It may sound obvious but with more and more information presented graphically, we can easily get tied up in the settings and the numbers of a setting or the look of an edit.
You Cannot Be Serious!
Have you ever opened up a mix done by someone else and taken a look at their settings? You open up the vocal and you see there's a 12db boost at a frequency you'd never normally use. You start to think to yourself, does this person not know the best frequency for pushing vocals up in a mix? You then look at the settings for the compressors, the gates, the reverbs and you see that there is a reverb is running in mono - is this person insane?
Yes there are some fundamentals that can help us when dealing with sound, you'd certainly not get much top end in a vocal by boosting 30Hz, or miss the transients on a kick because the attack on the compressor is set too slow.
Numbers Do Matter Sometimes
There are also some things where we do need to take notice of the numbers. For example, in post there's the issue of loudness that requires precise data being seen by the mixer, but even then, with a well calibrated monitoring system, people can mix in spec by just trusting their ears, so that if it sounds too loud it is too loud and if it sounds too quiet then it is too quiet. When it comes to digital headroom we do need to pay attention to the gain meters so we don't end up with digital clipping. So numbers matter when we have to deliver to a specification.
You Can Deceive Your Ears Too
How many times have you tweaked the EQ on a channel and agreed it sounds better, only to subsequently notice that the EQ was in bypass, or tweaked the EQ on an adjacent channel and the client has said "that's much better" and then you realise that you have been adjusting the EQ on the wrong channel, so our eyes do matter to.
Skeuomorphic Design, Friend Or Foe?
Skeuomorphic design in modern plug-ins is there to help us assimilate ourselves with the original hardware units, however what Russ has found as the owner of some of the hardware the plug-ins emulate is that when he uses the hardware, he rarely uses his eyes, he simply grabs the knob and move things it until it sounds right. However it's hard to do that when the GUI is the only thing you have to work with, you have to look at the GUI, unless of course you have a hardware control surface.
Many of us mix in the box these days and use plug-ins but if we're not careful we get seduced by their GUI, we pay attention to the numbers on the dials and think we couldn't possibly boost that frequency by that amount. Or we think that's a lot of compression and the attack time is far too fast, almost mixing by numbers.
When Editing Don't Forget To Use Your Ears
When editing the number of times Mike still hears an edit because he can see the clip boundary on his Pro Tools timeline. So he will shut his eyes to check whether the edit does work or not. If he cannot hear the crossing points then it's fine.
So Trust Your Ears
The listener won't have Pro Tools open in front of them, they will just listen to the result of our mixes. There's a mantra that goes 'if it sounds right then it is right' and we don't think you can go far wrong with that thinking. So if you've got a great sounding mix but all the settings look wrong then trust your ears - when it comes to sound that's the sense that really counts.