Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mix, listen, mix, listen, mix, listen, repeat

I never thought of myself as a sound engineer. But the restrictions of my budget laid necessity on me to take on a new challenge and learn a new skill. At this point my album is successfully mixed. I have forwarded it to a few trusted ears and currently wait for the “go-ahead" to send the tracks for mastering.  But getting to this point was not always easy.

Just in case you don’t know, mixing involves raising and lowering the volume of individual instruments in “the mix" so that they sound good in relation to one another. But it’s more than that. You also have to compress and EQ (adjust the bass, treble, and mids like you would in your car stereo) for each individual instrument so that you can hear it clearly. Add to that, echo, reverb, and panning left/right and I had a big mess on my untrained hands.

Mixing my own music was like riding the proverbial “emotional roller-coaster".  At times, when things lined up so easily and the sound in my imagination matched what in reality entered my ears, the feeling of success was euphoric! I felt as if the end was in sight! Then I would burn to CD and listen in my car stereo and it would sound terrible. Depression inevitably ensued. “Will I ever get this thing finished", “Is it going to sound any good when it’s done?"

If I have learned one thing from this whole ordeal it would be this: stick with it. Mix, listen, mix, listen, mix, listen, repeat.  Just keep at it until it sounds like you want it. It’s tedious, for sure. And having a 6 year-old computer that crashes when I work too fast did nothing to ease the situation.

Toward the end, I could hardly hear the songs as music at all. My compositions failed to stir in me, the composer, any emotion at all. I completely forgot the inspiration behind my own art.  I was tweaking a blurry mess of frequencies like someone might straighten each square tile in a colorful mosaic and completely miss the image that they collectively portrayed.

When I reached my limit, I left it for a week to give my ears some time. A few days later, I let a friend riding with me in my car listen to the first track. To my surprise, it was there….the song. It was good! My friend didn’t ask me about frequencies, reverb, or EQ. He asked me about the lyrics. “Why did you write this song?" he asked.

It moved him.

It moved me.