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Understanding Client Feedback

Understanding Client Feedback

As a mix engineer, it’s your job to give clients what they want — but what they say and what they mean aren’t always quite the same...

If you have even a small amount of experience mixing music for other people, there’s a good chance you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of vague, contradictory or slightly abstract mix feedback. Exactly what does a ‘glassy’ guitar sound like? How do you add ‘more excitement’ to a mix that you’ve already tried to make sound as exciting as you possibly can? In this article, I’m going to dive into the top five ‘client speak’ comments that I encounter as a mixing engineer, and explore not only what they might mean, but also how we can respond to them and tweak our mixes to get everyone on side.

“Can the vocal be a bit louder/quieter?”

Feedback around the theme of vocal levels can often be an easy fix. Frequently, all that’s needed is a small adjustment in overall volume, or a little riding of levels at different points in the track. Sometimes it can simply be about reassuring an inexperienced artist that it’s perfectly normal for a vocal to sit ‘loud and proud’ in many styles of music.

If you’re struggling beyond simple level changes, one likely problem is that other elements in the mix, such as guitars or keyboards, are fighting for space with the vocal. Although this is likely to be an arrangement issue, sometimes it just needs to be dealt with in the mix. The choice of vocal effects is a big factor, but we’ll look at this point later in the article. Initially, I would recommend keeping things simple, and it’s worth having a quick review of your mix to make sure you haven’t overlooked basic mix options such as panning things out of the centre of the stereo field, or using enough level automation to bring other instruments up and down in level around the vocal.

If none of the above is enough, we can look at exploring a few more ‘advanced’ mixing techniques. One technique that you might often hear mentioned but which can be quite hard to master is using a plain old EQ to remove competing frequency ranges from other instruments that are sitting around the lead vocal. A common mistake I often see is excessive boosting of the top end ‘air’ frequencies of a vocal in search of a quick fix. I would encourage you instead to focus more on the midrange of your mix, and a useful technique to experiment with is to identify a frequency range where it feels like the intelligibility and ‘excitement’ of the vocal are located. Depending on the voice, this is usually somewhere between 1.5 and 5 kHz. Try to then ‘carve out’ a little space in that region on a few other instruments and see if the vocal seems to sit more naturally. If it feels like the other instruments are being compromised too much, you can then explore more ‘dynamic’ techniques such as side‑chaining an EQ or multiband compressor, so that the key frequencies you identified are ducked out of competing instruments only when the vocal is present. This is relatively easy to do now in a DAW and there are a couple of plug‑ins, like Trackspacer by Wavesfactory, that make this very easy indeed. A little should go a long way, however, and I’d definitely recommend trying to develop your hearing around some of the more old‑school ‘static’ EQ techniques — it’s a way of working that can lead to leaner and more focused‑sounding mixes.

If a client asks for ‘more bass’, try and establish whether they want the bass guitar louder, or the mixer to be bassier as a whole.If a client asks for ‘more bass’, try and establish whether they want the bass guitar louder, or the mixer to be bassier as a whole.

“More bass please!”

One mix session that always sticks in my mind involved a brief stand‑off with a band who had got completely lost in a ‘committee‑style’ mixing process. It reached the point where I had to politely draw a line as we started going through the bass player’s partner’s mix notes — which primarily involved turning everyone else down and the bass guitar up.

Anecdotes aside, mixing bass can be tricky, and on top of the well‑documented problems of mixing bass in small, bedroom‑style studios, we also have to contend with modern playback systems, which often sell themselves on their ability to produce exaggerated bass frequencies from modest‑sized devices. The first thing we need to figure out when we get client feedback around the low end is to decipher whether the artist (and often, especially, the bass player) wants to be able to hear the bass guitar or synth more clearly, or whether they want the overall mix to have more or less bottom‑end ‘weight’. If it’s an intelligibility issue, we can follow a similar process to the one I suggested for vocals, creating space for a bass part by...

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