Mixing By Numbers

30 03 2011

As a semi-professional sound engineer I hope that people will see my work as something worth paying for.  I need the income I make from my recording business and I love doing it.  Over the past few years more and more people are cracking Cubase and hundreds of plug ins and joining the industry as hobbiests or “bedroom producers”.  I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning about the development of the subject, as a teacher of Music Technology I’m glad there is increasing interest. But I can’t help but think there is a certain amount of dumbing down going on. New plug-ins like the Waves One Knob series are removing skill and therefore value out of the industry.

On the base level of the industry, where I currently ply my trade, artists are usually funding recordings out of their own  pocket and are seemingly more reluctant than ever to pay for quality.  The studio I work in prices a day’s recording competitively with other similar level studios in the area, this figure is a good chunk under £200 a day.  The same price (I’m reliable informed by the owner) that it was around 20 years ago! Showing no signs of inflation and not representing the technical improvements of that last two decades.  This reluctance to pay, I believe, is coming from the view that a good record can be done on the cheap using software, however it was obtained, in a bedroom. I’ve heard some passable demos come out of this environment, but never a marketable professional recording. What’s missing is not the quality of software but quality hardware and crucially the touch of an experienced and skilled ear.

This ear is easily purchased but for some reason it’s not seen as a skill worth paying for. You wouldn’t find a plumber willing to work 10+ hour days for barely minimum wage, but in our industry if someone want to make in into the higher echelons of professional recording they must work almost endlessly for nothing at all.  Is this because our trade is viewed as a luxury to do? I love being a sound engineer and therefore am willing to work for perhaps less. But I could not afford the time working unpaid to make a move into the truly professional sector, so I made the choice to work, paid such as it is, at the entry level.

So I’m hoping to make a living using my skills as a mix engineer, but is this advantage being taken away slowly two? Can you now make good mixes without any understanding of the science behind it?

I’ve not tried, but it’d be interesting to see how good I can get a mix by just using preset settings on plug-ins. This would be easy enough and I’m fairly sure it’d sound okay too, but if everyone did this, wouldn’t we get a lot of records sounding the same? We’re already hearing Apple loops in charts, I cite Usher – Love In This Club and Rhianna – Umbrella.  So now, thanks to Waves we can all sound the same in new, uncharted ways. If we all just used One Knob plugs we’d be  able to do everything a mix engineer could possibly want… A dial for more reverb please, just turn up the compression to “on more”.  Tweak the bass up to a phatness level of 8.  Make it louder despite clipping every bus in sight with the One Knob Louder plug.  And do you know what’s most annoying? They’ll probably sound great.

I’ve downloaded the One Knob demos and will soon provide you with a glimpse of the future… the One Knob mix!  I promise to do my best with it, as much as I might want it to sound bad. Stay tuned…

By Graeme Rawson