Tips and Tricks: Trust Yourself

This is the last week of my holiday series about mixing through what is a busy time for just about anyone in the audio industry. These last few weeks we’ve talked quite a bit about pacing yourself in terms of exposure and utilizing tools to mix efficiently, but this week I wanted to wrap up the series by discussing the fact that I believe more engineers need to trust their skills, trust their work, and trust their instruments as they mix through hearing fatigue. 

Over the last couple of years of blogging here I’ve talked about the importance of taking advantage of as many tools as you can to measure sound. Whether that’s just SPL, running an RTA, having wireless workbench open, or whatever else, there are so many objective metrics to help us make better subjective decisions. Whether you’re in the studio, at monitors, or running FOH, there is always information that can be gathered and used. One of the biggest reasons I run Smaart is to help me mix when I know my ears are tired. I know, I know, I should be mixing with my ears, I completely agree. However, sometimes show schedules combined with rehearsal schedules make being at full strength hearing-wise difficult. I also condition this whole idea of mixing on instruments with the requirement that you’ll need to have put in the time beforehand in virtual soundcheck dialing in the mix in order to learn what your instruments need to be saying and how to accomplish what you are looking for.

Every year with our big Christmas show, in the week leading up to our shows, I’m spending some time everyday mixing so that, after having paced myself throughout the week, I’m all setup to mix. If my ears aren’t fresh, I’ve practiced so many times, spent so much time tweaking with fresh ears, that I know what my instruments should be reading if I’m not trusting what my ears are hearing. Because I’ve run through the songs so many times, mixing becomes instinctual. I’m no longer reacting to my mix, I’m being proactive, knowing what’s needed for what’s coming next. I can look at my RTA, process for a bit, and know what needs to be changed based on my memory of what it looked like all the previous times I’ve run that song with ears at full strength. Remember, we are talking about the RTA curve here, SPL matters but in my context, the form of the sound rather than the volume of it matters more. More often than not I’ve hit my SPL targets in virtual soundcheck so that shouldn’t be a factor during the shows.

Having spent so much time in virtual playback over a longer period of time, I am also able to build muscle memory. This is also something that I hear being looked down upon. Folks, once again, if your ears are tired, you can’t trust them for the intricacies of your mix. So you can only trust other input sources and in this case, the muscle memory of how much you’ve pushed that delay in the bridge last time or how much you needed to push the electric for the solo on the last run. There are markings on your fader bridges. Use them. Remember them. When I mix, I dial up that verb and then look down at where it is and bake that into my memory right along with what I’m doing. Then next time, I can push that fader to taste, then look down at where the fader is to see if it’s where I’ve liked it in the past. Trust what you remember. Trust what you’ve practiced. Trust yourself. If you’re putting in the time during rehearsals, putting in the time on your own during virtual soundcheck, than you will be ready. You will know what you need to be doing, when you need to do it, and how much you’ll need to do. 

All of this to say, if you’re working hard, doing the time, putting in the effort, you will know your work. Even if you can’t hear all the details because you’ve exceeded the amount of time in full volume exposure that you know you can handle, you can trust your instincts, you can trust your instruments, you can trust your mix. Being confident I think is one of the biggest factors that separates good mixers from great mixers. If this is creating more questions for you than its answering, please reach out in the comments below or on Facebook or hit me up at I love to dialogue with you guys/girls because more often than not I’m hearing a new idea from one of you. I hope this series has been helpful for you and perhaps something you can put into practice as you enter the new year and hopefully and abundance of mixing. If you want to get an email anytime something is published here, subscribe at this link, and we will make sure you get an email when new posts are live. Tune in next week as I have another “Meet an Engineer” post coming your way!

Tips and Tricks: Prepare Yourself

Hey there, welcome back to week 3 of our series on mixing through the holidays. These last few weeks I’ve touched on the importance of two things: getting all your gear functional for this busy time and pacing yourself in terms of exposure times. This week I wanted to talk about the ways that help me mix more efficiently so that when I spend my limited full-volume exposure time prepping for a show I can do so quickly and effectively. So how do I do it? By utilizing some tools and ideas that we all can have access to with just a little effort. 

