When I was a kid, I started playing guitar, and along with playing guitar inevitably came reading guitar-themed magazines. As a guitar neophyte, I began devouring publications on playing guitar and writing music, delving into interviews with famous artists who talked shop about writing guitar parts and recording albums. One day I was reading an interview with Sting, who mentioned the name of the person who mixed his album.
Mixed? What did that mean, I wondered? So I asked the nearest person to me at the time, which happened to be my mom. “Mixing is when they take the recordings of each instrument and adjust the volumes to make the sound you hear in the recording,” she explained to me.
“Wait,” I asked, “you mean they record everything separately?”
This was my introduction to mixing, starting with the revelation that songs weren’t just recorded live in a studio by a whole band standing around a few microphones (at least not anymore–my mental picture of recording may have been shaped by years listening to early Beatles records which did involve much more “live” recording). After all my years of listening to music, I had never known. With that revelation in mind, I knew from then on what “mixing” meant. Well, sort of.
There was much more to it than I thought
For the next several years, I thought mixing was simply a search for the right volume levels. While that’s not completely untrue, it was still a very incomplete picture. It wasn’t until I started interacting directly with professional mixing engineers that I finally began to fully understand how important–and complex–mixing really was.