The Artifice Of Mixing
If we go back in time we discover that mixing wasn’t even a thing until about 30 years into the world of making records. It wasn’t even a separate job from “engineering” until around the 80s. For the majority of the recording business, the idea of hiring an engineer who only mixed the record down would have been considered ridiculous.
Pre-production was considered the most influential aspect of the record making process. This meant the selection and arrangement of songs and the rehearsal of the performance. Following that came the production itself — the takes, retakes and overdubs, and how those takes were recorded. The post-production was quite literally an afterthought. And even most of the post-production was spent on editing.
In the 70s, as bands started getting experimental, the idea of musical sound started formulating. Delays and reverbs all have musical qualities that are inseparable from their intended function. You cannot have these effects without rhythm, and because they have duration, they also change or reinforce the harmonic structure of what is happening around them.
Psych-rock bands really took advantage of these effects by incorporating them as part of the musical arrangement. This sets up the precursor to my big thesis on what mixing really is. But before I get into that, I want to talk about Dub music.
Parallel to Psychedelic Rock, a style of Reggae was brewing called Dub. This genre earned its name through the process of taking already recorded tapes, stemming out over a console, and re-dubbing them back onto new tape as the production process.
During this re-dub, processors like delays, reverbs, phasers, flangers, EQs, compressors, volume rides and mutes were used to change the musical arrangement. Sound manipulation became the core musical idea of this production process.
This ideology of sound manipulation being a central part of the music really came to fruition in Electronica. Could you imagine Cher’s “Believe” without Autotune? Or Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” without Vocoding?
In fact, many genres wouldn’t be what they are without a defining sound — and not simply the notes and rhythms associated with the music. This is true even in genres which aren’t effect-driven. Hard Rock without full and powerful guitars would not be Hard Rock.