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Sonic Synergy

by Aneesh Chengappa

MIX ENGINEER

Introduction

The first thing that comes to mind when you think a mix engineer, is a studio full of knobs, faders, buttons, screens and of course speakers, and it kind of looks like a spaceship. Even though operating a spaceship is worlds apart from being a mix engineer, at their core, they share various essential skills such as technical knowledge, attention to detail, problem solving, collaboration, and adaptation.

I have always been fascinated with how the role of a mix engineer helps shape an artist's composition and vision, so that it accurately conveys the right story and emotion. The technical aspect is just the tip of the ice-berg, and to get a deeper understanding of the true nature of this profession, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the multi-platinum mixer and recording engineer – Angad Bains, widely known as Bainz. Through his insights and guidance, I discovered the fundamental topics that I needed comprehend thoroughly.

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Bainz (Angad Bains)

Mixer & Recording Engineer

SKILLS

In order to become a mix engineer, you need a plethora of skills that need to be practiced. To make things more comprehensible, here are four of the most essential skills and a few of their sub-topics (hover): 

Having a perfect understanding of all these skills would be very challenging. Hence, it's very important to identify which skills to prioritize at various stages of your career.  And creating a balanced practice of at least one aspect of each of these skills, would help you grow in a more efficient and practical way. Practical Music Production's article on this topic is a good starting point for aspiring mix engineers, as the article looks into this profession in a wholistic manner. If you wish to dig deeper, you can have a read here.

"It's not what you use, it's how you use it.

The gear doesn't make the mix,

the mixer makes the mix."

 

- Chris Lord-Alge

Technical

Signal Flow
Fundamentals of Sound
DAW Proficiency
Audio Editing
Mixing Techniques
Recording Techniques


 

Creative

Critical Listening
Musicality & Arrangement
Experimentation
Improvisation
Studio Setup

Soft Skills

Communication
Patience
Time Managment
Culture
Networking

Music Business

Record Labels
Royalties
Legal Contracts
Societies
Events
Pop Culture

 

While it would be exciting to talk about the technical features of being a mix engineer, in this blog we will focus more on the practical facets and how to build a successful career in this profession. 

STRUCTURE

From the brief insight on the skills required to become a mix engineer, having a organised workflow is very critical in order to effective make use of all of your skills. Generally speaking, this involves making a structure that suits your style of workflow, identifying repetitive tasks and automating them, creating templates & presets, time-management, proper communication, taking notes and labelling projects.

 

Making use of these structures allow you to be quick at achieving a good mix and also reduce the chances of ear fatigue, which can often lead to mistakes while mixing. Besides being efficient, as a mix engineer you are likely to get recalls from musicians, and being organised helps you identify and make changes accurately. 

When preparing for my interview with Bainz, I watched numerous videos of him explaining his workflow and session structure, which I found really insightful and educational. Here are 2 which stood out to me:

Workflow

Session Structure

PROGRESSION

The career progression of a mix engineer typically involves experiencing various stages and positions, which are considered industry standards for becoming a professional mix engineer.

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Even though this may be the traditional way of becoming a mix engineer, individual paths can vary and every engineer has his own unique path of progression. That being said, it is important to understand why this kind of progession exists, hence I will expand on what aspects of these stages help shape your path towards becoming a mix engineer.

I thought this quote from Dave Pensado would be a good starting point. Education and doing internships aid you in understanding the technicalities and environment of this profession, but most people overlook the fact that, during this time it's also about finding what you love about this field, and what aspects of it you are truly passionate about. Throughout your time as a student or intern, you can also make plenty of friends and contacts who can help you build your professional network and progress faster.

"The money will come. Just record, listen to music, make music over and over. Find your pleasure in doin it, and everything will follow in time."

- Dave Pensado

Here's a short clip of Brian Vibberts on the Working Class Audio Podcast, explaining the importance of education and internships, and the impact it has on your progression.

Note: In case the clip doesn't play from the right time, the timestamp is - 34:38 to 35:32.

Becoming an assistant engineer involves having more responsibilities, and is essentially your first step towards becoming a professional. This position usually involves doing a lot of the mundane tasks during a recording or mix session, and this is what creates a strong foundation for your technical abilities in a practical environment, while also giving you the experience of working under pressure.

The clip below of Mark Parfitt on Pensados Place, isn't directly related to being an assistant engineer but touches back on the point that every engineer has their own unique path. It shows that some opportunities can come from doing unusual jobs, which can enable you to reach your desired career position.

