The reality of this recording revolution we are living through is that many of us write, record, edit, AND mix our own music. The debate still exists as to whether this is a good thing for music or not, but regardless of where you stand on the issue one thing is for sure: if you are mixing your own work, you need feedback from outsiders!
The great thing about mixing your own music is that you know the songs inside and out. You know each part that was recorded and why it is there. You know what to listen for. This is also the WORSE thing about mixing your own music. You are biased. You can’t 100% hear things clearly as it were. What you need is a second (or third) pair of ears to listen through the mixes and give you honest feedback about what they hear. Let me break it down into the most important elements.
Via Hash Milhan Flickr
Do Your Mix
When the tracks are all recorded and cleaned up through editing, you just need to get in there and mix it yourself. Don’t bring in other people (or even the rest of your band) at this point. Just sit down, listen to your sessions, and begin mixing (hopefully keeping things simple!). The idea is that it is your music and you are the home studio guy, so you know what you want it to sound like. So go for it!
Keeping in the back of your mind that you will be able to make tweaks later, don’t over think things and just get a good mix out of your recordings. Listen to it on multiple speaker systems (computer, iPod, car, etc) and adjust to taste, and then commit to a MIX 1 of each song. Now it’s time to bring in the outside “ears.”
Get An Unbiased Listener
The next crucial step is to ask someone who has not been a part of the recording or mixing stage of these songs to come in, sit down, and simply listen to each song. You will then ask for their immediate feedback. Here are some parameters for this stage of the game:
- Make them listen to each song the whole way through with no interruptions. They need to hear it as an entire piece and simply listen before any feedback is given.
- Ask them for immediate feedback on a per song basis. Don’t wait until they have heard all the songs to give suggestions. Let them hear a song, give criticism, and then move on.
- Do not be defensive to their feedback. Assume that you are wrong and their opinion is correct. Hear them out and see if you can integrate that idea into the mix.
Now this person may not be a recording engineer themselves (probably a good idea actually) so their terminology and suggestions may not seem helpful in some ways, but the key is to really pay attention to the first few things they mention. Usually they will hear that something is too loud or to soft. People tend to voice their suggestions on what I would call “balance” issues. Getting the tracks to sit well with each other (usually in a volume related way). So here are some hypothetical comments to listen for and take seriously:
- “This guitar part seems too loud in that section…”
- “The vocals seem to have a lot of echo on them…”
- “I want to hear more that drum sound. Make it crack more…”
- “It sounds kind of muffled, like it’s in a box…”
- “The song hurts my ears, like it’s piercing or something…”
The big idea here is that someone who isn’t “close” to the mix or recording will come in and do exactly what your eventual audience or listeners will do, simply listen to the song and critique it. This is invaluable information to get while you still have a chance to process and consider it as a tweak to your mix.
Let Go Of Your Pride
There is no shame in doing this. In fact, if you are too prideful to ask a friend, spouse, or roommate to listen to your mixes for an hour or so then you actually are more concerned with your pride than you are with the final outcome of your songs. Please hear me on this, don’t skip this vital step in the mixing process. It will really give you a fresh perspective on your opus and allow you to come back to your mixes with new ideas and play around with them. In the end, if you don’t even implement the suggestions at least you will know what the “average” listener thinks of your songs. And isn’t that worth something?