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The Most Important "Mix" according to Top Audio Engineers.

The Most Important “Mix” according to Top Audio Engineers.

How do you develop a career on the technical side of music recording?

How do you sustain your career once you’ve “gotten out of the gate” so to speak?  

In roughly 7 minutes this article aims to put you on better footing when it comes to endearing yourself as a budding music technician.

I recently attended the A.E.S convention in Los Angeles. The A.E.S conventions are the largest conventions in the United States (& Elsewhere) for Audio Engineers (you know, those guys/gals that record and mix your favorite singles, albums and concerts). As a professional audio engineer this is one of the best opportunities to network, attend workshops, get the lowdown on the latest & greatest gear, as well as, just immerse yourself in “all audio all the time” over a 3 day period. There are a plethora of workshops offered, and you can’t attend them all. One of the most popular workshops to attend for young professionals is the “Careers in Pro Audio” workshop. This year I was determined to attend, and bring back advice for my fellow engineers and those studying the craft.  Here’s an interpretive synopsis of what the panel had to say:

The Mix (Not what you think)

According to the panel of professional engineers (live sound, education, recording studio, etc.), the “mix” that’s most important for an engineer (at any stage) to master is the mix of technical and people skills. The process of actively managing and improving on those skills is integral to your longevity. Currently, I work as an audio engineer, but I began my life in music as a classically trained bassist, so I know both sides of the recording studio “coin”. I couldn’t agree more with the “mix” sentiment mentioned by the panel. Presently, one of my biggest projects is to broaden the reach of, an audio mix contest website dedicated to “everything audio engineer”, but I come from a recording/mixing background. The balancing act of skills especially holds true in a recording studio.

One of the panelists gave this quote:

“No one’s ever been fired for bad audio, they were fired for being a jerk”.

The Mix of technical & people skills, as well as, knowing when to use them is your greatest asset as a burgeoning professional engineer. You have to be “multi-lingual”, and speak to each audience in their language. If the Band wants the sound to be “punk” you need to be able to convey that via the elements in the mix, but you also will need to be able to describe that in terms the manager understands. It’s important to be able to interpret different conversations at different times while working in unison towards the common goal. In the next two sections I’ll break down “The Mix”, and give you the most important tips gleaned from the panel discussion.

(photo: creative commons)

Technical Aptitude

The technical proficiency must be there or must be developed, but it’s a means to an end not the end itself. The same sentiment was echoed by the panel at the A.E.S. convention. As far as specifics, the panel listed these as some of the most pertinent:

  • Mastery of the time domain (particularly with Live Audio) – Delay, feedback, phase, how line arrays will affect each pocket of the audience.

  • Documentation (in the studio and especially on the road) - Keeping good notes, timesheets etc.

  • A good set of Reference Headphones you trust – Know your “cans” so you can judge objectively in any situation.

  • Gain staging – Mastering the art of proper signal levels.

All of these skills, minus documentation, facilitate an easier seamless workflow for the recording or performing process. To be blunt, your technical skill will only determine your ultimate success so far as how it facilitates the creative process. i.e. “Can you get the job done so we don’t have to worry about technical issues stifling our main goal?”

(photo: creative commons)

People Skills

When it comes to people skills the panel keyed in on a few major things to consider:

  • The confidence to convey your idea

  • Your ability to articulate your specific skillset

  • The ability to speak to clients and other team members in their language.

From my experience, working in any setting as the leader of the technical portion of the operation, others will expect you to be accountable for the technical issues and to voice your opinion on how things should work. Your opinion is just one of many, but exerting your technical concerns confidently will serve to build assurance in your ability to handle the engineering side of the event or session. As I mentioned earlier, speak in the language of your audience. Know when to be technical and when/how to convey those ideas in a non-technical way when necessary. Finally, one of the most important quotes came in the form of this:

“Don’t Get Caught up In the How, Focus on the Why

It is infinitely important to know why you are doing what you are doing and how that affects the overall end product. A focus on “the why” will lead you to more decisions based on “The Mix”, always considering the technical and creative end product with every choice.

The A.E.S has events and conventions every year and there is always a wealth of information to gather. As an engineer, this is always one of the most beneficial panels for those of us who are just starting out in the industry, or those of us who have recently established a footing as a professional. Most young engineers want to know more about the technical side of getting better as an audio engineer, and also want to know more about the traits that will make them more valuable throughout their career as they progress. I am glad that I am able to impart some of these insights the panel shared in this article, and I can assure you that all of these traits mentioned have helped me at some point. I have confidence they’ll be beneficial in your career as well.

By Ivan (ivan-the-Engineer) Walker

Ivan is a classically trained bassist, audio engineer and founder of, the home of audio engineer mix contests, exclusive audio engineer t-shirts, mixing services, recording tips, trivia & much more. Please check out to join in on the fun #yroftheengineer.

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