The first way I capitalize on my time is by starting with a template showfile (that I’ve hopefully been improving every week it’s in use). I’ve mentioned templates before for digital consoles but I’ve never talked about the benefits to this for quick mixing. In my job, I’m most often mixing with all the same instruments that are pretty well maintained. We have decided and stuck with the same drum heads and tunings, we use the same keyboard every week, the same wireless system, similar guitar amps, etc. All that to say is that in my situation I can have general EQs in place, general gain settings that get us pretty close, and a basic dynamics setup that is all setup and ready to be dialed in. Tours are a great example for this. More often than not you’re playing with the same band and everything. Create a template that is thought through and setup to be flexible. If all you do is create it and then back it up for a rainy day, you’ll be better off. The other thing to not be afraid of here is muscle memory. We’ve all been there. There are just things that we do every time we are behind a soundboard. Don’t be afraid to just do them. Obviously make sure to come later and make sure those are applicable choices but muscle memory and templates can greatly decrease the time you need to get to a good mix.

This all leads into my next point, which is automation. If you aren’t automating, you almost need to re-mix each song as it happens. You need to setup your verbs and delays again, you need to get all the buss assignments setup again; everything you do during rehearsal, you’ll need to re-do during the show. What I love about automation is that when you automate, you are building off the last time you mixed. If you fixed a little thing last time, it’s still fixed this go around. It gets to the point that if you can hear the song a couple times, you can have it really dialed it in and get right to mixing. Programming a console can be daunting, you should really make sure you understand how to automate before you do it, but once you start, you’ll understand why it can be an easier/better way to mix. When I hit “Go,” my digital console automatically and instantly (or over a designated time period) re-assigns everything, mutes or unmutes things, etc so that I can get straight into dynamically mixing the song. Even if all you feel able to automate are fader levels, that’s a tremendous advantage. 

Really quickly I wanted to touch on the importance of automating as a backup plan. If you have your whole show programmed and scened out, if something happens to you, anyone else who understands the console can step in and keep the show going with your work. Then your team isn’t reliant on your brain being the one doing the work, they are reliant on someone to press go and follow along well. For big shows I like to keep notes in the scenes as well to highlight things that I shouldn’t forget. These notes also would key someone else in to what to be paying attention as they mix. 

The next tool I use to mix quickly is to have access to the tools I’m used to using. No matter what we do, if we can use a tool we are used to using or just one that we like, we’ll be more effective and/or efficient in our work. For some that means dragging along the outboard verbs that you love or bringing that magical compressor you love. For me, it’s all about the waves gear. Now I grew up mixing analog, and I love the analog gear (or at least the idea of it), but in reality, there is too much stuff to haul around everywhere. So that’s what I love Waves for. It gives me access to a lot of the professional tools that so many of us use all over the world. The cool thing is that you can combine this tip with the template tip (have a pre-made waves showfile or a bunch of rack presets) and find yourself with a stellar mix in a relatively short amount of time. I can bring the verbs, compressors, de-essers, etc that I’m used to using. You see when you use your tools, you’ll be able to be more comfortable, work faster, and in this case, mix efficiently. Now, I should say, this can be dangerous. Not every kind of content needs all those plugins you’ve purchased. Some just need some light compression. Some may even just need a little harmonics support. We as engineers need to be careful to not over-process and the biggest danger that presents itself is when you load your template and instead of disabling a bunch of stuff that you really don’t need, you just jump right in and end up just “wetting the bed” so to speak.

The last tool that I try to use as much as I can is my friends and those whose opinions I trust. That way when you are mixing, you can tell your ears are getting fatigued, you can call one of them over and get their opinion as you mix and use them as a check for your ears. As you work together you’ll get double the feedback as you are both listening and solving issues. 

For me, it’s just that simple. This last weekend I mixed 7 services and 4 rehearsals. That’s a lot of exposure time and my ears are definitely tired and fatigued. I’m to the point where silence not only feels good but it’s also beneficial. I hope that the series so far has been helpful and that you’ve had a chance to get some rest. Come back next week for the conclusion of the series as I talk about trusting yourself (i.e. muscle memory, instrument readings, etc) and the work you’ve already done to your mix. As your ears get tired your instruments will often describe what you usually hear but you’ll be hearing something else because your ears are tired. I’ll be talking about what to do in that situation. If you have any questions about the tools that I use or want to mention what you use, comment below or on facebook, or email me at In order to not miss out on next week’s post, be sure to subscribe at this link and you’ll be notified when new content is released. See you next week!