Note: In case the clip doesn't play from the right time, the timestamp is - 3:55 to 7:40

In the conversation, they also touch upon the importance of being prepared, and how many successful engineers progressed because they were prepared for when the right opportunity comes their way, which allows them to effectively take the leap from one position to the next. In relation to this, here's what Bainz had to say during our conversation: 

Aneesh: What should I focus on after my sound engineering degree ?

Bainz: Figure out what kind of places you want to work at. See the work that comes out of them. Study that work. Know everything about how they operate. Immerse yourself in that world so that you're in a better position when you finally get an interview. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

The role of being a recording engineer helps you understand how to achieve high-quality recordings of various instruments, and makes you to grasp the limitations of recording audio. This has a huge impact on your understanding of a mix and what techniques make the mixing process easier.

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Noah James Shebib in the studio with Drake

Noah James Shebib better known as 40, has worked as a recording engineer on over 30 records with Drake, playing a significant role in shaping Drake's sound, some of which have won the prestigious grammy award.

More importantly, while being a recording engineer you need develop strong soft skills in order to collaborate with artists, this involves making them feel comfortable in the studio environment, and ensuring that you're paying attention to the artist's aesthetic needs and feedback. It's very critical in this stage to identify the balance between what an artist desires and what may be technically sensible.

Once you've been through all these stages, you slowly transition to into becoming a mix engineer. At this stage, you're mostly dealing with stems, and trying to achieve the best possible clarity & cohesiveness of a composition, while keeping in mind the aesthetical requirements of an artist.

Now that we know the progression of becoming a mix engineer, let's briefly talk about monetization. You can begin monetizing at any stage of your progression in the following ways (hover):

Freelancing

Online Sevices (soundbetter, fiverr, etc.) Networking and building a client base 
Collaborating with other engineers
Patreon (Sound packs, presets, plugins)
Building studios
Live sound mixing

Employment

In-house engineer for:
Recording studios, film & television, radio broadcasting, gaming industry, theater performances and live concerts.

Teaching

Educator in a university or institute
Online content(Youtube, Instagram, etc.)
Online courses (Skillshare, Masterclass, etc.)
Private lessons
Writing books

What makes a mix engineer stand out? you might ask. In the next 2 topics, I will touch upon how a mix engineer can excel, and mark his or her territory in the industry.

ADAPTATION

The music industry moves at a very fast pace. We've already seen the rapid transition from Vinyls, Cassettes and CDs to Digital downloads and Streaming, which had a massive impact on the music industry and its artists. Similarly in the audio engineer space, you must constantly adapt to new technological advancements, client needs, cultural trends and market trends, to ensure that you're staying up to date with your professional environment.

"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those

who can best manage change."

 

- Charles Darwin

In addition to that, when building a client base, a mix engineer must have genre versatility. Although many engineers succeed by focusing on a few genres, as the landscape of the music industry grows in this current day and age, especially with the rise of a plethora of electronic music genres, it would be in an engineer's best interest to diversify and work with genres which have more potential for clientele.

This video by Hardcore Music Studio has a very daunting title, but it offers some great tips for adapting to the market and highlights common mistakes an engineer may make in their career. 

Note: In case the clip doesn't play from the right time, the timestamp is - 5:00 to 9:44

IDENTITY

Aneesh: What mistakes do you see aspiring engineers make?

Bainz: I see young engineers trying to emulate someone else without discovering their own true sound or, they try to jump on the band wagon and do whatever is popular in that moment. I think being unique and being able to do something that is true to you is important, and that will stand the test of time. It may or may not be good initially, but it'll get people's attention.

Aspiring engineers often make the mistake of treating sound engineering as something more technical rather than creative. Whereas the true nature of this profession is a balance between creativity and technicality. Simply applying the techniques you see other professionals use, will only get you so far. This is probably why, during the progression of becoming a mix engineer, you experience a multitude of different situations which challenge you to think in a unique and creative way, in order solve problems and find new, or perhaps even better, solutions.

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The Mix Engineers Handbook by Bobby Owsinski is a very comprehensive guide on the technical aspects of this field, but it also has a large number of interviews, which gave me a great perspective of how various engineers have their own unique set of tools and techniques. 

conclusion

In conclusion to respond directly to the driving question 'Who could I become?', to be a mix engineer you need technical and creative skills, good people skills, knowledge of the music business, and to be organized and ready for the right chance when it comes. Additionally, understanding the importance of progression in this career can help me navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with constant industry evolution, ensuring I remain adaptable and forward-thinking.

 

The insights and guidance shared by Bainz were instrumental in shaping my understanding and approach, and gave me a good sense of direction as to what I should be focusing on after education, with emphasis on being unique and creatively adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the music industry. 

Skills
Structure
Progression
Adaptation
Identity
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