Okay, so you’ve decided that your diamond of a recording needs a bit of polishing and you’re willing to hire a mix engineer to do that. Now what? How do you know which engineers are good, and how do you find them? Is it really as simple as just doing a Google search and calling the first one that pops up? Are all mix engineers the same?
The short answer is no, they’re not all the same. There are ways, however, to make sure that you’re choosing the right one to work with. Asking questions or even interviewing a prospective engineer is critical. It’s important that you are confident about your choice of mix engineer, and the only way to achieve that is by asking the right questions.
What kind of music do you write and record? It should go without saying that you should choose a mix engineer who is not only familiar with that genre and sound, but who primarily mixes that kind of music. It’s probably not your best move, for instance, to hire an engineer who primarily mixes grunge to handle your orchestral new classical masterpiece, or vice versa. If you’re a vocalist, you’ll want to work with an engineer who doesn’t only deal with instrumental music, and so on. Find out what they normally work on, and take that into account when deciding whether to turn your work over to them.
Listen to their previous work, as well. Google their name and find out what else they’ve worked on. What do their finished projects sound like? Are the vocals warm and vibrant or do they sound like they were literally pasted over the top? Are the instruments sounding balanced correctly or is one thing more overpowering than the next? The best indicator of how they’ll handle your project is the sound of their previous ones, so take the time to listen to what they’ve put out in the past.
Whether we like it or not, money plays a role. Sure, we’d all love to have our stuff mixed by a Grammy Award-winning engineer who worked on an Oscar-winning soundtrack, but most of us don’t have the pocketbook for that – those engineers may charge up to $10,000 per song or more. On the other hand, to some extent you get what you pay for. It’s important to find the right balance between value and skill for your music.
According to ASCAP, a “fantastic mix from an engineer with some recognized credits” will run you between $400-600 per song. If you’re an independent musician who’s funding your own work, this might be your best option. Don’t be afraid to ask about extra fees, either. You might get quoted a rate per song but other things might be extra. Find out what exactly is included in the quoted rate, and don’t be afraid to try negotiating a bit if there are extra charges. Do it up front, before you sign anything or hand over your life’s work.
As a musician, you understand the importance of reputation. If you get a reputation of being less than stellar in live shows, for instance, you might find it difficult to book your next gig. It’s the same with a mixing engineer. If an engineer has credits on an album that did well, it could bode well for you and your project.
It’s important to read reviews and talk to other musicians who have worked with that engineer as well. They will know the things that aren’t listed in the credits – how the engineer was to work with, whether he took the mix to a new level or merely did the minimum. Other musicians will also know if he showed up on time and ready to work, or if he will disrespect your time and overcharge you while being insufferable to work with. Take the time to do the research and ask around. Reputation matters.
Choosing a mix engineer doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you know what you’re looking for, you can find an engineer that will make your song sound its absolute best – and be within your budget. During the research phase, you might even come across some new music to love. That sounds like a win-win!