Under the Influence

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Today I’m going to start a new topic I hope to explore a little more over the next year and beyond. I recently had someone come up to me to compliment me on the drums in my mixes, and he was also wondering how I get those sounds. Sometimes these kinds of compliments can be two-sided for me. On the one hand I love the compliments, but on the other hand it’s kind of frustrating to me because when someone singles out elements in my mixes I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the mix sucked. Of course then I remember that this is just sort of how we mixing geeks talk to each other.

This fall marked twenty years since I put my hands on a console for the first time, and it’s got me a little nostalgic. As a result, lately I’ve been thinking a little more about my mixes and how I get there. Sure, equipment plays a part of it, but it’s much more than equipment because I can often hear a common thread through all of my mixes these days regardless of the equipment I’m using.

My friend Scott Ragsdale actually had a great quote in his class on mixing at Gurus of Tech last summer that comes courtesy of monitor mixer extraordinaire Dave Skaff: The mix is in you. Gear is a tool on the journey, but I think the madness in our head might play a greater role.

In terms of the sounds in and of my mixes, I think I can trace a lot of it back to my influences. In fact, I can probably trace all the sounds to the mish-mash sum of sonic things I’ve come in contact with over the course of my life. And these influences aren’t just songs, sounds, and things I want to copy or emulate. These are also works that impacted me oftentimes subconsciously, and I think really everybody kind of has this going on whether they’re a professional or simply a casual listener.

There are definitely conscious influences like when I watch and listen to Chris Briley working on a bass guitar or when someone recommends I listen to a specific song or album. But the influences that slip into our brain when we’re not really paying attention with our mix ears can be equally powerful. These are often the songs and sounds we loved to listen to over and over when we were 17 because we just loved it. It’s the stuff that we were sometimes exposed to by our own friends willingly and unwillingly. Some of these things have just become faded memories that are lingering somewhere in the back of our head pulling on the strings a little bit without our awareness.

I believe it can be quite valuable as a mixer to understand his influences because influences can have a sort of gravitational pull on what we’re trying to achieve whenever we stand behind a console. I know a big part of what has become intuitive for me while mixing comes from my own influences. Influences can work for and against us, but by understanding our influences we can better understand why some of the sounds we get sound the way they do and more consciously choose to move towards them or push away from them when the music and mix calls for it.

In the coming days, weeks, and months I’m going to start looking a little closer at some of the stuff that has influenced me over the years especially when I didn’t even realize it. You might laugh at some of these, but it is what it is and as I’m pretty satisfied with my craft these days I can’t really complain about any of these since they all played a part in my abilities today.

In the meantime the comments are open. So what would you consider to be some of your own influences?

David Stagl

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Under the Influence