Doctor of Philosophy
Woodford, Paul G.
Mixing is an intermediary process within audio production wherein the aesthetic and technical qualities of musical compositions are further enhanced and refined. Most music perceived via audio-playback devices is mixed to sound a certain way. By understanding why recordings ‘sound’ how they do, musicians, music educators, and novice mixers can acquire a greater appreciation for mixing while considering how this process might affect their own performance practices (Hodgson 2019; Fisher, 1998). Knowing how and what to listen for when mixing is highly subjective, as people experience and describe sounds differently. Indeed, mixing is illusory as listeners are presented with an apparent single acoustic phenomenon (the mix) with all the sounds blended to complement one another to sound aesthetically pleasing.
This study introduces readers to a flexible music education learning framework involving principles, guidelines, and strategies which students and music educators of secondary and post-secondary levels may refer to when learning to mix. Such a framework outlines ways of listening, evaluating, and mixing sounds through reiterative decision-making processes. The researcher’s purpose of this study was to engage firsthand in mixing practice through autoethnography to experience, explore, and document the craft’s musical potentialities. One of the researcher's primary goals as a novice mixer was thus to make musical arrangements ‘sound better.’ It is what constitutes ‘better’ that makes studying mixing practice mysterious and highly subjective, although mixing processes also involve objective, numerical, and scientific values (i.e., Hertz frequencies, decibels, etc.).
Among the significant findings of the study were important insights into the elusive mixing goals of improving the ‘musicality’ of arrangements and exploring the skills and competencies necessary for students to learn how to mix with a technical and aesthetic mindset. Cultivating a sense of musicality within mixes is difficult, enigmatic, and an utmost mixing goal due to the lack of ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions and the accessibility of mixing tools. Beginners might be overwhelmed if not provided with a learning framework for mixing that includes helpful guidelines and possible strategies to make sense of what they see, hear, and can do musically.
Summary for Lay Audience
The music recording studio with its tools for crafting, curating, and refining records was long an isolated practice and the province of recording engineers. With advances in technology and growing accessibility, however, anyone with a personal computer, audio production hardware interface, and software (also known as digital audio workstations [DAWs]) can now record, arrange, edit, mix, and master their own audio recordings and music. Otherwise known as music mixing, this process of digital music making is increasingly found in school music programs as students seek to craft their own music via digital technologies. Yet music mixing remains a relatively recent interest among music education researchers (Bromham, 2017).
The researcher’s purpose of this study was to engage firsthand in mixing practice through autoethnography to experience and document the craft’s responsibilities and musical potentialities. As illuminated in the study, mixers critically listen, evaluate various sounds’ musical and sonic relationships, and ideally shape them to make musical arrangements sound technically and aesthetically better than they were. What makes the craft difficult and enigmatic is the lack of ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions to technical or aesthetic ideas. The mixer’s goal is to make musical arrangements ‘sound better.’ It is what constitutes ‘better’ that makes studying mixing practice mysterious and highly subjective, although the processes available use objective, numerical, and scientific values.
To explore mixing, the researcher used, experimented, and documented his actions with various mixing processes while attempting to improve musical arrangements. One of the significant outcomes was the generation of a music education learning framework outlining principles and guidelines for students’ mixing practice. Such a framework is flexible, as rigid parameters and guidelines allow little room for creative ingenuity, a vital trait for artistic mixing practices.
Mixing may provide students and music educators with a means which they can better appreciate recorded musical communication. Mixing is also an intermediary audio production process shaping how sounds are balanced against one another and are ultimately rendered to be heard as a single acoustic phenomenon, formally known as the mix. This process is both highly technical, and artistic.
Kapron, Artur, "Sound Judgements: Music Education Framework for Guiding Digital Mixing Practice" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9085.