R/E/P > Terry Manning

The Famous Fifteen Minute Deaf Mix Story

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About five years ago, I was mixing an album here at Compass Point for Capitol Records.  I was in our Studio B, on an SSL 4048.  The group's material was totally unknown to me, and I would only hear each song for the first time just as we started to mix each one.

The producer (and engineer) of the material was an acquaintance whom I had known for some time; he was also an excellent studio musician, and an actual member of this group.  Because he was an engineer and producer as well as I, with his own 24 track studio, we would often discuss various aspects of tracking, mixing and production; one day while we were talking about mixing, I made certain comments about the way I approached a mix, which my friend found to be slightly off base relative to the way he approached that task.  One thing led to another, and before long, for whatever reason, I had made several statements which he believed to be exaggerations.  So I went even a bit further, and stated to him that I was so well practiced in mixing, having done so many for so long, that I didn't even need to hear the song to get a decent mix.  When he snorted that this was ridiculous, how could this be possible, I said I could tell what to do by just looking at the meters, and that I could do it in a mere fifteen minutes!  (Of course I was exaggerating by this time, to try to push him a bit over the edge.)  But he took it to heart, and was outraged at the thought that I, or anyone, could properly mix without hearing what one was doing.

Well, having gone this far into the absurd conversation, I couldn't back down.  He insisted that I take back what I had said, or prove it; he made a bet with me that it was impossible.

So I had no choice but to follow through.  I told him to pick any song he wanted to, of the ones still left to mix.  He knew full well that I had not heard these songs in any form before.  We disconnected all monitor speakers and had them removed from the room.  All track charts were likewise taken away.

I promised that I would perform a decent mix, with levels and panning properly placed, and equalisation, compression, and reverb alloted where needed to the correct instruments or vocals in a reasonable manner; I was to record this mix to a Dat tape for playback.  I did insist that he leave the room so as not to distract me; TOTAL CONCENTRATION was going to be required!  So our technician and assistant engineer, Osie Bowe, was stationed in the room to police the situation, to make sure that I did not cheat in any way (such as by using headphones).  Since everyone trusts Osie, this was totally acceptable to him.  Of course, by now word had spread, and the whole band was anxiously awaiting the outcome.

The clock was started, and off I went.  (It was only later that I found out that he had purposely chosen a song which he felt was different than any other on the album, and on which the tracking [what sound was on what track] was different than any I had previously mixed for them.  Using the meters only, I deduced what instruments or vocals were what, and placed levels and panning according to what I thought they might be.  I added reverb to certain things, as well as a bit of EQ and compression.  I did level changes based on what the meters told me, and what section of the song I thought we were in.  I was ready to "go to tape" in just under 12 minutes, which was a good thing, as the song was just over 3 minutes long.  The final chord went to tape exactly at the fifteen minute mark, as I carefully lowered the master fader for a smooth ending (I hoped!)  Oh, I also had made a total recall save.

Everyone filed in to hear the results.  The Genelec monitors were returned, and the tape replay chosen on the monitor matrix. Then for the first time, I heard the actual song I had just mixed!  Fortunately, so did everyone else.  Because after one listen, we made about two tiny changes, and printed it to 1/2' so we could go on to the next song.

I still have that Dat.

Brian Kehew:

BUT it makes sense, in a way. You have been "experienced" at this for so long, that some things DO make sense. I heard a song start once (1st I had heard it) and then predicted "The guitar solo will come in at 1:18" and was within two seconds. The band were astounded but - because it's almost always right after the second chorus, and the song seemed normal, at a typical tempo. Something I have done many times before!

I, you, we - probably all have functionally good settings on things for vocal, bass, drum panning, etc. I suppose if we HAD to try everything from the ground up each time, we'd get very little done. We ARE creatures of habit, but for a reason...

There are stories of a famous British engineer who could set up the faders and mics PERFECTLY before each session - he wa so used to his own setup that it could be predicted how things should be done. But it seems amazing!

So - We'd like to hear that track, of course. And I like people that do crazy things on bets in studios.... (topic???)

Andy Simpson:
That is a delightful account sir! I love it when a ridiculously extravagent bluff is proved out against all odds....

Of course we all know that if a song has been well tracked, it should amount to little more than bringing the faders up.....

And isn't it ironic that so many FOH engineers have the complete opposite ability.....at 115 dB they can't mix it for shit....and ALL the meters are screaming R E D.....


J.J. Blair:
If you e-mail an mp3, I'd be glad to host it in my public folder.

Beethoven composed the entire ninth symphony after becoming stone deaf...


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