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Cocky Asshole Mixers And Why You Must Be One

Brandon Drury —  March 5, 2012 — 1 Comment

Cocky-Mixers

It’s been a tricky time for me as a mixer.  Like hanging the carrot from the string in front of a horse, I always seem to up my expectations just a little further than my skills.  Ambition has no bounds.  Napoleon just had to invade Russia.    Why do feel a little cold and hungry myself?

One area I’ve really struggled with as my tools have improved is consistently and maybe even persistently second guessing my decisions.  I’m convinced THAT is the single greatest thing holding a person back as a mixer.  All the crap we argue about, study, etc like ITB vs analog mixing or Neve vs API or even stuff like acoustic treatment in our control rooms is NOTHING compared to getting your mind ready for battle.  When you second guess yourself, toss all that dumb gear out the window.

It’s a similar view to when maybe you want to date a certain chick too much.  You build it up in your head and the result is you second guess everything you are doing.  It’s the chick that doesn’t make you worry that’s easy to obtain.  In other words – as we all know – confidence is the name of the game.  I’m finding that audio mixing may be a similar sport.

With I say “second guessing” I’m not talking about hearing something I don’t like and addressing it.  I’m talking about going with a bright snare drum with maybe quite a bit of snare bottom mixed in because I feel like  it (the song asked for it).  Then, as if I’ve suddenly gotten smarter in the past 12 minutes, I come to the conclusions that songs shouldn’t have that bright of a snare drum.  Somehow I talk myself out of that sound because of some dumbass, vague rule I just wrote.  If that sound sucked that bad, why would I go with it in the first place?  What changed?  The only answer to that is I must have cranked up my Wuess Knob without realizing it.

This problem is not an issue of whether one element of a mix is out of whack or not.  Anyone pushing the limit is going to color outside the lines sometimes.  That’s nothing a night of sleep and 10 minutes of tweaking can’t solve.

To put it simply, there ain’t a right way to mix.  You can get to New York from LA by going either east or west.  One may argue that going east is the best route, but not if you wimp out in Phoenix and start heading to San Diego before going to Denver and then Seattle.  A person who constantly changes his mind and backtracks, changes his mind again,  and backtracks easy  easily chew up  10x the miles of  the “wrong” mixer who went through Hong Kong.

Do You Have To Be Cocky At This Gig?

I’ve encountered quite a few big boys in real life, books, magazines,  the web, etc.  Not once in my obsessive studies in the craft have I ever found someone who was humble in regard to the quality of their next mix.  The big boys I’ve encountered have never mentioned even a hint of “getting their ass kicked” in a mix.

Even in interviews where a guy comes across as being an individual you could stand to hang out with for more than 10 minutes, the second they start talking about their next mix I suddenly have other shit do and maybe don’t want to hang out with this person anymore.  They turn into a fighter pilot when it gets time to discuss the next mix.  There’s this clear and obvious lack of doubt like a Bishop burning someone at the stake.  It strikes a terrible chord in me, and I just happen to be convinced it’s the right approach.

I remember attending mixing sessions in an SSL room at Soundstage Studios in Nashville.  The mixer (well known for being eccentric) looked over his shoulder when starting this mix and said, “Watch this , motherf*cker!!!”.  It occurred to me at the time that it made sense for a person entering a boxing match to pump themselves up like this.  I bet bullfighters do this.   I must say that I never really considered the idea when writing a paper for school, changing a car battery, or starting a mix.  Maybe all three gigs require this.

The Restaurant Ordering Problem

Maybe it was because I was raised in a barn where we had a choice of bologna or nothing, but it drives me crazy when we go out to eat with some friends and they take 27 minutes to order.  “JUST PICK SOMETHING!!!!”.  If that isn’t an option, close your eyes and slam a finger on the menu.  None of it sucks.  None of it will kill you.  Just PICK something!!

As much as I’d love to smack some sense into these bozos I hang out with, I have to ponder how many years of my life I’ve stared at the hihat fader appetizers or vocal ‘verb decay time desserts menu.  What’s the difference?  Is there a bass level that’s gonna ruin the song? Maybe, but no one is gonna set it that way anyway.    In all seriousness, if someone paid you a million bucks to set a reverb level in 7 seconds, who COULDN’T do it?

Maybe you wouldn’t 100% perfectly hit the reverb level that is “right”, but what the hell level is that?  I own cds with vocals with tons of reverb or no reverb.  They got my $15 either way and I’ve never returned a cd due to excessive reverb and that includes The Cure Disintegration.  Even if there is a “right”, which will be delivered to you on scrolls by some kind of pigeon bright and early the next morning, the kind of notes I take when I listen to a mix with a fresh ear is, “Turn down reverb 2dB.” That’s hardly running a 4-minute mile.

