Should You Limit Yourself?

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Engineering, Music/Audio, Opinions, Personal 3 Comments

I came across was an article entitled Bad Mixing/Mastering Advice Rant: “If It Sounds Right, It Is Right” at the Create Music Tips blog.  The post had a LOT of things that I agreed with, but something about it nagged at me.

I’ve blogged about my escapades in mixing in my “Mixing Manifesto” Part I, Part II, Part III.

In a nutshell, he’s stating that when mixing, you shouldn’t buy into the “If it sounds right to you, then it’s right” axiom.  His (I’m assuming it’s a “he”) rant was that he’s seen a lot of posts/interviews where an engineer will flippantly state “I did XXX in the mix – it sounded good to me, so I went with it”.

The main beef that he has is that “newbies” to mixing don’t have enough experience to be able to determine whether some odd-ball mixing technique sounds right or not.

He translates what we should be hearing from an engineer when he or she says: “If it sounds right, it is right.”:

“In my 25 years experience working in the recording industry on hundreds of major-label projects, where I’ve become extremely familiar with the best gear money can buy, I have learned through countless opportunities of trial and error that occasionally it’s okay to violate a general recording guideline in order to achieve the sound I think will benefit the song as a whole. And even though I will sometimes push a principal beyond what is typically acceptable, I make sure that my decision will not jeopardize the sonic integrity and fidelity of neither the individual part nor its relation to the whole.”

– Create Music Tips

I DO agree with his argument that getting proficient in the art of mixing is something that requires experience and that tried and tested methods are there because they work.  However, limiting yourself to just the tried and trusted techniques doesn’t get you making mistakes.  And, making mistakes is the crux of the learning process.

My advice: if you’re new to mixing/mastering or recording in general, just stick to the general guidelines you read about in trusted books and blogs. You might not create stellar mixes but they’re also not going to suck really bad because you decided that boosting all the tracks 12dB at 2kHz sounded “awesome.”

– Create Music Tips

I’m not sure that I’d have put it this way.  I agree with what he’s getting at, but stating that you shouldn’t stray from the “beaten path” kind of goes against fostering learning and creativity.  If you read the rest of the post, he goes on to encourage listeners to continue doing critical listening, ask for advice and opinions and to continue to train your ears.

I THINK what he’s trying to get at is:  Mixing (and all other art forms for that matter) is never “perfected”.  What’s considered “good” is highly subjective and becoming “good” is a continual learning process. You can’t mix in a bubble – you need external feedback on your mixes in order to improve.

If you want to get better, always be willing to learn, try things out, make mistakes and enthusiastically seek, evaluate and act upon criticism.

I’ve copied the great list of next steps he gives at the end of his post:

  • Continue making and learning from your mistakes.
  • Try out the suggestions given in books and magazines.
  • Get advice and critique from someone who’s ahead of you.
  • Train your ears with products like David Moulton’s Golden Ears, or take the quizzes at sites like Easy Ear Training or Dan Comerchero’s QUIZTONES.
  • Watch mixing/mastering tutorials with your headphones on.
  • Take mixing lessons from a local mix engineer.
  • Read Bobby Owsinski’s isolated track analyses and listen for what he hears.
  • Look for tutorial sites that include audio examples, like AudioTuts+.
  • Study those examples until you can hear what they’re hearing. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ll slowly improve your ear over time. Until then, appreciate the level you’re at right now and have fun.

Comments 3

  1. Interesting read, both the source and your comments.

    Still being a fresh and untaught beginner to mixing, it rings true. However, I’d like to add another perspective on what the CMT blog says. Something like this:
    – Standard methods are your best platform and what you should use unless it sounds really bad or you’re going for a specific idea.
    – If you try to break “the rules”, try to figure out why you want to break the rule and what your method should be. As with all kinds of creative activities, unless you analyse your own decisions, you will never really learn anything (and you’re in fact not creative at all, just messing around).
    – When professionals break rules, they do so based on a lot of experience. They still stay within a domain where they – for good reasons – know that the result will not be horrible.
    – What is a “good” mix is subjective, but a pro is more likely to end up with a mix that pleases the majority of listeners.

    The last point is probably best exemplified with the fact that mixes of tracks from top artists can sound “wrong” or “not so right” even for us amateurs. I’m thinking of e.g. Sheryl Crow’s “Shine over Babylon” (great song but weird frequency mix – or destroyed in mastering?).

    Maybe not so different form what you said, but anyway. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong…

    All the time I work with music it feels like I’m calibrating my ears and it’s one of the rewards of this hobby. It shows mostly when listening to sound systems in a shop or as purchased by friends (for cheap or lots of money); I don’t necessary agree with their “it sounds great!” and can often tell them why (but I don’t).

    Thanks for these kilobytes,


    1. Post

      Fantastic points Albert! I especially like / agree with your second bullet item:

      “If you try to break “the rules”, try to figure out why you want to break the rule and what your method should be. As with all kinds of creative activities, unless you analyse your own decisions, you will never really learn anything”


  2. Just discovered your comment. Nice counterpoint, chckn8r. I don’t disagree. Experimentation and screwing up is a vital part of the learning process. Thanks for the needed perspective on my article!

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