The Mix Artist: Breaking the Cycle of Burnout
The Mix Artist, a name that's sure to ring a bell for any hip-hop aficionado. This audio engineering mastermind has been making waves in the music industry, with a resume that boasts names, including none other than the iconic ASAP Rocky. The Mix Artist's exceptional skills in crafting polished and dynamic sounds have earned them a reputation as one of the most sought-after engineers in the game. With a finger on the pulse of the latest production trends, The Mix Artist seamlessly blends old-school techniques with cutting-edge technology to create a sound that's both fresh and timeless. So, sit back and get ready to discover why The Mix Artist is the go-to name in audio engineering.
When did you first start your music engineering journey?
I first started learning about engineering during my sophomore year in college, and it was completely by accident (I had been a music performance major). I played percussion almost my whole life - since I was eight years old, all the way through high school. I even went to a college where I could be on the drumline, Hampton University - an HBCU, and that was one of the deciding factors. However, I didn't want to pursue a degree in drumming. My college only offered two other music programs. The first was music education, a five-year degree program, which I had no interest in, at all. I was trying to get in and out. The second was music engineering, which I knew nothing about, but my whole life I've just loved music, and that's all I really knew. I wasn't ready to take a leap of faith into something else. I was considering doing business because I felt you could work anywhere with a business degree. You can turn that into anything but as I said, music was always my passion. I took a leap of faith into the engineering field, learned about it, learned about the studio for the very first time, and happened to fall in love with it. And here we are today.
"Just use your creativity and don't overthink it."
For those mixing their first single, what is the number one thing they need to know?
For those mixing their first single, I would definitely suggest keeping it simple and not overthinking. I know those things are extremely easy to say but very hard to do. I say that because I'm actually talking to myself as I'm saying this. I know we tend to compare ourselves and our sound to songs that have been mixed by mixing engineers who have been working for 40 years and then sent off to mastering engineers who've been doing it for 65 years, and we're in our bedroom listening in headphones on our laptop, expecting to get something close on the first go; that's highly unrealistic. So yeah, don't put too much pressure on yourself. Just make sure you stay out of the way. What I mean by that is, to make sure you get across whatever it is that the artist is trying to get across. That's really our only job as an engineer, to make sure the song is listenable and enjoyable to the listener, and if they're listening back, they're not noticing “oh gosh, I can't hear vocals'' or “I can't hear the guitar”. Make sure everything is placed where it needs to be. The main thing I would say is to focus on balance from the volume to the stereo image, making sure every instrument and every vocal has its own place.
EQ: Also ties into balance. Make sure your bottom is not too heavy and your top is not too harsh.
Compression: Nothing should be really jumping out at you unless that's the vibe of the record. Make it a smooth, easy, enjoyable experience for the listener.
Reverb: Definitely you want to be a little well-versed in reverb. Don’t worry if you don't have all the latest plugins. During my first four or five years of mixing, I was using stock plugins and simple Waves plugins. I like some of those mixes better than some of my new mixes, to be honest. Keep it simple, you have everything you need.
So long as you have an EQ, a compressor, reverb plugin, you're good to go. You can turn the volume up and down and pan from left to right. That's really all you need. Don't think you need more than what you have to come up with a great mix. Just use your creativity and don't overthink it.
"Don't be afraid to studio hop it (Okay, we won't judge you)"
If you could time travel to Kia at the start of her music journey, what would you say?
Let's get it. I would say just keep going, man. As long as you have the love for this, keep going. It won't fail you. I have zero regrets, I can't have any regrets about how the process went, like I said, I started as an instrumentalist, as a drummer when I was a child. I didn't imagine that I'd be in engineering now. I would want to say keep an open mind, but I feel like I kind of did that, and I enjoy it. You're on the right track. Just follow your heart, and you'll be fine.
What advice would you give to singers working with music engineers?
Make sure you find the engineer that's the right fit for you. The fact that someone has a million plaques or whatever doesn't mean that you guys will work well together, or your friend who's also an artist recommends their favorite engineer, that doesn't necessarily mean that you guys mesh. Don't feel bad about studio hopping, especially in the beginning - I think you absolutely should. The vibes are supposed to be right in your studio sessions. And after you’ve done that, please let the engineer do
their job. You have to have a level of trust that the engineer can do what it is that engineers do. A lot of times artists will come into the studio, and I know the song is their baby - they barely want to let anyone touch it. They wish they knew how to record and mix and master on their own so they could just do it themselves. I know. Trust me, I know. But when you come into the studio with a good engineer, the engineer you vetted out, you should have the feeling that it's a collaborative effort. We're not working against you. We're not in any type of competition with you. We're teammates at this point. We want your record to sound as great as you want it to sound because it's our record now. It's okay to have your own ideas. That's great. But as far as the technical aspect, let us do our job. Another thing, a lot of times you leave the studio with a mix that you don't particularly like.
