It all actually starts long before you ever reach out to your audio engineer.
To put it simply, massive mixes are really just the byproduct of great songwriting. Like many jobs in the audio industry, the lines between different career specialties have become blurred to the point that they almost don’t exist anymore. Musicians are no longer just songwriters and performers, but also tour managers and record publishers. And, once upon a time, your mix engineer wasn’t expected to master your songs or record your music. Now, to be completely honest, I don’t think this is really so much a problem at the upper levels of the industry, but more or less a misunderstanding we all have on the independent side of the music.
Now don’t get me wrong!
Right now, I am totally that guy wearing all hats in the studio, so I am as much to blame as anyone else, but the reason I bring this up is because at one point in time there was someone called a producer who was hired specifically to help musicians polish that final 10% – 20% of their song from start to finish. Almost like a secret “ghost” member of the band. Generally, these people had a good ear for music theory/arrangement and an excellent understanding of the entire studio process, but the art of having this advocate is pretty much lost on the local artist and is now just an expected trait of your audio engineer.
But it doesn’t have to be…
There is actually something you can do right now for free to receive the benefits of having a dedicated producer in your corner.
Step #1) Just ask yourself this question. “Who is the best musician I know that understands our style of music and isn’t already in my band?” And the whole “not in your band” part is key. You want to find someone who isn’t directly attached to your music, but can be trusted for their candid opinion, because their insight will be unbiased and without emotional attachment to the music. Does it sound good or could it be better? Bottom line, having an extra pair of ears is an invaluable tool.
Step #2) Break out your laptop with your 2 channel interface and record demos versions of your songs (to a click!), but keep it simple. Left and right guitars, maybe a lead track, a stereo overhead pair for the drums, some up-the-middle bass, and a mono vocal for each singer in the band. Then do a static mix where all you touch is the overall balance of each vocal and instrument using only faders and leaving any kind of “plugin” out of the equation. You don’t want to mask the problems with fancy software because that’s not how the majority of your audience will hear your music in the first place. This will allow you to really see what kind of clarity you’re actually achieving with you writing and arrangement.
Step #3) Ask the friend you identified in Step 1 to listen to your demos and give you honest feedback of what they think could genuinely help the music. Which things are getting buried by the other instruments? Is that lead just distracting? Did it take too long to get to the hook? Pretty much anything that could improve the overall songwriting.
Step #4) Don’t be stubborn and remember that this feedback is coming from a positive place. Receive it with an open mind, because anything that can make your music better is only a good thing, even if it wasn’t your own idea. It’s not “cheating,” it’s smart.
So, just in case you haven’t picked up on my message.
The trick to getting massive mixes is all in the songwriting itself! Good writing creates clarity, clarity allows for each part of the song to be heard, the more things can be heard, the bigger they feel and ultimately can be enjoyed by the listener. BOOM! The groundwork for massive mixes has been laid and you can leave the rest of the work in the hands of your capable (and handsome) audio engineer.
Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. Either way, I hope you give it a try and let me know what you think. Nothing to lose… everything to gain.