Why do we keep looking to gear as the difference maker between a good and a bad mix? Or a good and a great mix for that matter?
Nothing confuses me more than to see the ongoing debates about mixing in-the-box (i.e. with plugins) vs. out-of-the-box with a console or analog summing. It’s so not the point that it’s not worth making a big deal over it.
And yet the debates rage on – sigh.
Regardless, today I want to simply bring another example to the table of how in-the-box mixing is just as legit of a platform as the big boy analog desks many of us revere. Let’s talk about Ken Andrews.
Via Matt Biddulph Flickr
Just Listen To The Mix
I was at the NAMM show a few days ago and one of my favorite mixers, Ken Andrews, was being interviewed by Dave Pensado at the Avid booth. Ken is a songwriter, producer, artist, and mixer who has worked with Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Chris Cornell, Blink 182, Tenacious D and many others.
In fact, one of my favorites is the Army of Anyone record (The guys from STP and frontman of Filter got together for one album) but I digress.
A couple of years ago, Ken was asked to join a mix shootout for the then upcoming Paramore record. He famously (in mixing geek circles) won the “audition” and ended up mixing the whole record.
During the interview at NAMM, Dave asked him to talk about the shootout, and one detail stood out to me more than anything else: of the 5 mixes in the shootout, all but his were done by A list mixers on analog consoles. Ken’s was the only all digital, in-the-box mix.
The label and the band sat in a room for about an hour and listened to all 5 mixes blind (with each being labeled by a single letter A-E) and simply chose the one they liked the most.
Everyone in the room unanimously picked mix “C” which was Ken’s.
This was good news for Ken’s career, but it is also interesting news for us aspiring in-the-box mixers.
They Picked His Mix Because It Was Better
The reason I thought this was interesting, and why I’m sharing it with you here is because there is a huge lesson to learn.
Why did the band and label pick Ken’s mix?
Since it was a blind mix there was no bias that would sway them. No name, no information about how it was mixed, no visual stimuli, nothing. All that was available was the stereo mix (level matched by the way).
So again, why did the band and label pick Ken’s mix over the others?
Because it was the better mix.
In that moment, everyone in the room used their ears and made a simple decision that mix “C” sounded better to them.
Gear Is Not The Difference Maker
And isn’t that the point? That all that matters is how a mix sounds? Not how it arrived at that sound, but that how it sounds in the end.
I’m not making the point that in-the-box mixing is better than analog mixing. Hardly. It’s simply one way to get a great mix. Gear is not the point. It’s just a tool.
Use what you like. Don’t use what you don’t like. We all have our opinions.
But never make gear the difference maker in your mind, because it’s not the difference maker in real life. Your decision making and taste as a mixer is the difference maker.
It sure was for Ken Andrews and the Paramore mix. All five engineers used the same tracks, so the only difference was the mix. And in the end, one was favored over the other. Simple as that.
So I have to ask you: “What lies about gear and the role it plays in your recordings and mixes are you believing? And how are they holding you back from making the music you really want to make?”