When a mixing great like Manny Marroquin (John Mayer, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Bruno Mars) advocates simplicity in mixing, we as home studio owners can respond in one of two ways.
Photo from Mix With The Masters by Victor Lévy-Lasne
We can become cynical and say “Oh sure, it’s easy for Manny to say that. He’s mixing tracks that already sound amazing so there’s not much for him to do.” While there is truth to that statement, it’s still a pointless response.
The other option is to respond with hope and excitement knowing that all too often our problem as mixers is that we over-mix due to lack of confidence.
If simplicity works for some of the world’s best, it will work for us!
Check out this brief interview/tutorial with Manny and notice his overall approach to mixing. I think you’ll find it refreshingly simple. Then I want to break down three points he makes in the video.
Knowing When To Leave It Alone
When we think about mixing, we all want to know what we’re “supposed to be doing” to make it sound good. Our minds tend to assume this means processing or some kind of mix technique. Marroquin advocates an approach that seems a bit backwards.
In mixing, it’s not how much you do, it’s knowing when to leave it alone. – Manny Marroquin, Grammy Winning Mixer
To his own admission this takes both time and experience to know when it’s appropriate to leave a track alone. In fact I would argue it takes way more skill and mixing wisdom to be able to identify when a track already sounds good and when it actually needs work.
Typically we assume every track needs work. Even for us home studio people, this certainly is not the case.
Mixing On Instinct
I know I have a tendency to want to mix in a formulaic way: first do this, then do that, and it will always result in this.
But anyone who has mixed more than one song in their lives knows that every piece of music and every recording is a different beast all together. Sometimes you don’t even know what is right, you just mix and don’t look back.
Sometimes you go purely based on instinct and passion. You look back [on a mix] and say “Why did I do that?” – Manny Marroquin, Grammy Winning Mixer
Yet another example of how mixing isn’t purely a technical or scientific endeavor. It is a creative one; a process that really has no right or wrong – only what feels good to the mixer and hopefully the listener.
Mixing on instinct isn’t something we do naturally, mostly because we’re afraid of screwing something up. That’s why I suggest you mix fast – so that you don’t leave time to over think things. Just move faders, EQ out problems, compress to enhance, pan for width, and ultimately feel things out like a musician – not someone in a secret lab.
Build The Mix Around The Hook
Related to mixing on instinct, if you notice one thing Marroquin mentioned earlier in the video – he was very clear about what the hook of that particular song was (the delayed guitar riff) and decided to build the entire mix around that one track.
Once you identify the hook…you start to build the mix around that. The hook [can] inspire the EQ of [the other instruments]. – Manny Marroquin, Grammy Winning Mixer
If you aren’t paying attention you can almost miss his example of EQing the bottom snare mic in such a way that it emphasizes the guitar hook. What a random combination, but a powerful insight into both the depth and simplicity of mixing based around the most important instrument of the song.
This also helps us keep mixing simple. Pull up the faders, listen through the song, and identify what the hook is. It might be one track, it might be a few tracks playing one part together. But whatever it is, identify it and make the rest of the mix serve that hook.
That can totally reduce your decision making and simplify the mixing process for you.
How Will You Simplify Your Mixes?
So my friend, the question remains: what in this interview resonated the most with you and how will you apply it to simplifying your own mixing process?
Take a minute to share below the one thing you plan on changing (or continuing) in your mixing process that will help you mix with more simplicity and joy.