There is one ultimate arbiter of whether a mix is good or bad – the buying public. If they buy, then the mix must be good. If they don't buy, well there's something they don't like about the product and it might be the mix.
The problem is that other than holding focus group sessions (does anyone do that?), there is no way of telling what the public likes until the product is released. So someone earlier in the chain must decide whether the mix is good. So who?
Well let's consider the chain of record production. It goes like this…
- Arranger (possibly)
- Mix engineer
- A&R Manager
- A&R Director
- Marketing department
- Buying Public
Well let's start with who doesn't get a say in the acceptance of a mix. If you are a songwriter, then unfortunately you fall into this group, unless you have an additional role elsewhere in the list. Think of the money though. 9.1 cents per track. Wayhey!
If you're the arranger then you will get paid, watch the record go on to sell millions of copies, and wonder why you don't get royalities on the clever countermelody you wrote in, which is actually why people are buying the song. No say in the mix I'm afraid, you're already slaving away on your next job.
As an artist things look better. As a recent graduate of American Idol or The X Factor you will have no say in anything. You'll do as you are told or be dropped. But when you have established your career, you will find that your say is increasingly respected.
Now, the producer. In the 'olden days' of recording, the producer had pretty much the final word, although they might have to argue their case through A&R. But now it is normal that the mix engineer will take over when the recording phase is complete. The producer will hope to see their work take wings and hear in the finished mix everything they could possibly have imagined, and more. And if they don't like the mix, well a producer with an established reputation should have the power to say, “Let's go back to the faders guys.”
Ultimate power of course lies with the person signing the checks, and that, literally or effectively, is the A&R Director (or a senior A&R Manager) of the record label. He's the guy who has to be totally blown away by the mix. It doesn't matter if everyone else likes a mix, if the A&R Director doesn't think it's as great as it needs to be then it will have to be reworked, or re-done. Or given to a different mix engineer.
So to sum up, although the A&R Director is the ultimate client, any mix has to please a number of key people. The combination of all of their knowledge, skill and experience will – hopefully – guarantee that the track is a hit.
This article was inspired by Zen and the Art of Mixing by Mixerman, who has blown away so many artists, producers and A&R directors in his time that he now ties them down first.