“Don’t worry – we’ll fix it in the mix!”
There was a time when, as a rookie producer, I delivered those words dripping with sarcasm. Although I kinda sorta half meant them at the time, as I began to rack up the years in the studio and the number of spots produced, I came to really, really mean them.
There is so much that a good mix can do. Providing, of course, you start with the elements of a great spot: Story, well-directed engaging performances, and, of course, the engineer you trust most in the world.
But while you can fix a whole lot in the mix, there is one thing that there is no fixing: The damage that’s done if you let the client hear the spot too soon. That is a Big Mistake.
I recently found myself at a listening party for a friend’s forthcoming album. She cut the tracks here in LA, and was heading back home before the mix was in, so she asked a few folks to come and listen to the still very raw assemblages.
Frankly, all I heard was a big muddy mess. I’m pretty certain that these are going to be amazing songs and amazing productions. But not yet. Not by a long shot.
Music is not my area of expertise, and mine certainly weren’t the best ears for judging the songs. But I am an audio kind of gal, and I know when something is right, when everything pops in just the perfect way, when every track does its duty and helps to make that whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
This all made me realize that the rule of thumb I have held to all these years is spot on: Send the client out of the room for the mix.
So simple, right? But so necessary. I do sometimes let the client stick around to help make the VO selects, just in case they, say, hate a particular delivery of the product name, or object to one or another of the brilliant improv buttons the session produced. Better to find out now.
But when that’s done, direct them to that great lunch place. Put them in a conference room to make phone calls and return emails. Better yet, send them back to the hotel to pack. And get down to work with your engineer.
The problem is, your client will tend to become fixated on his/her favorite bits, ones that very likely WILL NOT fit into the overall final spot. You’ll find yourself spending extra hours and extra sweat trying to accommodate the client, and it won’t be the best result.
When you’re working in the zone working with your favorite engineer, the magic is gonna happen. Timing will suddenly sparkle with just a tiny movement of a word, a few frames left or right. Sound effects need to be placed just so, mixed to within an inch of their lives, maybe e-q’d, maybe not. Maybe this really starts here and builds to here. This sounds naked. That sounds bloated. Music fades up. Cut around the horns and just give me the piano. Then you squeeze those two extra seconds out that you need for the final fade, and voila. Ask the client back in. Or, better yet, mp3 them.
Special Bonus Big Mistake: Never, ever play it over the phone. Send them the mix you love, the one you stand behind. And wait for the sounds of the happy dance.
Because yeah, you can – and will — fix it in the mix. Just be sure to never play anyone anything else.