A mix engineer, also known as an audio mixer or mixing engineer, plays a crucial role in the music production process, particularly in the realm of music recording and post-production. Their primary responsibility is to take the individual tracks or channels of audio recorded during a music recording session and blend them together into a cohesive and pleasing stereo or surround sound mix.
Some of the work involved in the mixing process includes the use of EQ, Compression, Parallel Compression, Limiting, Level Normalization, Saturation, Stereo Panning, Mix Automation, Delay, Reverb, Balancing Levels, and generally making the song sound great and ready for the world to enjoy it.
One of the secrets to creating a great mix is a great monitoring system. At Black Sheep, we make use of multiple systems with a variety of audiophile grade speakers and amplifiers to reproduce all of the detail and subtlety in the sonic landscape. And as important is the acoustic treatment of the room. When mixing, we want to hear the speakers, not the room.
Tasks of a Mixing Engineer
Here are the key tasks and responsibilities of a mix engineer:
Balancing Levels: The mix engineer adjusts the volume levels of each individual track to ensure that all elements of the mix are audible and balanced. This includes vocals, instruments, and any other audio sources.
Panning: The mix engineer determines the placement of each sound source in the stereo or surround sound field. This involves deciding how each instrument or vocal should be positioned from left to right or front to back in the mix.
Equalization (EQ): EQ is used to shape the tonal quality of each sound source. The mix engineer can boost or cut specific frequencies to enhance or diminish certain characteristics of an instrument or voice.
Dynamics Processing: Compressors, limiters, and other dynamic processors are applied to control the dynamic range of audio signals. This helps maintain consistent levels and can add punch or sustain to instruments or vocals.
Effects and Processing: Mix engineers often add reverb, delay, chorus, and other effects to create a sense of space and depth in the mix. They may also use creative processing to achieve unique sound textures.
Automation: Throughout the song, the mix engineer can automate parameters such as volume, panning, and effects to ensure that the mix is dynamic and expressive, with changes in intensity where needed.
Signal Routing: They route signals to the appropriate channels or buses, ensuring that the audio is organized and processed efficiently.
Polishing the Mix: The mix engineer listens critically to the entire mix, making fine adjustments and enhancements to ensure that it sounds polished and cohesive. This can involve removing unwanted noises or clicks and pops
Reference Listening: Mix engineers often listen to their mixes on different playback systems and with various listening devices to ensure that the mix translates well across different environments.
Collaboration: Communication with the producer, recording engineer, and the artist is essential. The mix engineer may need to make revisions based on feedback and artistic direction.
Finalization: Once the mix is approved, the mix engineer may create different versions, such as radio edits or instrumentals, and prepare the mix for mastering.
Those unfamiliar with the professional-grade mixing process may either misunderstand, or under-appreciate the process, art, and the science behind a good mix.
If your impression of the mix process is limited to setting levels on the recorded tracks to get a blended balance of the material, your understanding represents only a small part of what is otherwise a complex process of discovery, experimentation, and framing of sonic real estate in a 3 dimensional stereo image. By the time I make those subtle fader movements most people associate with mixing, I am 80% done with the initial mix.
As a mix engineer and studio owner, I fully respect and appreciate the special relationship an artist has with their musical creation. But I also expect the artist and producer to appreciate and respect the process, and technical approach employed by the mix engineer, and freedom for the engineer to work unimpeded during the initial phases of the process. I have lost jobs because I insist on mixing alone, but I insist, back seat mixing doesn’t work for me.
A good mix engineer will take the time to examine all of the recorded material, and become intimate with, among other things, the song's structure, arrangement, intention, prosody, and each track's potential contribution to the song in order to create a mix representing the song's greatest potential.
The engineering mechanics to inspecting the tracks for noise, determining whether and where EQ adjustments are to be made, compressor requirements, etc are time consuming and not helped by artist collaboration. In fact, since a mix evolves over time, it often sounds worse before it sounds better relative to the raw unmixed recording. It is important to avoid the risk of a bad impression of a mix before it matures to its final magnificence. At this initial stage of the mix, it's better for the artist not to see how the sausage is being made.
I must be clear on this point. I am not saying the artist has no say in the mix. He/she/they absolutely do. It’s their music. But the artist’s contribution to a great mix (one that they will be thrilled with) comes in the form of review, and providing mix notes representing sonic changes required in the presented mix. It will not come by sitting with me at the desk to collaborate on the engineering mechanics required to produce a mix for review.
Mix engineers need both technical expertise and a keen ear for music. Their role is crucial in making a recording sound professional and ready for release to the public. The skills and techniques used by mix engineers can vary depending on the genre and style of music they are working with, as well as the artist's vision for the final sound.
At Black Sheep Recording Studios, we aim to produce mixes of your music that are so great, they are radio and stream ready when they leave the studio. Our goal is to create a stand alone mix that is sonically ready for distribution, with no need for additional sonic adjustments in any subsequent mastering process.