To a large extent, I think many of us do this automatically.
But I have always encouraged audio people to “hit the books” or perhaps attend a seminar or workshop, or even sign up for a class.
More knowledge can always help you in general, and help in providing greater value to your clients. Instead of knowing “just enough to be dangerous,” the goal is to know enough to be dangerous to your competitors.
And who knows? The state of the art of our industry might just get pushed forward in the process.
Let’s get back to mixing—I’m not convinced that anyone can actually be taught the art of mixing, meaning the fine nuances that go together with a great soundscape out in the audience.
Nevertheless, the nuts and bolts can be taught. Signal routing is the most basic of tools in this craft. Next comes gain structure. But despite this being such a basic thing, I’ve found that it’s not as widely understood and employed as we would all like to believe.
From there comes the more subtle aspects of individual channel EQ and then overall system EQ. All these things are really basics and for the most part can be taught and learned.
Like the art of musical arrangement in the first place, the fine art of mixing appears to be a talent that not all of us possess. Sure, most of us learn to pull together a decent mix that gets the job done. But what about those shows where you hear a great artist mixed by someone who obviously knows what they’re doing, and you go “wow!”
OK, maybe that doesn’t happen too often, and indeed, many of us probably hear more shows that sound terrible than any other. But believe me—awesome sounding shows do exist.
So how do we teach these skills? How do we learn them?
In my view, the first step is the understanding of “what is music” for your particular style. The second part is to think about how you want to present this music to your audience, i.e., imaging, SPL, coverage, etc.
Then think about the technical requirements to make that happen. Getting familiar with the actual music is paramount - understanding the musical arrangements, who will take solos in what songs, how the vocals are supposed to fit into the mix, etc.
This, in turn, requires an understanding along with the musicians themselves. They should have some input, but it’s up to you to actually mix.
And finally, as we’re doing our job, a fine mixture of humility and thick skin will come into play. We must be open to taking suggestions and putting them into practice.
Mixing is a special job and seems to require a certain kind of personality. Someone who cares about what they’re doing and wants to learn more, extend their skills and their craft, and take the heat when things get challenging.
So it’s time to get out the books, sign up for the seminars, find a mentor and go out there and make things happen. And if you’re an experienced road dog, consider taking some of the “young whippersnappers” under your wing and help them understand why things are the way they are.
They may not thank you now, but they’ll certainly come to know that you were right as they achieve success.
Karl Winkler is director of business development at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 15 years.