Why I Mix Using Physical Faders

In Mix tipsby Blake Eiseman

I started on a new mix today, as I’ve done thousands of times before. As I started pulling up the faders for the first time (yeah, real faders) I started thinking about how much I really like using real hardware faders when I mix a song. There really is no substitute. Being a “mouse jockey” just doesn’t cut it for me.

Let me explain. I come from the days before DAWs, when we used actual analog tape and those huge, beautiful, heat-producing, awesome analog consoles. Yeah, that might make me seem ancient, but I really appreciate the fact that I learned on that equipment, and “grew up” along with digital audio. It really gave me an appreciation for what we’re actually doing here, and how it came to be.

But I digress.

Building an initial mix. Fast.

When I’m building a mix, I like to work fast. Not that it’s a race, by any means. I’m talking about that initial first pass, when I’m just pulling up faders and hearing the song for the first time. The faster I work, the more I connect with the song, in a visceral sense. I tend to not think about it, and just let my instincts take over. That initial phase is very important for me to feel the song, and let it guide me.

If I’m mixing with a mouse, that initial phase is all but impossible. Have you ever seen someone trying to mix with a mouse? There’s a lot of squinting, grunting, and sometimes cursing. And it takes for…ev…er. No thanks, that’s not for me.

The long road to here

I’ve gone through several different phases of my career as a mix engineer. At first, when they dragged me away from those beautiful SSL and Neve consoles, I felt lost. And I get how digital is so much better in so many ways, I’m not here to beat that dead horse. So I did my best with my little mouse and computer screen, looking at volume automation lanes, highlighting region by region and clicking and dragging to try and get the mix into shape, and yeah, grunting and cursing a lot throughout the process.

Then I discovered that I could, in a sense, have the best of both worlds. I started out with a Presonus Faderport, which was really cool and served its purpose for the time. And if you’re starting out and looking for an inexpensive, easy-to-use hardware fader, I highly recommend it. But of course it only has one fader, so it works best for vocal rides and the like, rather than building a mix and controlling several channels at once.

Eventually I landed at a job as head engineer at a studio, and we installed an ICON D-Control. Suddenly I had 32 faders at my disposal. I was able to bank through the entire session, put any channel right in front of the mix position, and move around the session at will. The whole song was right at my fingertips, and I almost felt like I was back working on an analog console. It was awesome.

Bringing it home again

When it came time to set up my own mix room, I did a lot of research, and finally decided on the AVID Artist series. And I couldn’t be happier. I have 3 Artist Mix units, and one Artist Control. This gives me a transport, a touch screen for effects, and 28 physical faders to allow me to mix by grabbing faders, instead of a mouse.

And earlier today, using those faders, I was able to save several hours mixing this song, and it sounds awesome. What did I do with that extra time I saved? Well, you’re reading it.