Everyday is a new challenge. Well at least a new song, usually from a different artist and most times from people I’ve never had the privilege of meeting face to face.
I thoroughly enjoy my job and part of that is because of the daily renewal of enthusiasm I get to take part in as I speak to the clients about their project. All these people have spent countless hours producing, recording, and editing everything to their tastes. They obviously have a lot vested in the song so when it gets to me, my primary job is not to mess it up!
Everyone has different likes and dislikes and identifying that from the start can go a long way in ensuring that you deliver what they are looking for.
The first step for me would be to have a conversation before hand with the people involved. Try and get to know them a little, get a feel of where they are trying to go with the song. I usually take notes of things I find pertinent; could be how they feel about the vocal, a guitar riff they really like or anything that sticks out in the conversation.
Discussing the genre of music, and if they referenced any commercially released songs while making their record can help set the landscape of the mix. I prefer having this conversation before I hear anything, that way I’m really just taking in their point of view of the song/project (sort of an unbiased impression if you will).
I like to hear about the production process, what mic/pre they used for cutting the vocals (or other stuff they used to make the song). Some of that is just my audio “nerdism” kicking in, but all mics have a sound, and being familiar with said sound can be helpful. All this information can go a long way in saving you time when you actually start mixing.
Most people spend quite a bit of time perfecting their “rough mix” so spending some time listening to it can help you get a handle of some basic levels and the type of vocal processing they like. If the vocal is drowned in reverb, then they probably want something along those lines for the final version.
The rough will also let you hear any production ideas they have and give you an idea if you want them to print out any specific effects.
Lastly the rough mix can also give you an idea of how far you need to take track sonically to turn it to what it needs to be.
Once you get the tracks, cross-reference them with the rough mix to make sure you have everything you need before starting because nothing sucks more then getting 4-5 hours in a mix just to realize your missing tracks.
During the mixing process try and A/B a few times with the rough mix. I like to do this at the beginning to get those basic levels out of the way, and near the end for my personal satisfaction that I’ve pushed the song to another level or to find out if I’ve totally missed the boat!
Once you send out a reference of the mix, the wonderful self-doubting waiting period kicks in – take it in stride. Ideally you have another song to mix so you don’t have to think about all the things you would change on the last one!
Be open to the client’s suggestions, even if you initially think they don’t make sense. The goal is to build a relationship with these people, and honestly more times then none I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how a client’s suggestion has turned out (with some tweaking of course!).
When a client asks for revisions, make sure to be thorough. Go back to the first reference to make sure that the changes are what they wanted and of course be happy with how you’ve executed it.
Once you get the approval that the mix is good to go, print out at least an instrumental, acapella (vocal only) and a TV Mix (a version with the lead vocal muted, and all the backs playing for performance purposes). Also inquire if they want stems which are basically a mixed versions of the multi tracks for the song. Although it can be time consuming to print out the stems, it can be very useful for live performances and remixes. Most people appreciate you taking the time to inquire about what they may need.
Some of this might seem like common sense, but it took me a while to align all those elements in my work-flow and honestly I’m still learning and always trying to make it better. Hopefully some of this will help you help your clients get to where they want to go.