Performance mixing? What the heck is that? Don’t be alarmed if you have never heard about it before. While I didn’t coin up the term myself, it’s nothing mysterious. It means exactly what the words mean. Yeah, but what do they mean, right?
Well, my little cracked plug-in collecting friend, they mean that you treat mixing like a musical performance. It also means that whatever tool and device you have, you use it as a musical instrument.
Play and perform the mix
As with many things in this feces ridden world, performance mixing is easier said than done. At least if you go for the cough syrup flooded jugular and try to do it the old school way. “What is the old school way?”, you may ask. If you check out this brief Daniel Lanois interview, you’ll understand. If you have a console, you can place multiple fingers on multiple faders, then start tweaking the levels – on the fly.
The hard part of it comes in the face of two fundamental things. The first one is, you have to know the tune. Inside out. It doesn’t matter if it’s not your own song. It also doesn’t matter if it’s not the closest to your heart. Even if you absolutely loathe it, you’ll have to learn the song.
Learning the tune, knowing your direction
The second requirement is, you have to have a pretty clear and conscious idea about what you want to do with the music. It’s simply not going to work if you have to stop and think about your next step. If it helps (it does), lay down tapes next to the faders and mark it so you’ll know where to move them without hesitation.
Once the above two things are out of the way, you need to worry no more. If you don’t have a console (not even a digital one) and you work in a DAW, no problem. You can do it with a simple MIDI control surface connected to automation parameters, or even with your mouse. In that case, you just need to do it step by step, track by track, instead of multiple tracks and effect parameters at once. Unless you can hire a couple of friends and teach them their parts, of course. But then we’re back at the old school way again.
When shit comes alive
So when to do this on the fly mixing stuff? Image a bland, lifeless electric track. Or a rather sterile band performance. Or really anything that you want to inject more life into. While many purists say it’s the performance that needs to be perfect, it’s not carved into stone that you can’t manipulate it later. The nice thing about it is, you can even override original decisions about dynamics. Just make sure you don’t over-manipulate it. As usual, subtlety is king.