As sound engineers, it’s amazing when you get hired to record or mix someone else’s music. It means the band or artist like what you do and trusts your opinion, however, how often do we base our decisions on our own perception about the music rather than working from what the band actually wants and how they hear things within their own music?
This was something I recently experienced but with the roles being reversed, as in, I was the artist and someone else was mixing it.
When I received the music it was nothing like I had envisioned it, instead, it was done with the intention and taste from the engineer.
To be a great engineer it’s really important to understand how it is at the other side of the glass, as in, you have experienced being recorded yourself or you know how it is playing live. For example, having some experience being an artist you know how important it is for them to feel relaxed in the studio and if you are doing live shows you know how important the monitoring is for them on stage.
The same thing goes for mixing other peoples music.
So, how come we sometimes can get stuck in our own way and think we know how something should sound if we haven’t fully understood the artist we are working with?
Unless someone hires you because they love your sound then you are free to do whatever you want, of course, but for most of us, that is not the case (yet).
The Importance Of Asking Questions
So, what can we as engineers do to understand what the artist hear in their head and make them become a reality?
Simple - ask them questions.
For example, before starting the project, whether it’s a recording session or a mixing session, call them up and talk about their music.
Ask for references and which artists they like. What do they like about them? Is it how the vocal or drum sounds? How they pan their guitars? How massive the bass is?
Anything you can pick up and learn the better of you will be, and the more likely you are to deliver a killer recording or mix.
Being Able To Decipher What Artist Means
It’s not always as easy that you can just ask questions to artists and get answers that you can start implementing. Sometimes, artists can say one thing and mean another thing.
For example, a Grammy-winning engineer told me once that an artist he was doing some mixing for had asked for it to sound like the ’70s with big reverbs, etc. However, when the artist heard it it was nothing like he had meant.
These things happen all the time, therefore, it’s really important to dig just a little bit deeper. If the artist asks for a particular sound, for example, a 70’s sound, send them some references or mention some artists that you associate with that decade and ask if that’s what they mean.
This could save some time down the line so you don’t have to mix it once and then come back and mix it again, completely different.
Asking bands and artists for rough mixes is also a really good way of getting a better understanding of their intentions, and gives you something to compete with
Let Go Of Your Ego
Working with bands and artists music, that they sometimes have spend years writing, is something that should be treated with respect and it’s our duty to, at least, ask some questions about their vision and how they want to hear it.
Therefore, it’s important to let go of your ego as much as you can and realise it’s not about you, it’s about them.
Now, I’d love to hear what you think about this, do you have any experience of this happening to you? Let me know in the comments below!