The Evolution of Music Mixing—Insight from Noted Pros

Audio workstation technology and digital consoles have dramatically revolutionized the art of music recording and mixing over the last 15 years, and Avid has been at the front of the pack, leading the way with high-performance, tightly integrated solutions. From fast and easy recall of levels, settings, and moves, to tracking and file ingest—all the way to the final mixing stages—these evolving systems enable mixers, producers, and artists to retain all of their creative options while bringing a vast amount of additional capabilities to their projects. 

Today's professionals are looking for mixing solutions that dramatically extend the creative envelope and offer more than what older-generation, fixed-architecture consoles and their workflows were able to provide. Because they can keep projects fully virtual until the last minute, Avid's next-generation workstations, consoles, and control surfaces have become the professional’s systems of choice.

We talked to several music mixers and asked them to share their thoughts on how the evolution of mixing has impacted their worlds.

Alan Meyerson, scoring engineer (Man of Steel, Despicable Me II, Pacific Rim)

Alan Meyerson is a leading scoring engineer who has been using System 5 consoles to mix and control multiple music tracks from multiple Pro Tools|HDX systems for several years. “I work in Hybrid mode, with some tracks controlled by the System 5 DSP and others within Pro Tools using EUCON,” Meyerson explains. “I prefer to use the ‘hardware’ channels [controlling the System 5 DSP engine] for trimming my overall balances and stem levels, and the DAW channels for the component orchestral and other tracks.”

Recent film-scoring projects for this busy music engineer include Man of Steel (with composer Hans Zimmer), Despicable Me II (with composer Heitor Pereira), Pacific Rim (with composer Ramin Djawadi), White House Down, and The Smurfs II.

“I like the familiar sound of the System 5’s DSP engine for orchestral balances—the EQ and dynamics sections within the System 5 are great sounding—using channel returns from 200 to 300 tracks replaying back from one of my several Pro Tools|HDX rigs. That DSP/DAW hybrid approach also leaves more core power for all the Pro Tools plug-ins I like to use on component elements. I also prefer to keep my prerecords very wide with multiple passes of orchestral tracks, so that I have plenty of options during the final 5.1- or 7.1-channel mix of the score I’m working on.”

 
 Pro Tools has changed everything so much for me. I'm in control of the workflow now—not the gear.
Ken Andrews,
producer/mixer (Paramore, M83, Nine Inch Nails)
senior director of engineering

Steve Lipson, remix engineer/mixer (Jeff Beck, Mike Oldfield, Dark Knight Rises)

Steve Lipson is a prolific remix engineer based in the North London suburb of Willesden in the UK. “I use a 16-fader ICON D-Control console to control all of my Pro Tools tracks—I’m totally in the box,” he emphasizes. “I like the ICON because it is compact and very simple to use; others I have used are too complicated—within just half an hour, I realized that ICON was completely brilliant!”

Lipson has remixed CD projects for the likes of Jeff Beck, Mike Oldfield, Ronan Keating, and Ultravox. He also recorded and/or mixed the musical scores for Dark Knight Rises, Rush, and Man of Steel.

“I like just 16 faders in front of me, because it’s all I need for a mix,” Lipson continues. “I mixed the entire score for Dark Knight Rises [at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions facility in Santa Monica] using an ICON D-Control. For me, the D-Control is an amazing piece of equipment; as a Pro Tools controller, it does one thing and it does that very well. It is fast, intuitive, offers fast fader-bank switching, and total recall of all control settings. Plus, the Pro Tools|HDX playback sounds great!

“I work towards the final mix from the first days of tracking by automating all of my fader, pan, and control settings. Once I’m in the box, I stay in the box because everything is held on Pro Tools sessions within my rig.”

Lipson concludes that modern mixing also means being able to be mobile. “For travelling, I use a MacBook Pro, a Magma Expressbox 3T chassis, and Pro Tools|HD Native. It is a compact and highly portable system.”

Ken Andrews, producer/mixer (Paramore, M83, Nine Inch Nails)

Artist, mixer, and producer Ken Andrews topped the worldwide charts recently with his “in the box” mixes for rock band Paramore, whose latest album debuted at #1. He shares his thoughts on the audio evolution, from analog and his early digital mixing days, to his current preferred workflow.

“While I enjoyed a good six years of traditional studio analog recording and mixing, I’ve noticed something significant in the change to non-linear mixing that I don't hear people talking about much. For me, Pro Tools has brought me closer to the music and to the emotion of the songs by simplifying the whole process.

“In the old days, the gear dictated our workflow by having to make sure we had enough channels and tracks, enough people to make it all work—and then at the end was a painstaking documentation process. Once a mix was on the board, you had to print it right then—or hold it, which could be a big expense. If you did have to recall it—if someone had even a small change to the printed mix—good luck getting back to it.

“I’ve tried many times to recall mixes in the analog domain with tools like Total Recall, and while it was sometimes pretty close, it was never actually the same. The devil is in the minute details with music sometimes, and that’s why Pro Tools has changed everything so much for me. I'm in control of the workflow now—not the gear. It keeps me focused on the music and the project at hand and, in the end, that is what it is all about.”

Ed Cherney, engineer/mixer (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown)

Due to changes in the music industry as a business, plus the rise of modern technologies such as the Internet, mixers have had to evolve their workflows to stay competitive. Grammy-winning engineer/mixer Ed Cherney has worked with many industry greats and weighs in on the discussion. 

“The evolution of mixing for me means that I [now] have my own professional room that maybe I’ve got $150K invested, where you’d need $5 million in a large-format analog console space before. I’m mixing for people from all over the world, yet nobody is physically here with me.

“Everything is recallable, and I can spend as much time as I want to on the mix… I can have 20 Fairchild compressors if I want, and the emulations are fantastic. Having all that is unbelievable. And in this compact space, I’m able to make professional music and records that can get me to the top of the charts and to the Grammy’s. I can collaborate with people anywhere in the world—in real time—and that’s a miracle… And most importantly, my dog can come to work with me every day.”

Learn more about the evolution of mixing

Download the Avid Pro Mixing: A (R)evolution in Mixing whitepaper