Conclusion

There’s that fun little quote in American History X where the black professor dude asks Nazi Norton, “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”  Converted to audio English, has mixing like a bad decision may cut your balls off ever actually given your mix more balls?  Has second guessing and generally being afraid of the mix ever knocked one out of the park for you?

I can answer that definitively.  No.  Being a sissy when I mix has only given horrendous results.

It’s funny how I’m a huge advocate of instantaneous, thoughtless brainstorming when writing a song.  Just go.  Pick 2 chords and a melody.  Either it’ll be great or it won’t.  Whatever.  For some reason, I’ve always looked at this mixing business as something that takes a whole bunch of premeditated thought.  That’s clearly not it.  Jumping in like Indiana Jones and fighting my way out of my mixing decisions and hostile natives without worrying who is chasing me has gotten me infinitely further.  Sometimes I have to wonder who that guy was who broke in last night and changed my mix while eating bacon and eggs.  No biggie.

If nothing else, I have to say that choosing to mix at Mach 2 with my hair on fire is a hell of a lot more fun.

P.S.

Speaking of cocky-ass mixers, check out this video of Chris Lord Alge.  There are almost zero mixing tips in the damn video so don’t get too excited.  In fact, I think the only thing I was reminded of by this video was how damn cocky audio mixers are and maybe SHOULD be.   This video

Pay particular attention to how he describes his one magic 1176 on vocals.  (Not the Retro Instruments 176, ironically ;))  He doesn’t just say, “Yeah, I have this one magic 1176.  I use it on just about everyone.”  He has to give a freakin’ list of ALL the ultra bands he’s mixed.  It’s entirely forced.  It’s way too much.  It’s annoying.   It may be just the kind of attitude we all need to crank out mixes like CLA. SMILEY

Brandon

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Jeronimo Mora – 03-27-2012, 12:30 AM
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Came for the cock. Stayed for article.

Aaaaanyway, because of my less than ideal tracking space, I’ve decided to take up mixing/”mastering”/tutoring jobs while I clean up. Writing out everything I knew about for the craigslist article was a real confidence boost. Feeling good about yourself just translates to your work so well. There’s a massive leap between the clockwork clown mix and a mix I had done at home a week before it. The only things that had changed were the competition and my state of mind.

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AndiP – 03-27-2012, 05:33 AM
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+1 – fixing stuff is easy, making decisions is the art. When I started-out I’d keep reading that you have to reference your mixes against other material Yeah, yeah, now let’s push some faders. Hmm, many hours of frustration later I have a library of short clips of various sounds (just added the kick from Stone Sour’s “Orchids” to it as it happens) that I use as a starting point; I can generally build a mix from a single point much easier and quicker than in a total vacuum. Doesn’t mean to say that I don’t still sometimes end-up with something so wrong that I have to zero everything and start again and to this day I fight myself over putting a final eq on the 2 buss to re-balance the overall mix . Quick and dirty can be good so long as you never have to hear the track again

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Alarmist – 03-27-2012, 08:31 AM
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That’s pretty weird. I’d literally finished watching another interview with Chris L-A about 30 minutes ago, when the RR email arrived: Chris Lord Alge record producer and mixing engineer video feature at SSL’s studios in the UK – The comparison is quite funny. Not sure what the date difference is between the two interviews. I don’t do that much AE work, so I watch & listen to lots of interviews and read countless articles on recording etc. It’s an interest, so it excites me. And still, over & over again, the different degrees of techniques all come out. Whilst learning I read on various forums about what people thought about ways to do things, and what equipment is used, including room acoustic design. Now I just get fed up reading people saying ‘how this and that should be done, and with what equipment’. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions….. but there’s so much waffle. ANYHOO…. basically, what I’m saying is that the recent articles on RR have been a nice relief from all that. You learn, you get older, you learn some more.

As Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn from the Blues Brothers once said, “If the sh*t fits, wear it!”. So I tend to live by that.

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jaystar – 03-27-2012, 08:59 AM
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I have had been lucky enough to talk and study under teachers that have made Platinum records. I can say in my own experience that there is a difference between being cocky and being confident. Not ALL my mentors were cocky, but they were ALL confident.

Confidence comes from 2 places. The first place is in their experience of doing it for so many years as well as a long established track record of working with big name artists. The second place is coming from learning from other BIG names in the industry that have passed the torch of pop mixing down to them. The guys like us who learn more or less on our own, without the aid of a true mentor, never establish that solid foundation that comes from getting the torch passed down from a well seasoned heavy hitter. When you do things by yourself without the constant support of someone with clout, you will always be second guessing your abilities.