"My favorite type of artist is humble, a pleasure to be around, and a good person."
I’ve come across some artists that are hesitant to ask for revisions, but that's part of the process. That's our job. Please understand that we want you to be satisfied. Don't ever hesitate to ask us to revise something or even better, a lot of times you may not be able to communicate how you want your song to sound, there might be a particular effect you don't know the name of and you get frustrated. Always bring a reference to a song that already sounds how you want it to sound. If you like the bass in this record, you should bring it to your engineers so we can know what you're saying. Sometimes you might describe something one way and we'll get a different feeling from that description of what it is that you're saying.
Find the right engineer for you.
Don't be afraid to studio hop (It’s okay; we won't judge you).
Trust your engineer.
Always bring references for what it is that you want to sound like.
Who is an artist you loved working with and why?
I can't name a particular artist. I'll say there's a type of artist that I love to work with, and that's anyone with a good vibe who loves what they do and is hungry for it. I mean if you bring me food, that's a plus (I want to say I'm kidding, but I'm not) :D
In all reality, it's about the vibe. I've worked with some artists that are popular or extremely talented, and I don't necessarily want to work with them again because of their energy or their personality. I've also worked with artists who are just starting out and whose styles may be extremely different. I'll post a song we’ve done and people will comment privately and say “Wow, how could you work with that person? That session must have been so terrible.” and I'm like, Wait! I would work with these people any day of the week. They're super dope as individuals, number one. Number two, everyone starts from somewhere. I’ve worked with plenty of artists at the beginning of their careers, and I'll see them five years later and we’re laughing, reflecting on our progress, because I was also not as good as I am now, five years ago. My favorite type of artist is humble, a pleasure to be around, a good person, and someone who at least somewhat understands our jobs as engineers. A lot of artists don't necessarily understand that it takes time to mix a record, and also artists who trust the engineer are my favorite types to work with. The ones that don't think we're trying to work against them or mess their song up.
Is there a genre of music you would like to work on, that you have not tried as yet?
I would actually love to work on country music, believe it or not, I really enjoy country music. It's just certain feelings and emotions, I won't say you can't get it from any other genre, but it's just a vibe, I love that energy and it's quite different from anything I've worked on thus far. I have hip-hop obviously under my belt. I have some jazz. I don't think I have an actual classical record yet. Classical would be dope with a whole orchestra.
"The thing about stress and burnout is, if you don't make time for you and your body on your own, your body will do it for you."
The conversation around “burnout” has become much more prevalent in the past couple of years, what has been your journey with the “hustle culture”?
I'm very familiar with burnout. When I first started, fresh out of college, doing what I love, that wasn't even a thought on my mind. Every day I woke up and wanted to get right to the studio. It wasn't a hassle, it wasn't a chore. I loved everything about it. Even when I had rough sessions, they just made me want to work harder. There would be times I wouldn't get sleep for like two days because I was studio hopping. Just going! Working from one studio to the next, not even aware of time. I just loved it! The first studio I worked at was about a 15-minute walk from my house. Someone could call me at 02:00 am for a 02:30 am session and I would be there. It's really all I thought about. There was no spare time because I've always been freelancing. I've always been my own boss. In the beginning, you absolutely have to put in the work, especially if you're doing it on your own and you're not interning under someone big. It's just you, starting from the bottom, trying to make it. You have to hustle. At least that's how I knew how to do it, I didn't know any other way.
It just felt like fun in the beginning, but over time, I started to realize what was important to me. I guess as I grew as a human being, spiritually as well, I realized that I was missing out on a lot of experiences with friends and family. I remember my best friend sent me a text, inviting me to his wedding, and I was like, wait what? I didn’t even meet this person and I hadn’t even really spoken to him for a year, which is crazy!
"It may be bad for business, but it's good for my soul."
The thing about stress and burnout is, if you don't make time for you and your body on your own, your body will do it for you. It'll say, all right, you know what? We can't continue. It will manifest in so many different ways. You’ll have to listen to it! I only had to get sat down a couple of times to realize, okay, this isn't life. You get used to the feeling of being tired. It doesn't even feel like being tired, just your normal state. You don't realize how much rest you actually need as a human being. I slowed down tremendously. I changed my hours from working anytime to hitting me in the daytime (I have a bedtime. It's generally 11:00 p.m. so we need to be out of here by ten!) My clients understood that. Now, I'm all the way to the other side of the spectrum. It may be bad for business, but it's good for my soul. I might not pick up my phone all day. I'll get back to you when I get back to you. I'll go away and take months-long vacations or trips, sometimes for three months and my clients understand. I’ll refer them to another engineer or sometimes they'll wait.
My priority is me and experiencing as much of life as I can. My priority is not necessarily working on every song that comes my way. I get to be pickier with the clients I work with and the music I work on to an extent. I