The STEREO Viewpoints of mix and production

For the past ten years I have been developing six viewpoints to bring a mix or production into focus. These six concepts are basic windows through which we can view a piece of music. By switching through each, we bring to bear different ideas, uncover overlooked problems and discover fresh solutions.

The STEREO Viewpoints: Story, Time, Energy, Room, Emotion and Obscurity.

Story

Every work has a story and a back story

Whether a literal re-telling of events through lyrics or a poetic understanding in fractured parts, music is in part a vehicle for story. Where does it demand to go, what sensibilities, shifts, and understandings does it bring? How can this story be told more effectively – through close mic’ing? Junkyard beats?

And every story has a back story… What baggage – musical or lyrical – does it carry? Does the lyric suggest the blues? Does the singer suggest the bump and grind of late sixties soul? Do the violins conjure 18th century romanticism? Do the beats arc a line from late eighties hip hop?

All music carries these things – a personal notion and a wider context – history and tradition have shaped the performers choices – intentionally or not.

What story is being told? And what is the broader story beyond this work?

Time

Every piece of music unfolds over time

Time and the various ways of regulating it are equally important. A song or track begins and ends, and develops in between. A good mix bends time. This includes tempo (bpm); duration (how long a section or part lasts before ending or changing); repetition (how often a section or an idea is repeated, or when); and the sense of how things unfold throughout the course of the track

Time involves the flow of the song, how long it takes to develop an idea and when each idea is revealed. Of course in music, time is not strictly linear – as Tony Visconti told David Bowie about the Eventide 910 before making Low in Berlin “It fucks with the fabric of time!”. It is possible to disrupt, slow down, suspend and re-envisage time when you bring your awareness to it.

What is unfolding here? How should it unfold? And when?

Energy

Energy, groove, movement… what propels or slows a work down

The third Viewpoint focuses on energy and its various elements – types of movement, ways of grooving, and the impact on the body. In this context, it is important not to confine the idea of groove to a locked in drum and bass notion or to a dance aesthetic. The groove dictates pace, and energy is a critical commodity – from ambient ‘music for airports’ to stoner rock to techno… How is the work propelled, when does it rest? How is it sustained, re-instigated? For the mixer, producer and players, this necessitates awareness of your own kinaesthetic response…

How does this work affect my body? What energy does it demand?

Room

All music is located in space or spaces

Any journey anywhere takes place in and through located space or spaces – imagined or real. Music is the same – from a piano played in a piano room to a vocal sung amongst other musicians in a studio to radical re-envisaging (a cupboard that opens into shimmering horizon lines).

In music, spatial relationships are key – distance between voices and instruments, between sounds and groups of sounds, between melodies and structures/architecture. Naturally it also involves movement within this space – forward, back, left, right and the transformation of spaces…

What spaces exist in this piece? Who is in the space?
Where are they in relationship to one another? Why?

Emotion

Music inhabits and conveys emotional memory and texture

Emotion seems so obvious it’s easily overlooked, but it’s not just about the performer and their intensity, it’s also enacted through timbre, texture and tone. Creating emotional depth and connection between the music and the listener; conveying vulnerability, strength, joy or whatever it is that marks this track out distinctively in terms of emotion is cardinally important.

Every track has a patina – a feel or atmosphere that characterises the music. Music is always built from something – and every sound, be it from a sample pack or a live warehouse recording – has its own sensibility, history, and memory. A mix plays with these textures – making things smoother, more powerful, deeper, rounder – whatever is needed to fully realise the work.

How does this work affect me emotionally? How can the timbres and textures of the sounds reinforce this impact?

Obscurity

A mistake honoured is hidden intention

Brian Eno has cast such a long shadow across the recording world, most mix engineers are familiar with The Oblique Strategies he and Peter Schaefer developed for discovering and harnessing creative potential in a recording. Obscurity encompasses both the idea of honouring the accidental and the overlooked in a production as well as developing enigma, mystery and cultivating what remains unknown in a mix.

From puzzling sounds to distinctive re-workings, unexpected shifts to intricate mysteries – a truly distinctive mix is one that confounds even the mixer, reaching beyond technique to something we didn’t already know. This is how distortion, feedback or flanging were discovered – but to do this, one needs to remain mindful of mystery, accident and hidden insights.

What is accidental, what is overlooked? What is confusing? What is unexpected? How can we honour this in the mix?

Six Viewpoints to create one unique work

No one Viewpoint is more important than another – they work together in harmony. For any piece of music they will influence one other and interact – shifts in the groove may necessitate changes in emotion; opening out into another room may accentuate an element of the story or reveal something hitherto obscured. By focusing on each Viewpoint as an isolated element, a producer can enhance and refine each in turn – discovering their own strengths and natural inclinations. The goal is to create a work, an album, a performance that is distinctive and unique – a fully realised piece of music that makes our lives better.

History and Inspiration

Part of the inspiration for the STEREO Viewpoints comes from an improvisation-based technique originally developed in the 1970’s by choreographer Mary Overlie, and later adapted for actors by director Anne Bogart and playwright-director Tina Landau. The idea was to give actors a tool box and vocabulary for exploration of a text or improvised work. Similarly, the STEREO Viewpoints provides a unique perspective from which producers can critique their works and develop each aspect.

Inspiredmix.com explores the STEREO Viewpoints – looking for insights, tools and analysis for each Viewpoint, to achieve distinctive and exciting mixes.