Tips and Tricks: Pace Yourself

Welcome back to our Tips and Tricks holiday series. Last week we talked about fixing as many known issues going into the busy season as you possibly can. I usually set a date that the craziness starts and get as much done as I can before that time. I also talked about clearing out hard drives, getting new gear installed, etc. If you missed it you can find it at this link. This week I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about pacing yourself. Specifically your exposure times as you try to get a lot of mixing done in a small amount of time. 

I know a fair amount of mixers that don’t think about this as they mix even on a regular basis throughout the year. Let me put some context on what we are talking about. To give an example, my weekly schedule puts my main rehearsal with my band each week on a Thursday night starting at 7 PM and going sometimes up to 9:30 or 10 PM. Now, I come to work that day around 9 AM. This makes for a really long day. When I first started on this schedule I was really experiencing some ear fatigue by the time the day was done. I quickly realized that I needed to really protect my hearing throughout the day in order to be fresh for my rehearsal. That meant if I wanted to try out some new plugins or do some mixing I needed to do it before lunch on Thursday and really restrict my volume exposure all afternoon or simply take care of that stuff on the previous day. You see our ears are a muscle. When they work, they get tired and that affects what we hear or how we perceive what’s around us. However, over exposure can lead to hearing loss. I’m sure you all know this. But have you thought about what you listen to and how loud it is in your car? Have you thought about driving with your windows down (wind buffeting or blowing past us is the same as loud music)? What about when you mow or use your snowblower…are you using hearing protection? Anything we can hear exposes our ear drums to sound and makes them work. 

So how can we last? Well the first and most obvious is to just give your ears a break every now and again. If you have a long rehearsal coming up, just turn the music down or better yet off. If you have a lot of music to mix, when you aren’t finalizing the track, don’t have your speakers at full volume. Use a variety of listening devices as well. From in-ears to headphones all the way up to studio speakers, each expose us differently. Do whatever you can do to not have things at full volume. If you need to do some EQ, instead of turning up your studio speakers to hear the intricacies, put on some headphones you trust and turn it down. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to check your work later on the big boy speakers. If you’re doing all kinds of playback for a big Christmas show, do your best to just do a few songs at a time and then take a break. Better yet, set an allotment amount of time you’ll mix everyday and stick to it so your ears can fully rest between sessions. If you’re doing a lot of IEM mixing over the holidays, be sure to create an extra mix buss for yourself and set it to a lower volume (or simply turn your output volume down) so that when you don’t need to be mixing you are giving your ears a rest. To my knowledge there is no way to magically extend this “perfect” hearing time so guard it carefully. 

Practically you can do that using the above methods. Schedule your full volume and restrict it as much as possible. When you don’t need to be listening to something loud (like while you’re driving, etc) turn it down. But how does knowing this affect your mix? Well it means that you should be listening to folks telling you to EQ your stuff first. When we first start mixing our ears are at their best so use that time to dial in EQ not dynamics. Push the levels a bit and see where you can start to hear EQ. Do all the things that you really need to focus to be able to do. Think in the minutia. I always throw a really rough and tumble mix together right out of the gate and then start listening for what I need to change in my toms, or does the bass guitar tone seem right, or even is the verb that I have dialed in still working for me. All of those things will be hard to hear the longer I go. I start in the micro and move towards the macro. It can be hard to overlook a weird attack sound on a kick drum but I’ve found that if I can focus on tone first, the dynamics come easier because my foundation is solid. 

So this week, as you mix, think about your exposure times. I know this next weekend I’ll be mixing 7 services spanning 3 days along with the two nights before that weekend full up with rehearsals. I know I’ll probably be really keeping an eye on how things feel and really leaning on my instruments (meters, Smaart, etc) as my checks to make sure things are operating well. That combined with lots of playback spread out as much as possible will ensure that I’m as fresh as possible for this weekend. I hope you can find a balance between work and rest over the coming weeks. Please reach out to me at with any questions or if you’d like some advice in this area. Just doing this simple stuff has resulted in nearly 18 years of mixing concerts, plays, etc and no measurable hearing loss (I get checked every year, age will soon be a factor but not yet thankfully). It is possible folks. Tune in next week to hear about the tools I use to mix effectively and efficiently. Be sure to subscribe at this link to be notified when that post goes live. Happy mixing!