Mixing Meditation 2
This is the seventh installment in guest blogger Ryan Hewitt’s series on recording. Today he continues his examination of meditative practices that can be helpful while creating a mix. If you missed Mixing Meditation 1, you can read it here.
My second mix meditation involves my morning warm-up. I love to sit down and just listen to some music before I get to work, mainly because I haven’t had much of a commute for the past few years to listen to anything in the car and get my ears awake and alert. It helps me get in the mood to mix and brings new inspiration to the process. I listen to three songs: an old one that I love but never examined in a studio, one I’ve never heard before, and one that I’ve mixed in the past.
It’s fun to examine a song from childhood, high school or my time as an assistant to figure out what makes the song great from an engineering standpoint. Sometimes I find parts in the song that I never heard over the roar of the wind while driving my old MGB in high school and college. Nuances of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, and all the other stuff I used to listen to on the radio disappeared into the din. Additionally, my engineering ears were only minimally equipped to understand the layering and technical processes that were used in recordings, so I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on. I listen casually to so much old music that I tend to take it for granted, but listening to something intently and studying the depths of the recording is a total blast and raises my antennae for the mixing task ahead.
Listening to a song I’ve never heard before keeps me up on current trends in music and production, even if it’s a song or technique that I don’t particularly care for in the end. There’s always something to be learned from every piece of music that we can get our hands on regardless of what we think of it from a taste perspective. Taking an idea from a hip-hop song and applying it to a folk record can bring a new slant to that music. Some sound from a pop hit might inspire a new idea for the rock record that you’re mixing, and so on. Stepping outside the norm of my musical preferences can really expand the depth of my understanding of sound in general and gives me major inspiration to try new ideas, and gives me benchmarks for my work.
A random song that I mixed somewhere in my career helps keep me on my toes thinking about my progress as a mixer since then, and reminds me of what was going on at that point in time. Usually I can feel good about myself and about the mix, and, again, find some positives in what I did back then, even if it was only a few months ago. I think about what I was experiencing personally and musically at that time, what was important in the mixing process that day, what I was focusing on trying to improve. I think about what I could have done better, as nearly all of us would do. This helps me find the next thing to work on, and inspires me to move forward with even more creative ideas.
I’ve had the pleasure of judging several mixing contests over the past few years, and it seems like many of the contestants don’t listen to music in their creative spaces. I’ve heard a few well-balanced, beautifully sculpted productions, but there have been many more that are strangely balanced, badly EQed, and in most cases, under-seasoned in the effects department, which makes me think that they have not been benchmarking their work to real-world examples of well-made music. There was a time when my ego didn’t allow me to do this either, and it was a huge mistake. When I was in the early phases of really learning how to mix (which, let’s face it, is really a never-ending process!), I began to compare my mixes to others to make sure that I was in the right ballpark. It helped me learn much more quickly where my deficiencies were, and how to get my mixes up to the next level. I now maintain a “real-world” playlist on my computer so that I can skip around and A/B my mix to others that I love when I’m feeling the need.
My morning meditation doubles as a constant reminder of what music sounds like in my space. I am fortunate to have a studio to call home, so things change very little, but I feel sometimes that the mood I’m in when I walk into the room can affect how I hear things. What I’ve done with the hours before work can affect this for me as well. Listening with this routine centers me, cleanses my ears and gets me even more excited about the mixing job ahead.
Always in record.
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