and I would have no consistency.You don’t need it for everything but certain time wasters it sure is handy. Vocals come to mind. I built a preset when I was struggling through vocals for a high end client. Finally got to a place I was really happy. I created the preset and damn if it doesn’t work for every vocal type (male at least).


#12

@Jonathan:
This, confidence and even a slight touch of arrogance are all part of it. You’re talking about trying to compete both with the quality and workflow speed of people who have developed a style and are sticking to it. You kind of have to take the approach of “Well if it’s me doing it, you know it’s damned good” and make quick decisions about getting from point A to point B without sweating over all the details. The other guys templates and processing chains are used to allow them to be most of the way there by just getting levels right. This frees up time for fine polishing things, rather than forming the clay into something.
Develop the Jonathan Sound and rely on it.
Venuestudios; thanks for the starting point, you were much more concise than me. The credibility issue allows lots of mixers to be very formulaic and get away with it. The results can still be great without overthinking every step of the way.


#13

I have a lot of these in a template then use ‘import session data’ as needed. I certainly do use these when handed a track where multiple songs were recorded by the same session players at the same tracking facility. I do sort of have some go-to defaults, and upon hearing the source I can usually narrow it down to about two or three.

What was it? Just out of curiosity :slight_smile:


#14

When I get out to the studio next I will let you know. We are in the middle of a snow storm here on the east coast.


#15

I’ve been thinking about this sooooooo much over the last week. I’ve taken some time to go back and study some of the mixes as well as the ones some of these competitors developed. And I started narrowing down whats slowing me up.

Your first couple mixes when trying to hit a home run with certain clients can be make or break. Sometimes they give you the chance to revise them, sometimes they just move on. So when the credibility thing isn’t already presupposed, its a bit nerve racking to be under the spotlight :slight_smile:


#16

The point is you’ll always be nervous, because you want it to be great. By being confident in the foundation of your process, you will identify more quickly how to get the most out of the mix. It’s all an opinionated crapshoot from there, don’t be afraid to exhibit a little self validation.


#17

:slight_smile: V V V seems to be the case :wink:


#18

Ive heard that before where the rough mix is chosen over the 2900hr mix sweat and bad breath version that was done over 4 days without eating and was edited to perfection.

Over playing it too, reading GM/Producer talking of the LetITBe rot sessions being horrible and then if that wasnt bad enough JL might ask “was take 69 better than 34??”

the Pensado story was interesting, being under pressure helps…time windows. Makes me think in HR land you can mix the same song for 5 yrs trying to make the greatness shine and it might not be as exciting or as well received as the 5 minute jam song joke tune written and recorded and mixed in 1 hr, for the pet dog shitting on the ex-wifes photo that was laying on the floor of the garage by the dumpster…weird how that happens.
Listener: "that was a great fun track!“
RecordngEng” "yeah that was a joke track, did it in 1hr…what do you think of the other song though, I spent 5yrs working on it and used a $5000 microphone…what did you think of it?"
Listener: “ah its ok…but the one about the dog shitting on the picture was great!”


#19

I started feeling a little better when I heard you guys start mentioning this, and Dave’s comment was more affirmation that its probably not as bad its felt the last week or so.

Your comment about the mixes reminded me of how everything is all just perception. And how as @Cristina said in the other thread…its all just someones opinion. Steve Slate told this story…is about relative opinion on the gear end vs the mix end, but every is so just personal taste!


#20

Here you go Jonathan. I know of one person who will approve of this preset… I can generally just drop this in and I am good to go. The order is the Klanghelm followed by the Boz Bendeth.


Mixing Practice: Turn On Me by Banned From The Zoo