Nail the Mix – Instructing the Next Generation Part IIThursday, 20th April 2017
Read Part I HERE.
Dead Rhetoric: I wanted to bring that up – in doing some research and trying to find some questions, it seemed like most of the time it comes across that through Nail the Mix, you are being honest with people. Do you feel that honesty, with some established people being more cloak and dagger about it, has moved more people in your direction?
Wanasek: It’s definitely pissed a few peers off – I don’t want to say names or whatever, but like anything you do that is successful, it draws attention. Attention draws good and bad things. It’s definitely upset some people deeply, and they are not cool with what we are doing and make it public. They are pretty hostile about it.
On the other side of the equation is the insane amount of positivity that we get. By telling people “This mix is garbage, do it again…here’s why, here’s where you screwed up, and don’t get upset about it.” It’s reality. All of the baddest, meanest, toughest mentors I had coming up were always the best ones. I wanted to kill them at the time, with my bare hands from anger and frustration, but man, those guys knew how to push to make me a much better and much more effective person. I feel like you need that person in your life that says “you know what, you might think this is good enough but I’m here to tell you that it’s shit.” By me being honest with you, I’m telling you something that no one is going to tell you to your face and it’s going to make you better. You need to hear that, because you get to the point that I can tell you that it’s great, and you better believe that it’s going to be great. I feel like people like that.
Again, it’s not for everyone, but most people realize that we do this out of love. If we are ever harsh or tough or strict on you, it’s because we care. We want you to be great. It’s just like when you are working with an artist. An artist comes into the studio, and you are like, listen…your vocals suck. You aren’t going to be a generational star that the whole world embraces, you aren’t that frontman with that kind of singing. So why don’t you start singing like this and do the work? You can get mad at me and tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, or you can sit down, go train, and come back and show me that I’m wrong and that you have what it takes. Most people react well to that.
Levi: I think that what’s funny is that when we first started doing these MixCrits, we were all really cautious. We were a lot more cautious than we are now, because we weren’t sure how it was going to be interpreted. It’s not that we were dishonest, but we sugar-coated things a little more at the beginning. It was more filtered and PC, and what we realized over time was that the more to the point we were, the more people thanked us for our critiques. Including the people being critiqued. You’d think that they would be offended, but we’ve got them hitting us up on Messenger or emailing us to thank us for how brutally we took their mix apart, because then they knew what was wrong with it and went and corrected it. No one else in their lives was telling them to fix it like that. Everyone else said it was okay, but we came along and said, “fuck that, you’ve got to re-think your approach here buddy.” They appreciate it.
Wanasek: At the end of the day, you’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say listen, no matter what you do, at any level that takes any notice, you are going to be criticized, and there are going to be people that vehemently disagree with you and will let you know. But at the end of the day, you have to do what you believe in your heart is right and you know is right, and that produces results. That’s what matters. It’s an issue of integrity and principle. If you believe it and you know it’s the right thing, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t do it. Sometimes somebody needs to tell someone else that they are self-deluding themselves. If you keep on this path, you are never going to make it. You need to do this, this and this – you can’t just walk around and go down this path or you will fail. Maybe that’s what you need to do. You tell the kid and they are all wide-eyed and they are like, that’s really brutal. But deep down they know you are right and then they listen and they come back in a couple of months.
When I used to build bands and develop local artists and get them signed – they would come into the studio I would just savage them and teach them, and show them why they were wrong, what they were doing, and what they needed to do. The ones that listened, they all got signed…a few even to major labels. The ones that didn’t listen, they aren’t doing anything right now. Our subscribers understand…they know. For us, it’s worth it to have maybe 98% of them be like, “hell yeah” and make 2% that can’t handle it be upset about it. You can’t please everybody all the time.
Dead Rhetoric: And if they are that unhappy about it, they can always just, not subscribe anymore…
Levi: There’s always that option…we aren’t holding up [Nail the Mix] to anyone’s head. Also, not on the topic of MIxCrits, but everything we are doing – we have gotten so much positive response just for what we do with Nail the Mix, and with our FastTrack videos as well. Just giving people so much information at such a high level, delivered in such a serious format…it’s not really something that’s done in our genre. In fact, I don’t know of anyone else in our genre that does it besides maybe one person. People are very appreciative.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s a lot of information that you are sharing, and people are really gravitating towards that. On the other side of the coin, what do you feel people [in general] take for granted about music mixing?
Wanasek: Mixing is an art, and like any art, to become great at it, you have to put your time in. Malcolm Gladwell – you need your 10,000 hours. In music, it’s probably 15,000-20,000 [laughs]. Maybe even more. The reality is that it takes work, and this is maybe something that is a societal trend. A lot of people like to walk around and talk big – this is a big music industry thing especially. Think about unsigned bands – they love to talk big and “fake it ‘til you make it,” I get it. They like to talk about how hard they work and how much they want it. But the real question is, “do they put in the work?” How much do they really want it? What are they doing versus what are they saying? A lot of people are like, “oh yeah, I want to become an audio engineer or mixer,” but in reality, a lot of people, I feel, don’t want to put in the work.
This is an industry of passion. It’s like the artist in the park. You go up to him and ask him to paint a picture. He spends one minute doing it and charges you $100. You are like, “what the hell, you spent one minute on that.” But it’s one-minute and 20 years – you have to get to that level of mastery where it’s just intrinsic and you don’t need to think about it. We are always emphasizing that this is real work and needs to be taken very seriously. And that’s not for everybody. Ratcheting that down from the careerists – the people in the middle that are just in a band and want to get their demos not sounding like crap, or songwriters who are just trying to get a passable mix so that they can get their song cut by an artist and remixed by an actual mixer. There’s a lot of other people in the industry that find value in this.
Levi: On the topic of what do they take for granted, I just want to add, that with our subscribers, it’s sometimes easy to forget when you are watching Nail the Mix that you might see the mix come together in a few hours, but you are watching sometimes decades of work, so they make it look easy, much like the way Gordon Ramsey makes it look easy when he takes 5 ingredients together and makes a 3-Michelin star dish. Then you try it and good luck!
Wanasek: This isn’t everybody, but the growth with Nail the Mix has ratcheted up so high that we’ve gotten so many awesome artists, especially in the last 2 quarters. I think some of these guys are getting a little bit spoiled by it. They are complaining about some stupid stuff that doesn’t matter…like a typo on a page. It’s like, you just got to watch a guy mix a number one, who wrote the song, produced it, and sang background vocals and you are concerned about what compressing plug-in he used on vocals. Where are your priorities [laughs]? That’s another thing that definitely falls under that category…I get it, it’s human nature. When you first discover something, it’s new and exciting. Then you start to take it for granted. It’s like being married or being in a long-term relationship. The love affair wears off and then it’s reality and you kind of get used to it, and feel you don’t need to try as hard.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you decide which guest you are going to feature each month?
Levi: The thing is – it takes a lot of work to get the guests together. We aren’t just coordinating with the guest, but their label and publishing, and it’s a whole process. Really, we are only talking to a few people at a time. There’s not a huge amount of guests to pick from. It’s not like there are 100,000 people out there to choose from. At the top, there’s maybe 50 people. Scheduling them, and figuring out who we are going to go with is not that hard. We just think about who is great, and we try to find them. Who is great, who has done records that people care about? Who has a unique take on mixing? Who has done stuff that impacts audio in a great way? How do I find that person, and let’s see if they are into it and start talking. Just because people are so busy, and have their own careers going, it’s not that difficult to figure out when we are going to do it. In general, we have a pretty high bar for who we want coming on. Where we set our bar is what defines how hard or easy it is to get people on.
Wanasek: Most people are pretty receptive to it. You get a few that are old school and are like, no way. The vast majority have been embracing the whole idea and concept. They realize that giving back to the community and taking what they have learned and teaching it – no one is going to steal their job in the next 20 years. By giving back, they are getting something out of it. Our community has been so incredible at supporting these guys and expressing their gratitude toward them so that when they come off Nail the Mix they almost feel like a mixing rock star. Everyone is just so positive towards them and so thankful and grateful. These guys know that they are doing a great thing, and of course, they are getting paid for it…it’s a nice check and convenient for them and it’s fun. It’s an easy gig. It’s like, “here, mix a song that you’ve already mixed, that is already done well. You don’t have to get it past the A&R or the band, you don’t have to do any revisions on it. All I need is 6-8 hours of your time on a Saturday afternoon. We’ll fly to you and do everything. All you have to do is hang out and be you on camera and answer questions.” They are like, “this is sweet.”
Dead Rhetoric: How has changes in the industry affected your side of doing things? Most of my interviews have focused on the changes for the band’s side of the table and I’m curious to hear your perspective.
Levi: The same way that there are more bands than ever…a crazy amount of bands compared to when I was starting up. Just because when I was starting up there was no such thing as Guitar Center, or the Internet. You had to jump through way more hoops to get a band going. Nowadays anyone can start a band. By that same token, nowadays, anyone can get a DAW and start a studio, or “studio.” The barrier to entry is far lower than it has ever been. But also, on the flip side, the access to instruction, before we came around, was a lot lower. So you have this flood in the market of entry level producers, and for a lot of bands who are also entry level, it makes more sense, in their eyes, to go with their friend, who will do it for free…than it does to go pay a studio or producer, who will charge way more. I think that we have all definitely seen and experienced that.
That filters all the way up to bigger bands. This has been going on for so long that the bigger bands all have guys who have their own DAWs, because the trend started about ten years ago. It’s now totally normal for a bigger band to hire a producer to do the drums, then they go home and record the guitars themselves and maybe the vocals, then they hire someone better than them to mix. So yeah, that has equaled less money for producers. But that said, I did perfectly fine financially when I was doing this full-time, just like you have Joel.
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