I like to mix dirty.
Give me some thick compression. Overdrive everything. Add some hair. Bring in some mojo. Bring in some funk. Make it a bit ugly. Make it big, alive and breathing.
But not everyone shares my taste.
When I started mixing for other artists, I had a few situations where I’d added some subtle saturation to a track — less than I normally would for my own music, but just enough to be barely noticeable. And the artist immediately heard it. And asked for me to ‘take the distortion off’. Ok. Point taken. They wanted a straight clean mix. No funk. They’d come to the studio to make a product that rendered the studio invisible. That’s ok. Everyone’s got different tastes. I’ve often said that technology works best when you can’t tell that it’s there.
So I started doing two kinds of mixes: dirty mixes for my own projects and clean mixes for other artists.
And that worked pretty well. People were happy with my work, even if I felt a little unsatisfied.
And then more recently I started noticing something. Every now and then I’d do a clean mix for an artist and, after everyone had gone home, I had a bit of fun with the mix. Add the mojo. Add the funk. Maybe overcook it a bit. Just to satisfy my own drive. And, for artists at I have a strong and open relationship with, I’d sometimes play my version to them. Just for fun.
And sometimes, they preferred it.
But, obviously, not every time.
What I learned was that the aesthetic of the mix is an important part of the discussion about creative direction that I usually have at the beginning of each project. It’s included when we talk about similar artists, reference songs, instrumentation, etc. Some artists don’t know the difference, so they get a clean mix. Some artists baulk at it (“What do you mean you’re going to distort the sounds?”). And some artists get it. They’re looking for some character. Some colour. Some vibe.