11 Tips When Looking for a Mixing Engineer

Most of my efforts are either put towards helping people make their records better via mixing or teaching people how to mix better records via articles/tutorials.  So I decided to put together a little article to help those people who may be looking for a mixing engineer.

When I’m contacted for my online mixing services, I’m often really only asked one question – How much?

Not that it’s not an important question but I think that their are multiple layers in what a client should be looking for when ultimately choosing an engineer

I laid 11 things that I feel are probably the most important and hopefully they can help you make a more informed decision.

Importance of Location When looking for a Mixing Engineer

When you are looking for a mixing engineer, location might be of importance to you.

If the engineer is located near you than it can bring the back and forth down to a minimum and you can work closely with the engineer to get the sound you are looking for.  They may get a quick mix going and call you in to confirm the creative ideas or you might sit with them through the process and bounce ideas off each other.  So instead of a Mix taking 3 or more days (mostly because of revisions) it could take only a day, bringing your project to completion a lot sooner.

On the other hand we are living in a digital world and the internet has opened up a lot of possibilities in the mixing world.  You can live thousands of miles away and yet still work just as effectively with an engineer to complete the vision of your project.

Since most, if not all, engineers these days have a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), all that’s required of you is to prepare and send over the files of your song.  From there it’s not really necessary for you to be in the session for the engineer to complete his job.   In fact, it can be counterproductive as you’re better off spending that time working and creating new material.

When Worlds Collide (Personality)

This is a pretty big topic that every artist should take seriously.  Just like with anything else in life, it is important to have a good relationship with the people you do business with.  I don’t think anyone wants to work with a difficult personality.

Remember, the engineer is providing a service to you and therefore they should be accommodating.  This doesn’t mean you have the right to disrespect them but the mixing engineer needs to be open to your ideas and your creative input.  After all, it is your song.

If you live far away from them or don’t have the ability to go into the studio, I would recommend getting on the phone with them or at the very least, exchange emails back and forth to get an idea of what they’re like and how they work.  If they are too busy to take your call then they are probably too busy to make sure you are happy with the product.

Total amount of Revisions

This ties in to the personality of a mixing engineer with regards to how they approach revisions.

At one time I thought it made sense to put a cap on revisions but when I grew a brain, I realized it didn’t actually make sense at all.  If I were to think from a clients perspective than I would assume the engineer is not confident in their work to have to put a cap on it.  This would make me very uncomfortable in wanting to work with that person.

How can I be guaranteed as a customer that I will be happy with the finished product?

The simple answer is, I can’t.

Try and apply the same analogy to any other service industry.  For example, Let’s say you ordered an 8 oz steak but the waiter brought you salmon.  Imagine what you would do if he/she said that you have to live with what they gave you.  You’d probably run for the door, right?

I’m not saying you should use the mixing revisions as creative opportunities to try new and different ideas because that sort of stuff should be done in the production stage.  What I am saying is if you have a sound or vision and the mixing engineer didn’t quite get it, he/she should understand that a revision is part of the process in completing the project.

Sometimes there are no revisions and other times there are 5 but that’s just par for the course.  As long as each revision is getting closer to the end, then the mixing engineer should be happy to do them.

I would recommend staying away from a mixing engineer that has a cap on revisions or charges extra for them.  If they are confident and skilled enough, they should be able to get your record to the point where you are ultimately happy, which is the goal of every engineer, I would hope.

Reference Mixes and Credits

When you’re looking for a mixing engineer, references are definitely a bare minimum.  You absolutely have to be able to hear their work.  If the mixing engineer doesn’t have any references or won’t send you any well than… Never mind.

Another thing to think about is their Credits.  Some extremely talented engineers have worked on a lot of low budget or indie records and don’t have any major credits, but is that important to you?

You have to remember that the more major credits a mixing engineer has than the more money you will end up paying – this I will go over shortly.

Some mixing engineers are also producers (probably better producers than mixers) and have a lot of major production credits but not many major mixing credits, if any at all.  They will still take mixing gigs and charge you a pretty penny for it because of their resume.  In this situation I would carefully listen to their references mixes because you might be able to find better quality mixing engineer at a better price, without major credits of course.

Reliability of the Mixing Engineer

This one is a bit harder to gauge because if you haven’t worked with the engineer, how are you supposed to know how reliable they are?

This is a good question and it’s not particularly easy to answer.  The best that I can come up with is reputation.  I’m not talking about mixing credits, I am talking about feedback from friends/peers and if they seem legit.

Usually word of mouth is the best advertising and if you get a reference than it’s probably a good indication that they are reliable.

Also because of the internet, mixing engineers can now build an online reputation that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise attain.  So through social media and not direct friendship, you can get a sense of how trustworthy an engineer might be.

Sometimes just a simple email will reveal their true colours.  Those who are prompt and courteous, tend to continue to be so throughout the entire process.

