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How can you practice your music mixing skills when there is nothing to mix?

Many live sound engineers and technicians have been trying to figure out ways to keep up their mixing skills during the pandemic with the lack of live shows and events.

While it may have been a long time since you’ve had your hands on the faders and it may still be some time before you get back to mixing, there is a simple way that you can improve your skills in the downtime- by focusing on listening. 

It’s easy to forget just how important critical listening is.  When we are in in the midst of a tour or constant work, we tend to operate on auto pilot. For anyone who has been mixing for an ample amount of time, listening becomes kind of like breathing… until we don’t need to do it for a while.

I’m not talking about every day listening, of course we’re always hearing sounds and noises around us, music or television in the background.  What I am talking about is  active listening in the form of critical listening. 

Critical listening is something you can do anywhere at anytime and when done on a regular basis will really help you improve your mixing skills. 

Since what we do in mixing is manipulate sounds, being able to really hear what we are doing and focus on the nuances, the specifics, the frequencies…..makes the job that much easier.

Mixing music is kind of like being a chef. If you’re a chef you need to be able to understand different flavors, seasonings, and ingredients and how they all react with each other.  If you can’t taste, or tell the difference between black pepper and cumin or know how to fix a dish that is too salty, it’s unlikely that you’ll be a very successful chef.

It’s the same with mixing, if you can’t hear the difference between 500Hz and 1.6KHz or are unable to notice all of the nuances in the snare drum, guitar, and bass tones, how will you be able to reproduce them in a mix?

But these things can be learned.  Spending time doing critical listening is how you build these skills. Focusing on what you are listening to and dissecting a mix down to its finest parts so you understand what exactly you are hearing, is an important step in building a great mix.

If you were just getting started in live sound and mixing when the pandemic shut everything down, one skill you can work on now and at any time is critical listening.   If you are one of the many who haven’t mixed a show since March and are worried about losing your chops, spending time doing critical listening is an easy way to keep your ears in shape.

Put on your favorite playlist and really focus on what you are hearing.  Think about what makes each of the sounds you are hearing unique.  How would you go about reproducing that mix in a live show?  

Take some time to focus on listening every day and with any luck we’ll all be back pushing faders and twiddling knobs in the near future!

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