Mix Engineer

  • Mix Engineer

Each part of a song, pertaining to the individual instruments and vocals, is recorded independently and then combined later to create one album track. At the completion of the recording process, all of the separate tracks are delivered as a DVD or virtual files to the mix engineer and transferred to a mixing console for the final production. A mix engineer is concerned with artfully assembling those tracks and adding effects for sound quality and aesthetic enhancement. This person also adds elements like fade and stereo pan.


Duties

On average, it may take an experienced engineer four to six hours to mix one song. Multiply that by twelve songs per album, and the engineer is looking at seventy-two hours of mix time. When hired by the producer or representative of the artist’s label, the contract will detail deadlines for completion. That established timeline would dictate the schedule by which the engineer will operate. A typical workday may be 10 hours, but schedules vary widely for each project. The practice of designing the final “mixdown” tethers the engineer to a console in a solitary creative endeavor. He or she repetitively listens to isolated tracks and combined arrangements, dialing up the low end, adding reverb to the lead vocals, and isolating the vibrato. The engineer inserts audio effects and additional sounds that are meant to enhance the sound quality and provide emphasis for the creative theme intended in the song. One example of a mix engineer’s work would be the use of Auto-Tune on a T-Pain album or the obscure mechanical, grinding noises of Tool’s “Undertow.”

At predetermined intervals, the mix engineer will provide the producer with printed passes or examples of mixed songs. These checkpoints are necessary to monitor the production process and are an opportunity for the client to offer feedback before the finished product is published. When the mix engineer and client are both satisfied with the album, the engineer will print the stem session or master mix and deliver it to the producer. A good engineer will take detailed notes on his or her process, including console parameters and Pro Tools specifications, so that the mix procedures can be duplicated, in the event that future work must be done to the master.

Skills & Education

College-level or technical school training in sound engineering, recording arts and audio design are particularly important. Additional courses in music appreciation and composition will help to train your ear. Classes in computer technology and programming will prepare you for working with audio editing software like Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, and Sony ACID. A mix engineer should have a passion for both the creative and technical elements of music production and appreciate all genres and styles of music. This career requires a patient personality that enjoys carefully dissecting the project at hand to perfect each note and bridge. You must be detailed-oriented and capable of concentrating intensely on one assignment for hours at a time.

What to Expect

Mix engineers may work as freelance contractors or as full-time, permanent employees of a particular recording studio. Freelancers are hired based on reputation and on a bid to the producer or record label for a timeframe in which the mix can be completed for a specific price. Freelancers may have a home studio or rent time from a third-party house. To build your career you should seek out internships or entry-level positions within a recording studio; these jobs can include studio setup worker, assistant recording engineer, or assistant mix engineer. The ability to work hands-on next to an established industry professional is invaluable, as much of the technique of mixing can only be learned through careful practice and study under a master of the craft. Those who are accomplished as mix engineers can also seek employment on live shows and touring concerts as a monitor engineer or front of house engineer. Mixing on the fly for a live band is excellent practice that hones your ear, as well as your technical skills, at the console.

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