The first time I had to take apart the packaging for my GI Joe toys, it took me forever. I was overwhelmed with all the cardboard, the strings, and the plastic ties. Fast-forward thirty years and now I can free a Barbie doll from the reigns of plastic clam-shell bondage in a matter of seconds. It wasn't until I took a simplified look at the packaging did my "time for toy deployment" drop drastically.
The fact is, you can see mixing as the use of a bunch of knobs, faders, buttons, and effects with thousands of possibilites and therefore get hung up on the "where do I go from here" mind-melters. Or, you can take a simplier approach and focus on what you want as the outcome. Then, you'll know what you need to do to get it.
The recent article on EQ'ing the spoken word was quite lengthy. Therefore, I'm taking this opportunity to step back from the technical aspect of mixing to present something much easier to digest; unlike a White Castle Slider.
Listen to a very well-produced song and listen for these five distinctions.
1. The focus is on the main element. Listen to how the instruments surround and support the vocals. Listen to an instrumental solo passage and listen how the other instruments can sit back a bit in the mix – or how that solo instrument is "out in front."
2. There is the right amount of flair. Use effects (eq, panning, board and software effects) so they fit into the song. Granted, much of this will be driven by the band. Think of it this way; effects should have a purpose to aid in the message of the music. Don't add them just because you can.
3. Go for emotional appeal. If you've ever heard an over-produced album, you'll know what I mean. A song can become lifeless if the mix allows it. Listening to your mix, you should ask yourself the question "does this sound move me?"
4. Mix meets the tone of the song. Notice how upbeat songs have a brighter sound than a mellow song. Some of this work comes from talking with the worship leader as to "how do you want people to hear the song? Introspective? Hands in the air? Joyous?"
5. More to the point of an album…thematically consistent. An album should have a vibe. Songs can be completely different in the mix and tone but still have a similar sound. When you mix a worship song set, focus on the vibe the band wants.
Mixing isn't all about boost this frequency and cut that one. Mixing is about conveying the emotion and the feel of the songs and the band. It's this reason that I'm sometimes seen standing in the sound booth with my eyes closed. I'm listening for that vibe. I'm listening for that emotion.