A common question when planning for a record is how much to budget for mixing. (Check this out if you’re not sure what mixing is.) Unfortunately, there is no universal answer. Ta da! That was helpful, wasn’t it? Seriously though, my usual response is: “Double what you plan to spend tracking and expect to spend that mixing.” In my experience, it’s a formula that works for the majority of bands.
Some folks are surprised that mixing requires that much of an investment. After all, you spent all that time tracking your songs to make sure you got just the right sound. Isn’t it now just a matter of twisting some pots and sliding some faders?
Well, no. First, it depends on the quality of the recorded tracks. It’s true that a mixing engineer can’t polish a turd and most of the time garbage in will be garbage out. But there are basic techniques to make a mix shine. Secondly, even when the tracking is glorious, there is a myriad of variables to consider when mixing the final sound. Just as a film editor can make or break a great movie, a mixing engineer can be either the barrier or the stepping stone to the sound you hoped to achieve.
And then there’s the question of who will mix your record. This can play into your budget as much how much time it takes. A good engineer should have not only good ears and knowledge of his/her gear, but an understanding of the band’s vision and where to place the sounds. When hiring a mixing engineer, listen to their previous work and talk about what your goals are. Be specific. Cite your influences and inspirations and what really resonated with you in your favorite records. The engineer can then take that feel and translate it into “more bass here, less reverb there, add a tape delay on that, and pan this hard-right”.
A byproduct of placing an emphasis on mixing is, of course, a greater need for time and money. Keep this in mind when you’re planning. If you don’t have the ideal budget for mixing, consider doing a shorter record or an EP. It’s better to have a fabulous short record than a mediocre long one. Some bands even get away with doing an incredible single and touring on that until they’ve raised the funds to make the full-length that they want. You may also want to consider a digital-only release to avoid pressing costs. And make efficient use of your tracking time by rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing before you get in the studio. Mixing is as much a part of the creative process as tracking is and you don’t want to end up rushing through it because you ran out of resources.
I came across my friend’s record a year ago and loved the way it sounded. It turned out that it was mixed by Jason Martin. Now it’s not every day that you hear of a small band hiring a mixing engineer with credentials like Jason’s. This caught my attention.
I asked Ed (the songwriter) why he decided to hire Jason. He said he wanted cohesiveness to his record. In the rough mixes, vocals popped out of nowhere; drums were distracting; the bass was too loud; and the guitars were thin. Of course, this was what Ed was expecting to hear when he received the rough mix. But he wanted to go in a different direction for the final mix. He wanted to be able to pull out different sounds and create a feel that was a little more sophisticated than what was usually done. And by budgeting for the mixing process and hiring a good mixing engineer, he had a record that did his music justice. Take a listen…
Below you’ll hear the rough mix and the final mix of one of my favorite songs from Ed’s record entitled “Changing Trains”.
Changing Trains (Rough Mix)
Changing Trains (Final Mix)
You don’t have to break the bank to mix a record. You don’t need to spend 4 years doing it either. But you do need to budget and plan for a good mix.