Allow me to wrestle with a little reality. With the release of my first album on the horizon, I brace myself for the proverbial chirp of crickets. Of course, I would be over the moon if it got one listen (from someone other than my mum), but I’m one musician amongst millions. For some perspective, consider that a small record company receives hundreds of music submissions a week—to say nothing of the countless publications on the internet, every day! And here I am, making even more music; and weird music, at that. I mean, who repeats the same tune for eight minutes and has the audacity to call it music? And who writes music about airships, anyway?
The thing is, I have chosen this path and I am happy to have crickets (and my mum) cheer me on. The possibility of failure is part of any quest. Winston Churchill said: “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” What a great line! I embrace it, wholeheartedly. I love making music and I enjoy blogging about it. In Show Your Work—incidentally, the inspiration behind this blog—Austin Kleon writes: “… the worst troll is the one that lives in your head.” Any creative person who cares about what they do, will know how true that is. He suggests using the block button. Well, Mister Head Troll, consider yourself blocked!
I finished mixing the last track for the Airship album, today. I worked on each track in the order it appears in the tracklist. I do this because it gives me a feel for the final album, how it will sound and how it will develop for the listener. I can tentatively say that I’m pretty happy with the mixes and the tracklist as they are, right now, but that will probably change, as the listening game begins. I have exported the mixes to audio files, so I can play the tracks in their proper order. This way, I can listen for any inconsistencies or issues with the tracklist or the tracks themselves. I will go through this process, again and again, listening to the tracks on different speakers and headphones, looking for weaknesses in my mixes, testing them to see how well they hold up in different sound environments. By the time the album is released, I will have listened to it more than a hundred times, I’m sure!
My mixing process, briefly
I do my first mixes through my iPad speakers, at fairly low volumes. Because the speakers are limited in their capacity, it requires me to listen very carefully. I manage to create a pretty good preliminary mix this way. Because I can only hear the major parts of the track (hardly any of the subtleties are translated by the speakers), I usually end up with a simple, straightforward mix. When I then move to my desktop monitors (nothing fancy, just midrange Logitech speakers that are nearly a decade old), I can begin to pick out subtleties in the music. For about a week, I’ll mix and listen, mix and listen, moving between the desktop monitors and a pair of fairly decent Sennheiser headphones. The headphones let me know if anything is seriously wrong with the mix. They also help me refine panning levels. Panning is basically sending a sound to the left or right speaker, like a swoosh sound moving from your left ear to your right ear. It gives a track a spacial dimension, as if you’re “in” the music. Headphones translate this best, in my experience.
The final mixdown
I am now in the final mixing phase. I’ll be listening for how well the tracks perform on speakers other than the ones I use, primarily. I’ll be playing the tracks in cars, on small headphones, on laptop speakers, etc. I’ll also check how well the tracks work together as an album. If I’ve done my work right, there won’t be any major edits required, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes a track sounds great on your headphones, but terrible on someone else’s, or the tracklist might need to be reordered (but, I’m confident that won’t happen). Once this phase is done, the tracks will be sent to the mastering house for final touches. As I write this, I am nervous and excited. I cannot wait to put this out into the world!