OK, so what the heck is a mix-off?
It’s kind of like a bake-off, except with mixing records instead of baking cakes. People compete by taking the tracks from a song, mixing them, and then someone judges and declares a winner.
Now, there are inherent flaws in the idea of a mix-off. In real life the client and the engineer work together to produce the best result. This kind of back and forth rarely exists in a mix-off.
However, there are some benefits as well. Being able to listen to what other people did with the same record can foster your own understanding. And, reality dictates that engineering (like most specialized fields) is very competitive.
Pushing yourself to do the best for fear of losing a competition is fair preparation for the real world—where failing to do your best can land you without a career. That was pretty heavy, I know, but it’s kind of true.
Even if you’re an experienced engineer, occasionally slipping in a mix-off can be good for you. It’s surprising and very cool what less experienced people will come up with in attempts to prove they are creative masterminds.
Education is the most powerful investment when it comes to engineering. Mix-offs allow for a unique way to gain perspective, so take a stab at it! Here are some tips on approaching a mix-off:
There are two possible goals in a mix-off. The first is obvious: to win. Approaching a mix-off with the intention of winning requires a certain mindset.
The second goal should also be obvious: personal education. Again, this goal also requires a certain mindset. The two mindsets are not mutually exclusive but they can come in conflict.
1. Mixing for personal education
Here, the intention is to develop and advance your skills as an engineer.
Competing in a mix-off to win should probably be a secondary goal, though I often see it as the primary goal amongst competitors. If you come in with the mindset of personal education then mix to your own aesthetic, regardless of the instructions. You are fostering your own aesthetic and judgement. You can get feedback from other competitors which — taken with a grain of salt — can be very useful.
You can also listen to other people’s mixes, take notes, and inquire about aspects of their mixes. Most people are there to share. Keep a positive mindset — it’s easy to identify what you don’t like in someone else’s mix. Look for what you do feel was effective and dissect that.