Working as a Mix Engineer is a great time. I get to spend a lot of time in St Louis Recording Studios making records with great Artists. About a decade ago I started to realize what I was really doing when I mix records for people though. It’s so much more than just setting the levels of a snare or vocal in the mix. It’s more than getting the bass set to the right volume. I am bringing their emotional intent out through the songs. We are trying to make the listener feel the exact way that the Artist felt or intended to have their art felt. It’s a pretty wild idea, but it is the one that motivates more than anything.
I start most mixes the same way, I organize everything.
It’s hard to get an idea of everything that is going on if you haven’t looked at the whole piece. I usually sort out each section of the song into its own areas on my mixer. Drums first, then the rest of the instruments, and finally the vocals for the song. I sort out each verse section and make sure my doubles and adlibs for each part are grouped in logical ways that help me navigate easily.
When mixing I always get my drums locked in tight first before adding any other instruments. I really like to have an idea of where my kick and snare are at in the vibe of the song and to make sure they are really defining themselves well. After the drums I always go to bass. The rhythm section has to be locked in tight or I feel like I would just be chasing my tail for the rest of the mix.
When getting into the instruments section I usually focus on the highlighted parts of the song and then work my way through the spectrum of sounds. I like to take care and place everything in the stereo field where I think it will have its own space and not be in the way of anything else.
I work my way through the instrumental and then get my choruses pulled up. I feel like they are the pinnacle of the mixes intensity so they are the place to get our baseline levels going. After the hooks I’ll touch verses and then bridges. I finish up with intros and outros.
Additionally, creating something that is dynamically flowing and engaging for the listener is paramount. After all, if we can’t keep the audience’s attention, then we are missing the point.
As a mixer, I understand that my role extends beyond simply balancing the audio levels and adjusting the frequencies. While technical precision is essential, above all, my ultimate goal is to capture and amplify the emotional essence of a record through the mix.
Every song has its own story to tell. Luckily, it’s my responsibility to ensure that the listener can connect with that story on a deeper level. By carefully crafting the mix, I strive to create an immersive experience that evokes the intended emotions and resonates with the audience.
One of the key elements in achieving this is maintaining a dynamic flow. To accomplish this, by carefully managing the levels and transitions, I can guide the listener through the musical journey. This involves building anticipation and resolving it at all the right moments. As a result, this ebb and flow of energy helps to keep the audience engaged, ensuring they are captivated from start to finish.
In Hip-hop and Rap mixing, I’ll often use changes in the arrangements to help highlight a lyrical phrase or section. It can be as simple as a drop before a hook or filtering the music to highlight a key lyric phrase. If I find myself feeling like there isn’t enough of a difference between verses and hooks during transition, cutting the music for just a beat or two can be enough to differentiate sections. I find myself using swells to bring back in drops during section changes all the time. A reversed reverb bringing back in the music for the hook can really amplify the hit of the chorus when it had previously been lacking.
Engaging the listener goes beyond technical aspects. In fact, mixing requires a keen understanding of the artist’s vision and the intended message of the song. By collaborating closely with the artists and producers, we can delve into the core of their creative expression. Consequently, I can translate it into a mix that accurately reflects their emotions and intentions. We often work on the song together and through that interaction can direct the songs intentions while mixing. An intro of a song can immediately set the tone of a record, and having the Artist in the studio with me helps to guide the intention of those aspects.
Textures for emotion
Additionally, I pay careful attention to the sonic details that can enhance the emotional impact. By adding subtle reverbs and delays, we can create a sense of depth and space within the mix. Equally important, through selective EQ and compression, we can bring out the desired textures and nuances in our art. Each decision I make in the mix is intentional, aimed at maximizing the emotional impact of the music.
I often work in bussed groups while mixing so I can affect an entire section of the songs sound cohesively. I love having all of a verses vocal bussed to one submix. Being able to EQ the whole verse at once makes textural choices a breeze. Adding reverb or delays to these groups keeps them all in the same space and allows me to interact with the group as a whole, instead of worrying about individual tracks in the mix.
Ultimately, the success of a mix is measured by its ability to connect with the listener’s emotions. My goal is to transport the listener to a place where they can genuinely feel the joy, sadness, excitement, or any other emotions intended by the artist. When this is achieved, I consider it a job well done. The mix becomes a vessel through which the artist’s vision and the listener’s experience intersect, resulting in a powerful and memorable musical journey.
As a mixer, my primary focus extends beyond technical aspects. While technical proficiency is crucial, my ultimate objective is to convey the emotional essence of a record. By creating a dynamically flowing and engaging mix, I strive to capture the listener’s attention and enable them to connect deeply with the music. This process amplifies the intended emotions and leaves a lasting impact on the audience.
If you’re looking for input on your mixes, looking to have a mix touched up, or need to start from the beginning then we should connect! Reach me at email@example.com or on Instagram at instagram.com/matthewsawicki
Thanks for reading!
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