But I have recently chatted with guys like Ryan Williams who mixes stuff like 30 seconds to mars and lincoln park. I also have studied with Ryan West who mixed a few tracks for Eminem. Some of my teachers at audio school worked with Bob Dylan, Led Zepplin, Nelly etc etc etc. I have chatted with Alicia Keys’ sound engineer Ann Mincielli. I can say ALL of these dudes and dudets are very cool cats. Many of them love sharing their knowledge with people. They are all very laid back and not egotistical at all.

When it comes to ego, time and again I find myself pointing the finger at the producers rather than the mixing engineers. Although the line is often blurred since we sound guys often wear many hats.

Bottom line is, they ALL have confidence. Being a dick doesn’t make you a great engineer. It just makes you, well, a dick.

I remember attending a lecture by a well known mixing engineer and I asked him “How did you break into the business? How did you get your foot in the door?” The man looked at me with a very serious face and said, “Above all else, your CHARACTER determines whether or not people want to work with you. How willing are you to bend over backwards to make an artist happy? It’s all about offering a great service and staying professional.”

In other words, His advice was the exact opposite of the egotistical genius that Brandon speaks of. The egotistical producers get that way after they have had a couple of hit records and they become the latest hot producer. But it’s guys like Ryan West or Ryan Williams that have to keep their heads cool while the artists and the producer duke it out.

In many ways, the mixing engineer is often the most humble guy in the room. And often he is the most talented guy in the room as well. Guys like Chuck Ainlay didn’t become famous for being assholes. They because famous for working hard, keeping their integrity when working with artists and staying professional.

I get Brandon’s point. But I think I would have used the word confidence rather than cocky.

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Firedance – 03-27-2012, 09:01 AM
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Glad to read that Brandon. Especially for me as a non-techie it sort of inspires confidence and freedom.

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rook2c4 – 03-27-2012, 09:26 AM
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Cockiness impresses some clients, but certainly not all clients. Personally, I’m usually turned off by cocky people. And that’s the one thing I DON’T like about Chris Lord Alge in interviews – his obnoxious, pompous attitude. Not that I don’t think he has some valuable skills is good at what he does in the studio, but his attitude just turns me off to what he says. The few useful engineering insights and tricks he reveals to the reader/viewer are usually sandwiched between his rants of just how awesome it is to be him.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just overly suspicious that an attitude of cockiness is a disguised attempt to cover up lack of true ability, skill or quality – like a door-to-door salesman trying to peddle off junk with the use of bombastic-sounding catch words. And sometimes it surely is the case.

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rook2c4 – 03-27-2012, 09:29 AM
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Cockiness impresses some clients, but certainly not all clients. Personally, I’m usually turned off by cocky people. And that’s the one thing I DON’T like about Chris Lord Alge in interviews – his obnoxious, pompous attitude. Not that I don’t think he has some valuable skills is good at what he does in the studio, but his attitude just turns me off to what he says. The few useful engineering insights and tricks he reveals to the reader/viewer are usually sandwiched between his rants of just how awesome it is to be him.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just overly suspicious that an attitude of cockiness is a disguised attempt to cover up lack of true ability, skill or quality – like a door-to-door salesman looking for suckers by trying to peddle off junk with the use of bombastic-sounding catch words. And sometimes it surely is the case.

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ccc187307 – 03-27-2012, 10:30 AM
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Then it stands to reason that i should be much better at this then i am.

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aj113 – 03-27-2012, 11:04 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by jaystar View Post
…..Confidence comes from 2 places. The first place is in their experience of doing it for so many years as well as a long established track record of working with big name artists. The second place is coming from learning from other BIG names in the industry that have passed the torch of pop mixing down to them. …..
Can’t agree with that. Confidence comes primarily form the knowledge that you actually have the ability to do the job. I may come under the heading of ‘Cocky Asshole Mixer’ or I may be more of a ‘Confident Mixer’ – either way, at the start of every project I have absolutely no doubts that the end product is going to sound good when its finished.

…….In all seriousness, if someone paid you a million bucks to set a reverb level in 7 seconds, who COULDN’T do it?

Maybe you wouldn’t 100% perfectly hit the reverb level that is “right”, but what the hell level is that? I own cds with vocals with tons of reverb or no reverb. They got my $15 either way and I’ve never returned a cd due to excessive reverb ………
This is what it’s all about. Stop messing about and start mixing. A mix is only ‘wrong’ if there is something that really is wrong – like the bass is so high that the speakers need a recone. Everything else is subjective, so why worry about it? Getting to the point where there is nothing ‘wrong’ in the mix is about 80% of the job – all of the rest of of the stuff is just sugar coating – it’s quite nice, but it’s not totally necessary, and in any case, not everyone likes sugar coating. Some people prefer savoury stuff. As I have said before, get your levels right, everything else will follow.

