Evolution of mixing

Before we get into the actual mechanics of mixing, it's important to have some perspective on how this art has developed over the years.

It's obvious to just about everyone who's been around long enough that mixing has changed over the decades, but the why's and how's aren't quite so obvious. In the early days of recording in the 50's, there really wasn't any mixing per se since the recording medium was mono and a big date used only four microphones. Of course, over the years recording developed from capturing an unaltered musical event to one that was artificially created through overdubs, thanks to the innovation of Selsync (the ability to play back off of the record head so everything stayed in sync) introduced in 1955. The availability of more and more tracks begat larger and larger consoles, which begat computer automation and recall just to manage the larger consoles fed by more tracks. With all that came not only an inevitable change in the philosophy of mixing but a change in the way that a mixer listened or thought as well.

According to the revered engineer/producer Eddie Kramer, „Everything (when I started recording) was 4-track, so we approached recording from a much different perspective than people do nowadays. My training in England was fortunately with some of the greatest engineers of the day, who were basically classically trained in the sense that they could go out and record a symphony orchestra and then come back to the studio and then do the Jazz or Pop, which is exactly what we used to do. When I was training under Bob Auger, who was the senior engineer at Pye Studios, he and I used to go out and do classical albums with a 3-track Ampex machine and three Neumann U47's and a single mixer of three channels. So with that sort of training and technique under my belt, approaching a Rock & Roll session was approaching it from a classical engineering standpoint and making the sound of a rock band bigger and better than it was. But the fact of the matter was that we had very few tools at our disposal except EQ, compression, and tape delay. That was it.“

English mixer Andy Johns, who apprenticed under Kramer and eventually went on to equally impressive credits with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Traffic, Van Halen and others, goes a step further. ‚You know why the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper's sounds so good? You know why Are You Experienced? sounds so good, almost better than what we can do now? Because, when you were doing the 4-to-4 (bouncing down from one 4-track machine to another), you mixed as you went along. There was a mix on two tracks of the second 4-track machine and you filled up the open tracks and did the same thing again. Listen to „We Love You“ (by the Stones). Listen to Sergeant Pepper's. Listen to Hole in My Shoe by Traffic. You mixed as you went along. Therefore, after you got the sounds that would fit with each other, all you had to do was adjust the melodies. Nowadays, because you have this luxury of the computer and virtually as many tracks as you want, you don't think that way any more."

And indeed, once more tracks were available and things began to be recorded in stereo, the emphasis turned from the bass anchoring the record to the big beat of the drums as the main focal point. This is partially because drum miking typically went from just overhead and kick drum mics to the now common occurrence of a mic on every drum, since the consoles could now accommodate more microphone inputs and there were plenty of tracks on which to record. And, since the drums could be spread out over six or eight or even more tracks, they could be concentrated on more during the mix because they didn't have to be pre-mixed along with the bass onto only one or two tracks. Instead of the drums being thought of as just another instrument equal to the bass, they now demanded more attention because more tracks were used.

At that point , thanks to the widespread use of the now standard 24-track tape deck, mixing changed forever. And, for better or for worse, mixing changed into what it is today.

To learn more about modern mixing styles please read the article Mixing Styles — LA vs. New York VS. London .