Sonic quality of music has suffered tremendously from the pure fact that most people listen to mp3 files at qualities lower than 192bit and really don’t pay attention to how bad it sounds. Small cheap headphones or even the highly marketed Dr. Dre’s Beats Headphones do not produce a great representation of what the producer, artist or engineer that mixed the record had sonically in mind.
So I guess it is a natural reaction of the music professionals to care less about what they deliver than it was 15-20 years ago, when the sound of the record was almost as important as the song and production. In a time were quick consumption, short artist life span and the need for the next hot thing dictate the shrinking dollar amounts spent per record due to constantly falling record sales, were every artist can be muisc distributors, but nobody wants to pay for anything including their music and were art, skill, quality and practice has become a shadow to the importance of turning profit, why do we still care about how music sounds?
Mixing is lie painted art. If you think of every performance or audio track as the canvas, every reverb and delay as the thickness of the paint and all the plugins as your colors, every mix becomes a audible painting. The challenge of mixing all these things together has always fascinated me through my many years as a producer, finally steering me toward mixing not just my own but 100’s of artists records over the last 12 years.
I’m not an expert, I don’t even feel necessarily good at it. Sometimes I get lucky and draw this gorgeous picture that reflects all the nuances and emotions the music contained, and sometimes it sounds like I destroy the very essence of the piece. Im only human. I never await the complaint of the artist or producer to tell me that it stinks, I always know. But, If they are happy, I’m done with my part of the job and deliver the mixes to the next guy to destroy them even more,but to my knowledge I havent had many unsatisfied customers.
The mixes I hear on todays radio sound like they have been mixed in 3 hours or less. Though in genres like Country, Rock and even some well produced Pop the mixes are still of high quality, R&B, Rap, HipHop, Dirty South and most Dance and Dance Pop mixes are suffering from a lack of experience and knowledge, or maybe just the proper budget and time to deliver the high quality mixes that we seek.
So what am I listening for to make such bold assumptions and judgmental statements?
The first thing that catches my ear is the balance between vocal and the rest of the music. Though it is often genre specific, with R&B and Rap probably having the loudest vocals, it is the most obvious value that most people can identify. The second would be the overall balance of frequencies, specifically how bright and warm the mix. Not going into to much technical detail, creating a frequency space for each instrument is challenging but will showcase each individual instrument if properly applied.
Third, the bottom or bass, has to be balanced with the rest of the track, defined,punchy, round and clear at the same time. Now if we are considering that mp3’s cut off everything under 20HZ and don’t do so well with the highs either, unless you use the highest bit rate, you can see that the top two values I consider important in a mix are already compromised by the compression of the file…
Lets move on.
If we step away from all the technical issues that you hear in mixes, like too much compression, not enough de’essing and so on, and only look at how people feel music, then you need to consider the emotion of it in its entirety. If a mix has just the right emotional content supporting the lead singer or instrument, than all the other issues become unimportant. Having mixed many record with a veteran in Jazz, Charlie Bertini, I learned that every instrument shines through the song at least in a few places and attenuating those little snippets out so they shine, can turn something average into something you feel and admire. It enhances the emotional experience of the entire piece and recaptures the listeners attention every time something special happens.
So, what makes a great mix? It’s the way it makes you feel. It’s the way you think about it and want to hear it again and again and enjoy every moment of it. Perfect balance between the highs, mids and lows. A mix that is warm and sizzles at the same time. Reverbs are felt, not heard unless they are meant to be. Sometimes you listen to music strictlty for the song, the vocal and lyrics, but when you touch and enhance the great recording with an incredible mix, it leaves you wanting to hear it over and over…….