Every pro mix engineer understands one thing about their job: they aren’t there because they know how to use a (fill in the blank) compressor, or an (old vintage) EQ.
They may know how to do all of that because they’re constantly learning and improving their technical skills.
But it’s not why they get work.
Being a mix engineer is about your taste - and knowing how to achieve it.
A mix engineer’s taste is the #1 most important skill above all else. Even if they didn’t know how to use a single plugin, if they have amazing taste, they’ll be better than 99% of all mix engineers who only know how to use every plugin ever made.
Taste is about listening to the music how the listener will hear it, and making decisions based on what you want to hear.
Does the vocal feel loud enough? Is the low end hitting hard enough? These aren’t technical questions - these are creative questions - and if you’re not asking yourself these important questions, it’s really hard to get a good mix.
Every pro also understands that their tools are there to help them achieve their goal in the best, fastest, and easiest way possible. They don’t limit themselves to only using one type of tool for some artificial reason - they are intentional about their tools, and they’re always on the lookout for tools that help them achieve their creative vision.
How can you develop your taste?
One of the best ways to develop your taste is to listen to a lot of music. Be really intentional about what you like, what you don’t like, and what you would have done differently if you were mixing that song.
Start to find similarities - maybe you tend to like when the vocal is darker and warmer vs. brighter and crispy. Keep this in mind, and start to look for ways you can achieve the things you like in your own productions.
Isn’t technical ability important too?
Yes! You should always be looking to improve your understanding of technical things.
Engineering is all about running into challenges and figuring out technical solutions to achieve your creative goals.
Pick tools that help you cut down the amount of technical work required, this will help you stay focused on the creative aspect of your mix.
For example - take compression on your vocal.
If you’re picking tools that require you to spend 10-15 minutes dialing in your vocal compression chain, you’re probably not thinking about “how does this vocal feel with this compressor?”
With Xvox, you can quickly dial in the right amount of compression, then swap out the entire compression algorithm to hear what different styles of compression sound like for that track, in just a click.
In 30 seconds with Xvox, you’ve dialed in your vocal compression, tried 3 different styles of compressor, and picked the best one for your track. All while thinking creatively about your decisions the entire time - guided by your taste.
When you look for tools to help you make music, seek out tools that help you stay creative and get to your goal faster.
There is no “right way” to be a mix engineer. There is only the results you get after you hit “bounce” in your DAW.