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cporro – 03-27-2012, 12:53 PM
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as others have said cockiness impresses one person and annoys another. if your client has no clue cockiness might get you somewhere. if they have a clue you better have some skills to back up that rooster.

one thing that i took to heart was from….mike seniors book i think. i’ll paraphrase it: high level mix guys are not payed for their tech skills. they are payed for their musicality.

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Beat Poet – 03-27-2012, 05:31 PM
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How about an answer to the question “Do You Have To Be An Asshole At This Gig?”

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Ken J – 03-27-2012, 08:44 PM
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Ballz to the wall Brandon. That’s the only way to do it. You gotta mix like you mean it or get out of the studio. No time for second guessing yourself.

Yup! I meant to make that reverb sound like shit! LOL!

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endash – 03-28-2012, 04:56 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by rook2c4 View Post
I don’t know, maybe I’m just overly suspicious that an attitude of cockiness is a disguised attempt to cover up lack of true ability, skill or quality
Interesting quote! I am more on the side of you and jaystar on this one. But definitely confidence is the key. However…

Something a friend pointed out to me. Dunno if she was trying to cheer me up or be a biatch, because I can’t remember what mood I was in when she got the idea to send it to me: Dunning

For those who can’t be bothered reading the whole thing, this sentence pretty much sums it up: “The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which the unskilled suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.” Basically it means there is a curve that goes with learning anything, and the confidence of the individual and their ability have an inverse relationship. What that boils down to is that beginners think they are sh*t-hot because they don’t know much about the subject and therefore are subject to illusory superiority, and people who are any good know enough about the subject to know that they definitely don’t know everything.

However, I’m also thinking that there is a peak right at the end where the individual realises they are at the top of whatever pursuit they are in. Some manage to retain their humilty and appear confident, others are naturally arrogant types who get cocky. Which type do you think Tiger Woods was?

Having said all this, I think the point everyone agrees on here (regardless of the cocky vs. confidence debate) is that to make a decent mix, it is counterproductive to be a perfectionist, because after a while you get numb to the mix and all your mistakes get normalised in your head, so they start sounding good to you. To continue from this point is to pile mistake on top of mistake (cos it sounds right to do that compared to the last thing you did, even if it was a mistake!) and soon your mix goes to hell in a handbasket.

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aj113 – 03-28-2012, 05:40 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by endash View Post
…..Having said all this, I think the point everyone agrees on here (regardless of the cocky vs. confidence debate) is that to make a decent mix, it is counterproductive to be a perfectionist….
Depends your interpretation of the word ‘perfectionist’.

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brandondrury – 03-29-2012, 11:34 AM
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Maybe the “cocky” word has too much negativity attached to it.

In my life, ANYTIME I’ve been called an “asshole”, it’s been an enormous compliment that I’ve seriously taken like a pat on the back and I’m not kidding. I’m a little screwed up.

The phrase “cocky asshole” is Maverick in Top Gun following the girl into the bathroom to bang her. It’s a mythical level of confidence (at least for me) that I dream of like winning the lottery or something. It’s not necessarily a negative term from my point of view. I should have clarified that.

The truth is I’m jealous of the “cocky asshole” big boy audio engineer. The “asshole” part refers to the fact that I don’t have it and I want it….much like saying, “Did you hear about that asshole buddy of ours? He just want $300,000 in the lottery. That prick.

So I didn’t mean to imply that very high levels of confidence in a gig that (from my standpoint) is tough to have confidence in makes for the kind of person you don’t want to be around. All the usual humility (at least on the outside) is paramount. You just have to be saying “OH YEAH!” instead of “Oh shit!” in your head.

What that boils down to is that beginners think they are sh*t-hot because they don’t know much about the subject and therefore are subject to illusory superiority, and people who are any good know enough about the subject to know that they definitely don’t know everything.
Well, you had me at hello. I know so much that I’m positive I don’t know a damn thing.

it is counterproductive to be a perfectionist,
Yet another semantic mess on this discussion. I’ll rephrase that to mean it’s counter productive to look for flaws when you should be looking for non-stop rockingness. This is similar to the 80/20 rule. Your most productive 80% requires 20% of your effort. The remaining 20% of productivity chews up 80% of your time. The secret is to learn to accept that last 20% as a casualty. I’d imagine military generals are the best at this. Accepting there will be small “imperfections”, “flaws”, or “undesirables” is a key to obtaining those desirables….I think.

