Mixing into whatever – a rant

I’ve had enough. Just stop it, people. Please.

More and more and more, people are telling me ‘I got the mix perfect, and took off all the master processing to help you out’, then wondering why the master I provide based on the mix they’ve sent, which they’ve said is perfect, sounds totally different to what they had in mind. It often turns out their buss processing consists of a ‘gentle’ high shelf (+6dB), running into a ‘gentle’ 4 band compressor (each band doing 6dB at totally different times), going into a ‘gentle’ exciter (running at +6dB), with some ‘gentle’ widening (+50%), going into a ‘gentle’ compressor (6dB attenuation), into a ‘gentle’ limiter (doing 6dB).

And they wonder why it sounds different. What do they expect? They’ve just taken off anywhere between one to six processors all doing all manner of stuff, usually heavily, and then expect their ME to automagically understand what it was they were hearing and trying to do when they’ve removed a third (or whatever) of the processing in/on the entire mix. Their ME might be very good, but I doubt they are telepathic.

I’m exaggerating a little, of course. But let’s be clear, it’s not the exact amount that’s a problem, it’s that they do any of it at all. Half dB of this changes how the half a dB of that applies itself, which in turn affects how the half a dB of the other behaves. And so on. Several very small things become something pretty big, pretty quickly. Change any link in the chain and the whole effect is totally different; remove the lot – whether it’s half a dB a time or 6dB – and you’re talking about a totally different sound. Mixing through this stuff changes the decisions you make when mixing; so when you take it off it’s a different mix. Simple as that.

All of which aside, regardless of exact amounts, do people honestly think that building their whole mix through a preset made for a totally different song – a totally different sonic situation – is optimal? People snort with derision about ‘ha, I don’t use presets’, and are fully demanding that their mastering engineer doesn’t, obviously….. and then they make all their mixes with a limiter/clipper/MB comp/whatever preset on the output.  Ridiculous.

‘But I like the saturation it gives the drums’ – then do it on the drums. ‘But I like the high end it adds’ – then get the f*cking high end right in the mix (does EVERY part need that eq boost?). ‘But I like the way it glues the mix together’ – that’s probably cos all the elements in the mix are wildly out of control due to a lack of individual attention. If people were to get that stuff right the mix wouldn’t sound so wildly demented when they remove Ozone or L3 or T-Racks clipper or whatever. ‘But I want to hear how it will sound when it’s mastered’ – I won’t even go into that one, it’s an article in itself (suffice to say it is a stupid, daft concept). ‘But my mix sounds pants when I turn it off’ – that’s because the mix is pants. Hiding that fact under a load of processing doesn’t change it.

Get your mix right. Your MIX. Leave as little doubt and guessing as humanly possible for your ME. Make sure they know what page you’re on by not removing a whole swathe of absolutely crucial processing that totally changes the equation. You’re making life more difficult for everyone. You’re not helping anyone – including yourself – by painting your audio into a corner with buss processing.

Just don’t do it. Stop baking shit cakes. Stop shooting yourself in the foot. Stop being lazy and taking shortcuts. Stop leaning on party trick processors slapped across your output and mix it right.  Remove the doubt. Remove the guessing games. Remove the aggravation it causes when it emerges that you and your engineer are on totally different pages.

Yes it means more work. Yes it means more patience. Yes it’s more challenging and difficult. Guess what? That’s audio. That’s life, FFS. But guess what else? It’s worth the time and effort because not only will it make this track sound better, but your future tracks will benefit as well.

Even subtle stuff changes the mix, and so you’re exporting a different mix when you turn it off. Going further, if your mix sounds totally, wildly different with and without buss processing, the buss processing is doing too much work and your mix isn’t finished. Your attention is focussed at the wrong end of things.

 

Sort it out people. Put the work in and you will be richly rewarded. But for now, FFS just turn that stuff off.

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