The Dangers of ‘Fixing It In the Mix’ By Glenn Sawyer
If you’ve recorded before then you may have heard the phrase ‘fix it in the mix’. If you hear this phrase while you’re working then you should be concerned….very concerned. Modern producers and engineers have a wealth of tools at their disposal that offer the ability to change tones and effects well after the actual recording is completed but that doesn’t actually mean it’s a good thing to wait until later.
So what exactly am I talking about? We’ve all been in the studio working on a project only to find that for whatever reason, finding the right tone is eluding us. This is a crossroads of sorts and there are two main options for moving past the problem. The first option is to settle and often times involves the engineer or producer saying something along the lines of ‘that’s good enough for now and we’ll fix it in the mix’ or ‘it’s not a feature part so it won’t be a problem. They’ll tell you they have a wealth of options for changing things down the road and that they’ll fix it later*.
If this option sounds like a terrible one, that’s because it is. Rarely, if ever, does ‘fixing it in the mix’ actually work. The problem being that you’ve settled at that point and although the engineer/producer may be able to improve the sound in the mix, it will never be what it could have been, and more often than not it ends up a bastardized version of what you really want. As the old saying goes, ‘You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig’, and that’s particularly true here.
The second option, and the better one to boot, is to simply keep trying to improve the tone until you actually have. This is generally as easy as turning some knobs or trying a different amp, guitar or keyboard until you find the right combinations of settings and gear. Other times it takes more than that but the important thing is not settling. I always say that you don’t have to know exactly where you’re going as long as you know if you’re not there yet. In my experience, it may take another 10 or 20 minutes to find the sweet spot but rarely longer than that.
The benefit of taking the extra time to get a tone right is that it’s always right after that (before, during, and after the mix) and you don’t end up settling for something you don’t want. The other equally important benefit is that you have a better idea about what kind of space is left in your production for other things, which will then dictate the decisions you make in regard to other tones. Not to mention the fact that the extra time you spent getting it right to start, pales in comparison to the time your engineer/producer will spend putting lipstick on that pig in the mix.
*to this I would always say, if you’ve got the abilities, let’s see them…as in now, not later