I am in the late stages of creating a new album. As of this past week I am pretty certain that all of the music has been recorded and that I am now simply fine-tuning the mixes. Almost every morning I walk about five miles and listen to the music, making notes as to the changes I might want to make in the afternoon.
Working digitally has changed the mixing process radically for several reasons. One of these reasons is that everyone working with a computer can recall any aspect of a mix, from the volume of each track to the panning (left-right location), the EQ and Reverb settings. Movement can also be automated, for example an instrument can move in the left to right matrix, or can move up and down in volume.
This kind of automation came at great cost in the mid-Nineties, and wasn’t available at all before then. An analog mixing console with total recall might cost up to a million dollars. Renting time in a studio that had such a console was quite expensive, so I don’t have much experience using one. The only time I would see such a mixing board was when I played guitar on other people’s records.
We found ways to simulate some of the effects of recall. I remember delegating jobs to band members, and the engineer, who were tasked to move a fader up or down at a place in the song, or pan a certain track. In essence we were playing the mixing console. And since we didn’t work in a studio with a total recall board, every mix was original. We had to keep making changes manually until we got it right. And if I later heard something I didn’t like, we had to set up the mix from scratch. I would fill pads of paper with numbers, trying to make note of a basic mix in case we had to revisit it.
Another big change is that in the Nineties mixing commenced when recording was completed, as it meant switching to a different playback head on the analog tape recorder. Working digitally I constantly make mixes and the computer remembers those mixes. I can make a copy of a mix and then make any changes to it without losing the mix before. Nowadays nothing much happens when recording is done because I have been mixing since the first day.
This digital process has become natural to me. In many ways I prefer it to the analog process. Working with a tape recorder I always needed an engineer, but recording with a computer I can handle by myself. I can experiment and get as far out as I want to, and can instantly go back to a different mix. I also do prefer working by myself in the studio, my laboratory. Being alone in the studio feels more like a painter’s process.
So, now I am finalizing the mix of each piece of music and it is curious how a song comes together. I always know the moment it happens. I am sitting at the console and am listening, either on two old Tannoy speakers I love or on headphones, Stax or Audeze… then I make a tiny change, and it could be anything, like turning up a drum or the bass, or moving a rhythm guitar to the other side, and suddenly I am jumping up and it’s happened. I dance like nobody is watching, because nobody is watching!! Before my brain figures out what’s going on, my body already knows. I love that feeling. Happened again this evening.