So at the moment I’m reading his book, Zen and the Art of Mixing, and I am finding that it’s redundant and less applicable to me than another of his I’ve read since embarking on recording my own music at home–Musician’s Survival Guide to a Killer Record. Between the two books, the stories overlap or seem to and the mixing book assumes of the reader an interest in mixing other people’s music for money; with this comes a very discouraging tendency to insist on things like spending thousands of dollars on monitors and carving the room out professionally; where the “survival guide” suggests you spend such money if you can. I cannot. Do you fucking hear that, Mixerman? It’s not a choice between that and some shiny guitar, I just can’t. So I won’t.
There are other odd bits of dogma in his writing. I use that word–dogma–while remaining firmly in support of it. People with experience like his should be dogmatic at times, with the usual footnotes to follow–do what you gotta do, try things, but like, you know try this first because it’s been working for a very long time and the deviations you might land on are not only the rare exception; chances are they’re just not going to serve you.
Like with the lead vocal being mixed right down the center–he suggests it simply should, all the time. This makes sense to me and though I haven’t strictly stuck to it in every mix, there’s a long story behind why I’ve come away from the advice, such as that there is a spoken part and a stereo cut of a singing track, where I’ve got the spoken down the middle and the stereo vocals left and right–and so to his mind I guess I’m treating the spoken track as the lead and the two takes of singing panned left and right would be the backups (and I’m not, and they aren’t but his point is taken and worth emphasizing as he does).
He’s also not into stereo mics on guitar amps for example. I had just tracked my first stereo mic session (I placed a Beyerdynamic M160 and a 57 at a couple different angles and distances from my Fender single cab and I have no record of what those angles and distances were, just listened a little and left them there for a couple of passes but ended up sort of liking the results and resenting the idea that I’m kidding myself and the tracks suck, I should dump at least one of the pair and really the whole day was a wash; from this point of view I ought to have been finding a sweet spot for one or the other mic and I’m lost in some fantasy wasteland of time wrapped around the sexy idea of a stereo capture) when I came onto his detractions for such and this is just the kind of thing you’ll run into with his writing–you may feel he’s condescending to you, because he is; you may hate him for telling you you’ve been wasting time fiddling with some fucked up work around you’d be better off handling in a straight forward manner, and you probably are and needed to hear it if it’s pissing you off that much.
But as for a review of what I’ve read so far–you’re either looking to make a career out of mixing, or you’re not and if you’re not stick to the Survival Guide because Zen and the Art of Mixing may actually have less in the way of practical advice for mixing itself than the Survival Guide, and also Survival Guide assumes a voice that is far friendlier to those of us who are (do you hear me, Mixerman?) flat out fucking broke. I don’t like being flat out fucking broke, nor do I like language reminding me of the fact–which any truthful comparison between his outboard gear and my subscription to a factory of emulating plugins can only serve to do, as by slathering the information generously about my face.
But everyone should read his Diaries, the Daily Adventures. It’s from a blog he started when he was working for a big label production in misery; caught on while he was still engaged in the project. The stories and the voice carrying them are timeless, hilarious, sublime.