And that’s the one thing I DON’T like about Chris Lord Alge in interviews – his obnoxious, pompous attitude.
In all fairness to CLA, you don’t get to really know someone until you’ve shared a foxhole with them. Anyone who’s ever done an interview knows they are complete bullshit unless you just happen to catch a person at the right time.

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dudermn – 03-30-2012, 04:56 AM
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the thing is been cocky it also leads too being lazy. you forgot the I in why do I feel cold and hungri so, you might not be a cocky person

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Ken J – 03-30-2012, 06:01 AM
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The cockiness comes from a level of confidence. In other words, don’t show how scared you really are. It also comes from being able to walk into a situation and being able to solve the problems. Many times the problems are not technical but rather personality mismatches and clashes. The cockiness also comes from being able to take care of situations beyond your control by analyzing the situation and finding the problems. Even if you can’t correct them you find ways to work around them.

I’ve been called a lot worse then an ass hole. But why am I called in by the guy who called me an ass hole to fix his fuck-ups? Things like that add to the high nose attitude.

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DRBryan – 03-30-2012, 06:47 AM
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I don’t think you haveto be cocky or an asshole. And I agree with the comment that I see that potentially as a way of covering up inadequacies.

To say you must be one seems to be the height of cockiness, so you’re their already Mr Drury.

I reckon – if you’re working with other musicians – like your not recording just yourself – you need to know what your talking about. Then you need to become a team player, inviting the band/musician to consider what you think instead of “telling” them they’re wrong and your right.

Each to his own. I’m against redneck jackbooting mix engineers. My European history may have taught me not to lie that though.

Sorry if – as a newcomer – I say too much.

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Stan_Halen – 03-30-2012, 12:14 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Ken J View Post
The cockiness comes from a level of confidence. In other words, don’t show how scared you really are. It also comes from being able to walk into a situation and being able to solve the problems. Many times the problems are not technical but rather personality mismatches and clashes. The cockiness also comes from being able to take care of situations beyond your control by analyzing the situation and finding the problems. Even if you can’t correct them you find ways to work around them.

I’ve been called a lot worse then an ass hole. But why am I called in by the guy who called me an ass hole to fix his fuck-ups? Things like that add to the high nose attitude.
I really like this definition. I have seen this a number of times first-hand, working with seasoned engineer/producers. The ability to confidently approach and solve problems: whether technical or human. It is two opposing skill-sets, and you have to have both these days, where almost any level of engineering requires some level of “producing” since there may not be a producer in the room (or he may not know his ass from a hole in the ground). You sometimes become the de-facto “team leader”.

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Ken J – 03-31-2012, 07:40 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Stan_Halen View Post
I really like this definition. I have seen this a number of times first-hand, working with seasoned engineer/producers. The ability to confidently approach and solve problems: whether technical or human. It is two opposing skill-sets, and you have to have both these days, where almost any level of engineering requires some level of “producing” since there may not be a producer in the room (or he may not know his ass from a hole in the ground). You sometimes become the de-facto “team leader”.
Actually Stan this is what I do. In every studio situation as the engineer, I take control. I usually start off with something like this after a brief introduction and small chit chat.

“Are you guys ready to find your rightful place in the music business? Get yourself primed and ready. I need to feel what you guys are all about. Don’t hold anything back. Give me everything you got and let’s make this happen. It’s going to be a hard long day but in the end, great things will come out of the studio. I can feel it.”

They don’t need to know that I took control. It just happens.

jaystar – 04-15-2012, 08:32 PM

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Quote Originally Posted by aj113 View Post
Can’t agree with that. Confidence comes primarily from the knowledge that you actually have the ability to do the job.
Exactly. And as I stated earlier, “confidence comes from years of experience” which is what gives the knowledge that you actually have the ability to do the job.

 

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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One response to Cocky Asshole Mixers And Why You Must Be One

  1. I think each one of these “mixers” is famous because of a band with a certain sound that they just happened to be mixing made it big. For most of the time, at least in the beginning of their careers, these mixers were sicced on unsuspecting upcoming bands, in most times by the record labels that owned an interest in the franchise. Case in point – Fleming Rassmussen, the guy that turned down Jason Newsted of Metallica fame. Just being cocky and self-assured, he nonchallantly reached for a fader and 20+ years later Jason still gets flak for playing no bass on the record. Or to mention the same band again – Bob Rock’s patchup job on “St Anger”, again a new sound was born. If it were the studio intern that did this to a mix they would’ve been instantly fired and by word of mouth it would’ve been made sure that they didn’t get a job in any other studios around town.

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