Mixing With Your Eyes Closed

2011 Jan 31, 2011

With all the benefits to recording in a computer based DAW so plain to see, you rarely here many of the negatives. One that is focused on a lot perhaps is the mix bus. Lack of warmth or analog color that was so special on a console or recording to tape. But honestly, what I think is an even bigger problem with recording on a computer is the darn screen! We tend to mix with our eyes and not our ears. We can “see” if the mix is good, but not “hear” what’s really going on.


Via Oda Lanizi Flickr

The Meters Look Good

I’m a “young buck” in the industry. I grew up with digital recording and computer based DAWs. So it is a complete norm to me to mix by looking at the meters in Pro Tools. Even when I worked in a big budget, $5 million dollar studio with an SSL board front and center, just above the console were two giant monitor screens for you to look at.

The problem comes when we know what to “look” for in a mix…

  • Where are the meters peaking? Near the yellow? In the yellow??
  • How do the compressors “look”? Is the gain reduction looking right.
  • Do the wave forms look nice and pretty in the edit window?
  • Oh, here comes that awesome drum loop, I can see the audio region just up ahead!

But “seeing” things in your DAW is a problem. It actually tricks your brain into hearing things a certain way. You expect things to sound a certain way because that’s how you see them. I propose a new solution, mixing with your eyes closed!

With My Good Eye Closed

In case you’re not a big Soundgarden fan, let me explain. They had this great song back in 1991 off of their album Badmotortfinger called “Searching With My Good Eye Closed.” That’s what I think we do when we mix by looking at our screens. Our “good eye” is actually our ear. When we lean a bit on one sense (sight) we don’t use our other sense (hearing) to it’s full potential. We’re trying to listen and get the mix just right, but we’re actually cutting off our most useful tool, our ears.

Now obviously we need to look at the computer to make things happen, but I think mixing needs to involve many chunks of time of closing our eyes and listening…

  • Throw the faders up to begin with and listen. What do you hear?
  • Start to adjust volumes and panning and then close your eyes to listen back. Where is this mix going?
  • When you’re working on EQ, close your eyes after some adjustments and listen back. Can you hear the kick drum and the bass? Is the guitar pocketing well with the lead vocal?

Think Like A Listener

The goal is to listen like your audience will listen, with no visual cue whatsoever. The better you can get your mix to sound with just your ears, the better your mix will be in real life. So the next time you sit down to mix, either  close your eyes or turn off your monitor for a while. Really try to quiet your mind, listen to your tracks, and decide what needs to happen to bring the mix together. I think you’ll be surprised how much this helps.

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