So I’m lurking around on one of the more notorious audio message boards (you know the one, rhymes with “deer butts”) and I am checking out some of the buzz over an unreleased plug-in currently in development (I wont mention the plug-ins name because I have no gripe with the developers and actually think it could be an interesting piece of software). Anyway, the usual listening tests, commentary and e-peen measuring ensued, the trolls came out with their classic “null tests,” everything played out as expected, business as usual.
The bulk of the responses to this new plug-in were surprisingly positive, like I said, I think it could be a cool addition to a mixers toolkit but I won’t know for sure until I actually try it. But what amazed me the most was the number of posts from people fretting over the pending release date and how they would have to hold off on all their mixing projects until it came out, and we’re talking weeks not days. Site unseen, holding back mixes for something that isn’t even available to demo because of two audio samples created by the company that is selling the product sound, “pretty good.” Are you serious? I can’t believe how people continue to not get it, believing that their mixes suck solely because of their lack of some “magic bullet,” that once obtained, will allow them to transcend space-time and instantly become a better mixer; a mixer with taste, vision and a command of esthetics. By the way these posts we’re laid out you’d think Pfizer was in clinical trials with a pill for creative inspiration, “Creativia® - the viagra for your other brain.”
I could understand the first few times an amazing new plug-in or technology was announced that people might adopt this mentality, but common, the industry has been getting over on audio engineers for years with this kind of marketing bravado. It is almost like the latest plug-in is advertised and hyped like it was the latest weight loss scheme, and people are so afraid of accepting reality. Writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering great music takes a lot of trips to the old wood shed. Practice, patience, and time to develop sensible tastes and understand the big picture. If a musician told you, “I have the most incredible song in my head, but I’m waiting for my new guitar to ship before I work it out,” you would probably laugh at them. Better yet, if an unhealthy, overweight friend told you, “I’m waiting for this new diet book to be released next month before I start trying to lose weight,” you would probably just shake your head in disbelief. Waiting to work on a mix for a plug-in you haven’t even demoed, let alone learned and integrated into your workflow is just a shame. Placing these kinds of artificial limitations on yourself will only perpetuate the idea that there is a magic bullet out there and you will end up just waiting some more when the next plug-in in announced.
Reading these posts reminded me of a story my favorite mastering engineer told me the last time I was in a session with him. He told me that he gets a call at least once a week from some amateur fader jockey claiming that the only reason they need to hire him is because they don’t have the quarter million dollars worth of gear that he has. These callers place so little value in the human element a mastering engineer adds to the point of being verbally confrontational. This made me so sad, but I totally believed him. It is not hard to believe, especially here in the silicon valley, that there are purely logic-centered people who feel that music engineering, especially mixing and mastering, is a completely objective set of skills and can be understood like any other software program or hardware schematic. This group insists that simply by having access to the tool and the operating manual will allow them to get the results they desire in a very short amount of time. It’s the “hell, if I can program this software, using it to make better music should be a piece of cake” mentality of many of these aggressively logical, tech savvy folks that tends to perpetuate this type of behavior (hint: they are generally the same types that spend more time posting on forums than actually working on music).
The reason I wanted to share these insights is not to belittle or berate this kind of mindset, but hopefully shed some light on the mistakes that I made so many times earlier in my career. You see, I was that dude who would hang on every software release, and pine for the latest audio hardware, pre-amp, or mic. I figured, shit, after programming my own modem drivers for linux, how hard can this mixing stuff be? Maybe it is a necessary part of growing into your own skin as an engineer, but a part of me wants to think that if someone politely tapped me on the shoulder and said, “hey kid, you wanna know the big secret? It’s practice, time and patience, and even then you wont know everything.” There is no doubt that great gear, both hardware and software, is a necessary part of any professionals toolkit, but at the end of the day they are just tools. Tools that provide incremental improvements to your workflow as you acquire the knowledge and experience to implement them into your work. Becoming a better mixer, producer, songwriter, or musician is an incremental and iterative process rather than a sudden paradigm shift in understanding, courtesy of some magic bullet plug-in, tip or tool. The sooner you understand this the sooner you can get on with your life and start worrying about the real magic element in art, the human element.
So my humble suggestion is, don’t wait for that plug-in, microphone, pre-amp, guitar, or *insert piece of audio gear here* to work on your art. Do yourself the favor of giving your skills and ears the benefit of the doubt. Take control of you own destiny and own up to the results, good or bad. Remember, the path to excellence in any artistic endeavor is never ending and uniquely different for everyone, don’t let a corporate road map of product releases sully the journey .