Mixing Engineer or Mastering Engineer?

When looking for a mixing engineer, be wary of the “Jack of All Trades”.

I’ve never understood a mixing engineer that promotes themselves as a mastering engineer.  It just tells you that they are either looking for more money or they aren’t good enough to specialize.  In my opinion, you are either one or the other.

Each craft takes YEARS and YEARS to master which means a lot of time and devotion.  You can’t just wake up one day and decide to be either of them.

Every good mixing engineer will tell you that they will get your mix loud for you so that it stands up to commercially released records but that they aren’t a mastering engineer.  They will always advise you to seek a professional mastering engineer to complete the final stage of the mix.

Imagine going to a mastering engineer’s studio to get your track mastered and then he/she says to you “Hey I’ll mix your records and charge you less for it”.

What would you think?  It would probably be an awkward moment right?   So how come it’s not awkward when a mixing engineer says that to their clients?

Cost and Quality

Is this important to you?  Are you on a budget?  You want the best bang for the buck, don’t you?

Yes, Yes and YES!

Well if you’re looking for a mixing engineer you can’t think with your pockets alone because you won’t necessarily be doing the record justice.  If it’s your album single, than spend more money on getting it properly mixed so that it can shine.  After all, that song will be doing the most amount marketing for you as an artist and you want to put your best foot forward.

I see so many artists spending money on studio time, production, clothing and image but yet the quality of their record suffers severely.  Don’t underestimate what a good mixing and master engineer can do.  It can’t make a bad song sound good but it can definitely bring life to a good song and hopefully help convey the message to the listener.

Put together a realistic budget and then begin looking for a mix engineer in that price range.  Try and find the best of the best for the max that you are willing to pay.  If you can’t find any in your price range, than save a little bit of money and get it done right at a later date; time permitted of course.  This will save you time and money in the future and prevent you from having the record mixed twice, which does happen more than you think.

Do Your Tastes Align?

All though I wouldn’t necessarily put this at the top of the list, it is still something to think about.  For instance, if you are the type of artist that LOVES to mix dry vocals but the mix engineer that you are thinking of hiring wants the vocals wet, than there might be a problem.

The reason why this one is not the most important is because if you choose someone with a great personality – at least one that works with yours – then they will probably be more than happy to work within a certain criteria that you give him/her.  Though, it would be nice if your tastes aligned.

Is Diversity Important When Looking For a Mixing Engineer?

Every mix engineer leans towards a certain genre, even the most diverse.  Some are really specialized in one or two genres while others can mix a multitude of genres.

This is something think about because it could potentially alter the outcome of your product.  If you are heavily into rock music then you may want an engineer who specializes in rock.  This is because they have probably seen almost every rock related situation, which they now have the ability to navigate through and produce a great sounding product.

If you are into Hip Hop then you may want to look for an engineer who specializes in that genre for the same reasons I mentioned above.

What about multi-genre engineers?

This is something where you are going to have to trust your gut.  Sometimes engineers who can mix multi genres do so average at best while others excel.  It will come down to their references and if you have confidence in them to do your project justice.

If your project is unique and doesn’t necessarily fit into one genre than an engineer with experience in multiple genres might be the best fit for you because they have gained a lot knowledge in many styles of music.  This could potentially give your record that “New” sound that you need to stand out.

Analog or Digital

Now I won’t even get into which of the two are better but I will say that it really is irrelevant these days.  A lot of great engineers are completely in the box while others are still working with analog gear.

When you are looking for a mixing engineer, you are paying for experience and their ears – not the equipment.

I get that some people want to see the big mixing desk and also the vintage tape machines but just keep in mind their is a cost to keeping and maintaining a lot of gear.

Look at the product they provide and see if that aligns with your interests

Giving up a Piece of the Pie

A lot of times clients will ask for a reduced rate in mixing fees and it’s not uncommon for a mixing engineer to ask for publishing percentages for doing so.  They would of course really have to believe in the song to do that.

Now as the artist/producer you have to decide if that is going to work for you.  Sometimes a small budget artist wants a big name engineer and giving up points may be the only compromise.  Of course every situation is different but you need to be prepared that this situation could arise in the negotiations.

Now for my personal opinion: I think that in the future it will be more common for every engineer to get a small slice of the pie since the upfront budgets are getting much smaller.  It’s not the most ideal situation for either party but at least it’s a way for the engineer to recoup some of the lost profits and at the same time give the artist a break on price.

Just Trust Your Gut!

After you’ve gone through some of the points that I mentioned, you have to just trust your gut and go with the mixing engineer that feels right.

We are all talented in some respect or another but we can’t do it all.  We have to eventually put our trust and faith into some people.  So if you can produce, sing or play an instrument but your technical skills are lacking, than leave it to a pro and you will be much happier with the music that you put out.