You’ve been spending days, weeks, or even months on writing a song and getting the tracks recorded. It’s finally good enough to start sending out to record labels, and you’re secretly thinking about how amazed the record executives will be when they hear your raw talent. Or maybe, you’re thinking there are a hundred little things wrong with your recording – the vocals are tinny, the drums too stark – and you’re embarrassed to send it out at all. Before you trash your recordings (or send them off to a label to get trashed) there’s one more step you absolutely need to do, and that’s hire a professional mix engineer.
A mix engineer is kind of like the alchemist of recording. He (or she) can do some amazing things with your recordings to get them sounding their absolute best. Sending out a recording that’s been professionally mixed versus sending out a raw recording is kind of like the difference between proposing with a beautiful ring, or proposing with a raw diamond pulled out of a mine. They’re both diamonds, but their value is highly different.
You might be wondering what the big deal is. With all the tools out there freely available, anyone can make professional mixes now, right? Why pay for a mix engineer when you can just add some filters and reverb yourself? The truth is, just because the tools are available doesn’t mean just anyone knows how to use them to their full potential.
You might know how to use Microsoft Excel, but do you know how to use every single function it has? Chances are, you know enough to do what you need to do fairly well. Hiring a mix engineer is like hiring an Excel guru who actually knows exactly how all those weird formulas and programming functions work, and can create something amazing with the data you give him.
There’s a difference between your song, and your song’s sound. While that might sound weird, think about how many covers of any given popular song exist. Some of them sound so completely different that they can even change how you feel about the song in general. While the artist might have had the original concept for the cover, it’s the mix engineer who can bring it to life and ensure that the strings aren’t overpowering or the lead guitar doesn’t wash into the background. If the sound is wrong or poorly done, no one will listen long enough to hear the song itself.
Think of your music like your website. You probably put some work into your site because you know that people only look at a website for a few seconds before deciding to leave or stay. That first impression is critical. If you put work into your website to bridge that gap so people stay on your website long enough to see all your awesome material, then you should also be getting your songs professionally mixed – to make sure that people who hear them like the sound long enough to stick around and keep listening to the song beneath it.
Every song you’ve ever heard on the radio has been professionally mixed. You might be wary of turning your recording masterpiece over to someone else to ‘tinker with,’ but you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t. A good mix that properly highlights your instruments can add several layers and levels to your song. A bad one, however, can make you sound amateurish or even less skilled than you truly are.
It’s important that you give yourself every opportunity to succeed. You’ve already spent years perfecting your singing, or mastering your instruments. You’ve invested time, effort, and maybe even a bit of your soul into writing, arranging and recording a song. Before you take the next step and send your diamond out, let a mix engineer clean it up and polish it so that those hearing your music can hear exactly what you intended.