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Preface to the First Edition

This book has been designed to answer the elusive questions, “What makes a great mix?” and “How do you go about creating a great mix?” Although most people know what they like, they often don’t know how to achieve what they want when they’re in the studio.

To answer these questions, I introduce and use visual representations of sounds as a tool for understanding the whole world of dynamics that an engineer can create with the equipment in the studio. This visual framework has now become an established tool in the recording industry. Over 20 colleges use these visuals to explain mixing theory.

It’s easy to learn the function of each piece of equipment in the studio; you can read user’s manuals or the tons of good books available that explain the equipment. The difficulty lies in knowing how to use the equipment and in learning what combinations of equipment are used to create great sounding mixes. Once you know what the knobs do, which way do you turn them?

In other fields of art, there is no shortage of books that attempt to explain the whole world of aesthetics. From music to painting, scholars have tried answering the question, “What makes great art?” But recording is a relatively new field, and very little has been written about the aesthetics of mixing.

This is one of the first books to explain the aesthetics side of creating a great mix. This is no simple feat, as there are many musical styles based on any number of different instruments, all of which are recorded differently. Each style of music has its own world of values that are changing constantly. The number of variations is endless. Perhaps no one has attacked this complex subject of mixing due to the lack of a framework to analyze the process. Without a framework, it is difficult to explain what is going on and hard to remember all the different things that can be done in a mix. In the field of music, music theory provides this framework. This book introduces a framework for understanding all the dynamics that can be created in a mix.

The primary goal of this book is to give you a perspective on how the equipment works together to create every mix in the world. Once you have a perspective on what can be done, you can be truly creative on your own.

It has been said that there are no rules when it comes to recording. After all, the perfect mix to one person may be the worst mix to another. However, most bands do want mixes that sound like their style of music, and for some styles of music—such as big band, acoustic jazz, and even certain types of rock and roll—the rules are actually quite strict.

In the recording industry, there are certain high-level values that are commonly held. We know this because there are certain professional engineers who can create a great mix every time they sit in front of a console. These engineers command exorbitant fees because they are capable of coming up with something that most people perceive as great, every time. So what is it they are doing? It isn’t magic. They are only doing some very specific things. If you could simply understand and learn what they do, you could start down the path to becoming a great engineer. Once you have a map and you know where you’re going, you’ll get there much faster! And once you understand what the successful engineers are doing, you can create your own style. This book will help you develop and recognize your own values through visuals, because visuals help us to remember. After all, a picture is worth a thousand sounds.

Visual 1. Sound Imaging of Instruments

This book will help you discover the high-level values that major engineers have and will help you do the most difficult job of all: make art out of technology. This book provides the missing link between technology and aesthetics. Using the visual framework, for the first time, you can see all that goes into making a good mix, and you can begin the lifelong exploration in detail. This is the art of mixing.

Visual 2. Structuring a Mix

Preface to the Second Edition

Since I first wrote this book an odd thing has happened. Now that this framework has been established, in which all dynamics in a mix can be delineated and explained, the gates of exploration have been thrown wide open. People from all over the world have written me to express their jubilation in seeing it all put into perspective. And I have been getting a huge number of ideas brought to me that have continued to fill in all of the details of the fine branches within each style of music.

But more importantly, it has opened up a whole new world for myself. Using the visual framework, I have been able to expand my repertoire of recording techniques immensely. Now whenever I hear something on the radio or a new CD, I am able to immediately recognize everything that the engineer did to create that mix. Because of this, I now have a better perspective than ever on how every dynamic might be used in different types of music and songs—and it gets deeper and more complex every day.

It is my hope that this perspective can be transferred to you as it has been for thousands of others. It is a very powerful tool.

It’s really
not so much about me showing you a FEW DOZEN techniques,
but about providing you with a framework
that you can use to discover
HUNDREDS of techniques hidden in the types of music, songs,
and mixes that you like—
then you can use them in your own mixes appropriately.

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