Originally Posted by Miharbi
For most products and services, the law of diminishing returns applies. A $300 bottle of wine isn't much, if any, better than a $50 bottle of wine. You can only make a sofa so comfortable. What a Harvard student (vs, say, a Uconn or Clemson student) pays a premium for is not educational benefits. A Bic writes just as well as an expensive pen. You don't gain much by getting the priciest candle on the market. And so on.
I get suspicious when I hear talk of "great" or "brilliant" mixing engineers, and people venerating the renowned ones as if what they had was some kind of rare talent. It's a skill, to be sure, and a craft, and it takes a fair bit of artistic sensitivity. But it's closer to, say, illustrating as a vocation than other endeavors where "great" and "brilliant" might be more apt descriptors. Give 100 experienced illustrators the task of drawing a bear, and you'll probably get 100 well-drawn bears. Some of the bears might suit your tastes better than others, but all the illustrators probably would've been equal to the task, and it would make little sense to try to rank the bears in terms of quality. Same with mixing, I think. Mixing has quickly diminishing returns. It's a skill measured by competence more than by ingenuity. There are definitely bad mixes to be heard out there, but above a certain threshold, virtually all better/worse distinctions disappear. And that threshold is lower than we might think.
Factors that support this view -
1) Music is an art. So that we must always consider the possibility that what sounds like a poor mixing choice was merely an unusual artistic choice - and the possibility that a mixing miscalculation can be seen as a happy artistic accident.
2) The mix is a type of medium, and we soon forget about the medium. Two minutes into a great movie, you've already forgotten about what TV or device you're watching it on. Color film was a fine innovation, but did anyone care that "Casablanca" lacked color? Even the horrible fidelity of Skip James's early recordings isn't enough to stop us from enjoying those recordings. The point is, when we listen to music, we listen to the substance - the arrangement, the performance, rhythm, lyrics, melody, chords - not the mix. As long as the mix is ~good enough~, we quickly forget about it.
3) Playback systems for recorded music vary so widely that the purity of a finely wrought mix doesn't translate to the real world anyway. Digital file compression takes its toll too.
(Same approach goes for gear, too, I'd say. Mics, preamps, converters - above a certain threshold, there's difference, but no better and no worse. And it's a lower threshold than we might think.)
I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to disagree with this post on several levels.
But I want to start backward as to why, so we'll start with crushing your third point. 03. 128KBITS, PLAYBACK SYSTEMS AND OTHER GEAR:
There is a reason why professional mixing and mastering engineers use multiple systems and sets of speakers in order to reference a mix.
If you can get a "picture" (image) to translate over and over, despite differences in a wide range of systems, your "Photo" (mix) will reproduce much more accurately no matter what hyping is occurring due to differences in speaker technology, make and model.
I mix with three sets of speakers, near-fields with a sub, mid fields and some shitty computer speakers with a sub lately. Only when I feel I'm generally getting the same vibe out of all three and that no matter how high I turn up my treble on my computer speakers that things still feel musical, only then mind you, is when I take my mix through my stereo, cell phone via MP3, my car and my computer speakers in my lap top.
When I know a master feels accurate on all systems. I push bass in the car all the way up until it's unmusical, go back and tune my bass until it finally feels musical in the car no matter how hard I push things...and after that I know I'm done because I'll have measured RMS and Peak Volume levels to make sure I'm within the parameters of broadcasting standards without crushing things to a terrible and over-limited volume levels clipping digital zero that the CD's of the previous decade were essentially forced into by people following crappy trends.
As for preamps, mics, and other gear, there are certainly better builds, models and makes that many feel stand the test of time, and clones and so forth that get you close if not essentially there.
But then there's terrible sub-par pieces of plastic that really have no business near a real recording.
You need a decent set of tools you understand how to use in order to finish the work right, if you've never really had a lot of experience using a lot of tools and you aren't familiar with drastic night and day qualities of say a good vintage Neve Pre vs a Presonus anything for example, then a statement like yours becomes something understandable. You just don't know what the real things sound like.
Lastly, digital MP3 compression is terrible, but there are ways to maximize your fidelity enough to compensate for the loss.
Hell tracks cut to tape aren't at the highest possible recording resolutions either and we love how old LP's feel on a turntable.
Listen to Jack White's new LP "Blunderbuss" on MP3 and tell me he didn't engineer something special artfully that really covers his bases on getting through the higher res copies of the record vibe and such. 02. Mixing is a medium, but "disposable" mixes usually kill something special quickly. If something feels flat, uninspired...boring. Well...than it is boring. Lets call a spade a spade.
Sorry, we're merchants of emotion man, we're trying to augment the intention of the music and impart our fingerprints on the scene of the crime of the century. The goal of every pro with true talent in this business is to have a unique sound that delivers on all those counts every time. A voice as distinct as the artist's in question. That's why so few ever really get to do things full time as a living.
There are fantastic pros who raised the bar that post on this forum or at least read it, and they don't have to brag, the sales, the fans, and the people who try to learn from them by studying their recordings are enough to prove that talent is not a myth or a construct.
Training your ears for the Olympics is tough, and not everyone gets to compete, but that doesn't mean I'm ever going to quit. Recordings that literally make you as a listener get lost in their engineering tend to feel alive in a manner people who take this stuff seriously always aspire to achieve. 01. Pushing boundaries and using what is available to you in order to get the best recording you can, (something unique that truly is special that has a commercial market in music) is what everyone who's working their way up to being a top level pro has to do in order to get noticed.
You can be a charming dude people love to hang out with, but that doesn't mean you make a recording that truly feels like it should be a hit record with the majority of people who chance upon listening to it. (And I mean "hit" in sense that people want to buy it and support it, not in the old radio sense)
You can do amazing things and learn a lot quickly with a small home studio and the internet, but that doesn't mean people will buy your records in mass quantities. Making superior products with skilled professionals is often the only sane choice in order to secure advertising funding for a product from investors or label groups.
This is never an easy business, and it takes years to develop an ear, even if you're talented naturally. So I really don't agree with anything you've said. I just know that pairing up with people who don't deserve to be paid never leads to a pro product you can release and promote.
That being said a great engineer might take more time with a small budget and few resources to get to a competitive and wonderful sounding place with a project than someone with a lot of toys, no work experience, and nothing unique about their end-game sound. But they will deliver something that takes on it's own life musically in the end because they live and die by the sword.
Gordan Raphael in particular comes to mind this case with "Is This It" by the Strokes, but there are many cases of great records being done with less.
It's the driver, not the car, but the car has to be in good enough condition to make it around the track.