one thing audio guys seems to always be told is "mix with your ears". this advice has heightened in the digital console era as large displays, touch screens, graphs, and meters have taken center stage in our mix positions. don't get me wrong, mixing without staring at your desk is an important lesson to learn... too many times I've found myself looking at an eq curve I just can't get to "sound right" instead of making adjustments to how it actually sounds in the space. but here's some advice you probably won't hear very often that has been shifting my posture as an engineer: mix with your eyes.
yea, those beady white balls at the front of your face? those are important to the audio engineer too. let's look at some examples...
- look up at the stage - this may seem like common sense but I've watched as engineers choose not to look at the stage for the majority of the production. think about all you could be missing... the guitarist who switched guitars last second (tone starts with the source), the drummer who decided to pick up the mallets (why are the toms MASSIVE all of a sudden??), or the vocalist who is cupping the rejection zone of their mic like Jay Z. If you aren't paying visual attention to the band members on your stage, you may spend time troubleshooting an mix issue that would be solved in a split second if you were more aware of what was happening on the stage.
- notice your meters - again, this might seem like a "duh" point but those input / output meters are included on your console for a purpose, and it goes beyond sound check and gain structure. it's important not to live by the meters but i for one can't hear soft clip on most high-end consoles and i doubt the greater percentage of engineers can either. even soft-clipped inputs can seriously damage your mix's dynamic range but is easily spotted on your meter bridge. remember, yellow is the new red in the digital domain.
- be aware of hidden indicators - this tip requires a bit of mileage on whatever desk you find yourself piloting for a given gig but there are hundreds of indicators laid throughout your control surface and screens that can easily go unnoticed. just this week i spent the better part of our rehearsal trying to figure out why my vox delay wasn't matching the tempo i was tapping. turns out, the rack was bypassed the entire time sending a slightly out of phase copy of the vocals into my mix, tricking me into thinking i was hearing the effect out of tempo. i wasn't delaying the signal at all the but my self-conscience swore that since i was tapping away, i had to be hearing it. if i had taken notice of the bypass indicator earlier, i would saved 20 minutes and some old fashioned embarrassment.
there are tons of reasons to look down at your desk every now and again. your ears may be what make the mix musical, just don't forget your eyes are a guide to the technical aspect of being a great engineer. both can make or break the final product.
now, let's make better together. what are some examples of other things it's important to take visual stock of during your mix? join the conversation below: