Picture this: a dark room dimly warmed by the glow of a computer monitor, four tired people huddled on a beer-stained leather couch, – the mixing engineer hits the playback button and pure sonic magic roars through the speakers…
The bass player asks for more low-end definition. Which makes the drummer ask for a louder kick. Which makes the guitarist want to hear more high end. Which makes the vocals sound brittle. Which frustrates the mixing engineer who now needs to find a different reverb. Which kills the magic and everyone loses. Which destroys the house that Jack built.
How quickly it all spirals away!
Recording Studios- the Safest Place for Benevolent Dictators
In most cases, the process of mixing a song is NOT best-served by multiple perspectives, voices, and contributors. When you meet in the middle, you’re forcing the song into bland, compromised territory, when one person’s all-out sonic vision for the tune may bring it fully to life.
If your band doesn’t work in a situation where one person clearly calls all the shots, if your band really is a democratic outfit, then I suggest 2 possible solutions to a creative impasse:
1) Give up control- Enlist a producer or mixing engineer who you trust, someone you’ve hired because you’ve heard and loved their previous work. Let them steer the ship (as long as they’re not steering it towards an iceberg). Give them time to carve out the frequencies, get the effects and volumes set, then… listen with open ears and an open mind. If you have disagreements, hear them out as to why they made the decisions they did. Take a few days off to let egos cool and revisit the song at that point. Does it sound better after the break?
2) Give EVERYONE control, but not all at once- If you’re having mixing disagreements, allow each person who feels strongly about the direction of the mix to individually guide the process for that song. You may have 2 or 3 radically different approaches to choose from when it is done, but at least each member got to hold the reins through to the end. THEN get democratic: vote on the “best” version. (You probably want to let the producer and/or engineer have a vote too, to break any ties,… or just in case everyone votes for their own version).
Agree HOW to Disagree
With both of these solutions, be prepared upfront to accept some outcomes that you don’t like. But it’s healthiest to discuss the decision-making process BEFORE you step foot in the studio or hire any outside producers or engineers. Get everyone on the same page to start with before you all go off writing your own conflicting chapters. You’ll have a better sense of how to wrangle the separate tales into a cohesive sonic narrative that everyone can, at least, live with.
-Chris R. at CD Baby