Can’t Get the Mix Right: Blame Your Eyes

Hide those lyin' eyes. Photo by juliaf.

Hide those lyin’ eyes.
Photo by juliaf.

One sentence.  One sentence should drive music mixing.

Close your eyes and listen.

What you SEE affects what you THINK you should HEAR.

  • “I can’t hear the keyboard.”
  • “I can’t hear the bass.”
  • “I can’t hear my wife.”

Ah, words spoken by the seeing.

“I can’t hear the keyboard,” the intern said to me.  She trusted her eyes.  She was subconsciously saying, “I can’t hear the keyboard as loud as the other instruments.”  

For some reason, the eyes convey the idea, “If I see it then I should clearly hear it.”  But the ears have been listening to music for years.  Whether it’s songs on the radio, iPhone, or 8-track player (remember those?), the ears have been listening to PRODUCED MUSIC.  This is music produced, in a studio, with mix nuances in EQ and volume.  The ears hear the music. The eyes see the individual musicians.

I’m not saying, “Keep your eyes closed all the time.”  I’m saying look at mixing in a new way.

The worship band isn’t presented to the congregation; the music is presented.  The congregation listens to the totality of the mix, not the individual musicians.

The complaint of “I couldn’t hear my wife,” is not because the mix was bad, it was because that person wasn’t listening to the song as a whole.  They were listening for their wife, the backing vocalist, with the expectation she would be heard above everything else.  It’s not because that’s what the mix required but because it’s what they thought they should hear.

With eyes closed, ask questions like;

Let the ears do what they do best.

The Take Away

Listen.  Close your eyes and listen.  The congregation will thank you, even if it’s the band that gets the credit.

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  1. David says

    The separation of sight from hearing is so vital to a good mix. Thanks for this article. As an extension of this concept, I know techs like Dave Rat are big supporters of this idea as well. He’ll remove the knobs from his EQs forcing his ears to do the work instead of looking at numbers. With digital consoles the visual aids for EQing can be a help, but people often end up EQing by site instead of with their ears! I find this is a great way for setting up reverb as well – focus less on the numbers and more on what you’re actually hearing.

  2. says

    After reading about this in your audio essentials guide I tried it and man you can hear a difference. I also tend to walk the room while my eyes are closed (makes me feel like I am a zombie). I find that this works best as sometimes I don’t hear certain vocalists in the back of the sanctuary. Another thing that helps is going back and forth with the input soloed.

    Thanks for what you do Chris. I use your techniques so often than I feel I should be paying your royalties.

  3. says

    I love doing this all the time….I’ve got certain points around our gym (lines and intersections are awesome lol) that I listen at during rehearsals every week to see how it sounds to compare with my past experiences. Stand at position A, close my eyes (or just look to the floor or roof so I don’t see the band), and listen. If I can hear everything and it sounds similar to what I’ve had in the past, I know I’m alright (and the speaker is aimed the same since we set them up and take them down every week). Go to the next position and do the same thing…..etc….

    When ever techs start asking what EQ setting would you use for ____, thats when we really need to remind them (and sometimes ourselves) that we just need to close our eyes and listen. If you can’t see and hear the sound in your head, change it.

    I hope your wife is doing well since the accident Chris! Glad to see your back posting again too :)

  4. Chris says

    I totally agree with this:

    “When you get the complaint of “I couldn’t hear my wife,” it’s not because your mix was bad, it was because that person wasn’t listening to the song as a whole. They were listening for their wife, the backing vocalist, with the expectation she would be heard above everything else. ”

    …but if you value the idea of “listening to the song as a whole” you need to think about “perceiving the experience as a whole”. If the sonics don’t gel with the visuals, or vice versa, it can be a bit disconnecting, even if nobody realises why. Maybe that means not lighting the backing vocalists as brightly, but I’m not a lighting guy.

    This is a very eye-opening demonstration.


  5. Barry Chupp says

    I get those type of comments from time-to-time as well…..”I couldn’t here________!”

    I agree, closing your eyes is a great method but sometimes I like to grab my noise cancellation headphones & listen to the mix & confirm that specific tone is actually present & not a reflection. Also, does it lie within the mix as I intend for it to. As we all know, the room’s acoustics change from practice environment to performance environment.

    • says

      I have to leave the booth to check my mix because of how the mix sounds in the booth versus just outside the booth. Looking at the location, it should be in the right place in the room but as soon as you walk out of the booth, it changes. I’ve learned to account for that in my mix but i will always walk the room and close my eyes….not while walking. :)

  6. Ed Pohl says

    Good stuff here Chris! I find myself doing the same weekly. I often just position myself throughout the listening area during practice and turn around to face the sound booth so my eyes cannot see the musicians. I find it really does help in creating great mixes.
    Thanks for all you do to help us create environments where our listeners experience excellence in audio reproduction.