Review | Sound On Sound Magazine

The world is certainly not short of books on the subject of mixing and music production — so it now takes a pretty special one for me to persevere with reading it to the point that I feel able to write a review! It has not only to deliver technical information and to get the facts right, but also to inspire me, to open my mind to new ideas and techniques, and to make me consider my own approach to mixing. Hopefully it will also help me get better at mixing too, because otherwise… well, why bother?

Happily, Wessel Oltheten’s Mixing With Impact — Learning To Make Musical Choices (Routledge/Focal Press; ISBN-10: 1138080896) is just such a book. The author is both an engineer with some impressive credits and a professional educator (he is a lecturer in Audio Engineering at the Utrecht University of the Arts), and the book is available in both English and Dutch. I first encountered Wessel when he pitched some ideas for tutorial articles to SOS, and hopefully you’ll see some of those in these pages before too long. In the meantime, let me explain just what it is I like about Mixing With Impact.

Inevitably, any title that explores this subject must cover ground that’s been gone over countless times by other writers, and all the usual themes are covered here: setting up your listening environment, understanding how EQ, compression and reverb work, how stereo sound works, demystifying decibels, appreciating gain structure when moving between the analogue and digital worlds, and so forth. But Wessel manages to do this in a way that isn’t at all stuffy or boring. Partly that’s because you get the impression that he has thought long and hard about how he wants to convey this information, but also because he makes great use of simple analogies and clear, colour diagrams to get his points across.

What’s most engaging about Mixing With Impact, though, is most succinctly conveyed by its subtitle: Learning How To Make Musical Choices. Throughout the book, Wessel maintains a relentless focus on the importance of decision making in mixing and the wider musical goals your decisions must serve if you’re to deliver exciting, engaging mixes that are appropriate for the song. In other words, he makes a huge effort to get across the why and the when, as well as the how of different mixing techniques. For example, when exploring the subject of EQ quite early on in the book, he does of course describe how to use EQ, but there’s also some very detailed consideration of what musical role you might want different sources to play in a mix, of how to figure out whether a cut or a boost will best deliver what you want to achieve, and of the way sounds in a mix mask each other and how you can figure out where those problems lie — and then how to tackle them. There’s also discussion of how EQ interacts with dynamics processors, and when it might be a good plan to reach for a different tool than EQ to shape a sound or solve a mix problem such as a sound that seems to disappear. There really isn’t space here to list the full contents of this book — you can find more details on his website, along with some useful videos — but suffice it to say that the chapters exploring other topics are all as thoughtfully constructed as this one, and that I finished the book without feeling there were any obvious gaps.

One refreshing thing about Mixing With Impact is that Wessel never comes across as someone with an ego, or who is trying to demonstrate their encyclopaedic knowledge of specific pieces of gear — though I nevertheless emerged from reading his book with the firm impression that he has such knowledge. On occasion he does consider specific tools, of course (for example, when comparing the shape of the attack curves of specific API, SSL and Rupert Neve Designs compressors), but such discussions are always subsidiary to a more general point about understanding the gear at your disposal, and figuring out what tool may/may not help you achieve a result you have in mind.

All in all, then, Mixing With Impact‘s 350 pages are packed with useful ideas, up-to-date, well-marshalled information, and great conceptual explanations backed up with lots of useful diagrams. It should help anyone with an open mind, be they seasoned pros or aspiring engineers taking their first tentative steps into the world of mixing, to reflect on and improve their own way of working. And in common with my other favourite audio-production books, it’s definitely not a read-once-and-discard affair, but something I know I’ll find myself dipping into time and time again.

Matt Houghton, Sound On Sound

Read the original review at Sound on Sound.