Crafting the Mix
Getting to the point where I’m truly happy with an audio mix can be quite a process. Over the years a strategy of sorts has shown itself that not only helps me delete unknown variables prior to mixing but gives me a great platform to build a truly consistent mix.
Once the creatives map out the set I’ll spend some time perusing the songs, either the original recordings or a previous performance (Planning Center Online is my friend). I try to be careful not to take this part TOO literally as we may go in a completely different direction than the original recording or from even how we did it previously. In fact, I’m usually going to try and put our own stamp on almost any song so at this point I’m listening just to get familiar with the roadmap of the song and perhaps to hear how the various parts and textures are layered.
I make it a priority to stay in the loop with Andy Chrisman and his team as much as possible—not to get in their way but to know exactly what’s going to be coming at me when the band fires up. Almost always, Andy and I will sit down and discuss what his vision is for a song or set and he’ll usually talk me through anything out of the ordinary including transitions, key changes, beginnings, endings, talking segments, etc. Staying connected with him not only allows me to realize his ideas while mixing but he walks away knowing that we are both headed in the same direction. Hear me say: trust is paramount. A mix engineer who can be trusted with the vision coming from the stage is a major asset to the success of an event.
As we move through a rehearsal, I’ll push back respectfully when needed, making sure to give positive or negative input to what I’m hearing out front. (Read more about my thoughts on our rehearsals.) These lengthy rehearsals culminate with us recording a run-through of the set including all musical segments and transitions. This recording becomes my guide from that point on until we get to the event. These rehearsal recordings are a serious deal for all of us, but for me it’s the basis of where I’m going to go in the event. Staying vigilant on the consistency of these rehearsal mixes is also a big deal for the musicians as they might make performance decisions based entirely on what they hear or don’t hear.
At this point, I’ll listen to the rehearsal mix as many times as needed to really dissect what’s going on. It’s largely a mental thing for me, getting my head so inside the song and mix that I can visualize exactly what I want the final mix to sound like. Once I’ve got a mental mix imprint, pulling it together and polishing it in the room becomes much easier. Listening back to the recordings actually doesn’t stop there—I’ll keep recording and listening to the final rehearsals and run-throughs to insure that I can keep a consistent and qualitative mix over and over and over. It’s important to me that our guests in one service get the same experience as the guests in another service so making MY performance while mixing as consistent as possible is a big thing.
I’m convinced that the continued effort over the years to listen to my rehearsal and performance mixes has made the single biggest impact on my development as a mix engineer and in my mix consistency. Robert Scovill, an audio engineer I admire greatly, said it best, “Mix like a pro, listen like a fan.” Very true words when evaluating your mixes. When you listen back to your mix, what do you hear? Do you even like what you’re hearing? Are the basic tenets of the song represented the way you had planned? If not, your recording just became an awesome cheat sheet because at least you now know what NOT to do. In a sense, your sub-par recording just became part of the answer. And if the mixes are starting to sound really good—then figure out what’s happening to make it come together so nicely and start building on it.