Bobby Owsinski Book Review: The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook

I really consider Bobby’s Handbook to be two books in one. Everything you need to know about getting started with mixing is there, along with a whole host of interviews with the world’s most prestigious music engineers and producers. From cover to cover, this book provides at least one gem on every single page.

Author : Bobby Owsinski

Published : BOMG Publishing ISBN: 978-0-9888391-8-2

Williams Sound Studio Rating: A worthy 8.0 out of 10

Book Review of ‘The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook’ by Bobby Owsinski

The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook is well organized and provides readers with a logical step-by-step guide of mixing. The writing itself is not as sharp as Roey Izhaki or Mike Senior’s books but nonetheless faithfully delivers what it promises in the title.

The book is split into two parts. Part one extensively covers mixing technique - everything from mix arrangement to quadraphonic four-channel sound fields. Part two contains twenty-five interviews with the music industry’s “most wanted” engineers, mixers, and producers. The back of the book includes a useful glossary of terms and are tabulated reference of BPM/note delay values.

Split into 12 chapters, part one takes the reader through the most conceivable aspect of mixing, giving some background to the art of mixing. And through the critical steps of preparation, balance, sound staging, and effects processing.  Part one concludes with a concise roundup of mix finalization, mastering, and commercial release.

Some readers may conclude that the subjects are too detailed in many areas and not accurate enough in others. These readers miss the point, I think. Bobby is presenting ideas and referencing real-world examples and real professional's experience in specific areas of mixing to show readers what is possible and what has been done in the past.

Every mixing situation is different, and therefore just copying existing successes will not necessarily turn your own productions into masterpieces. We are, rightly, encouraged to focus on the ideas, not the details. But to be honest, this book provides both in stacks!

Mixing Techniques

Bobby kicks the book off with a very thought-provoking background chapter about the evolution of mixing. The section reminds us that great records made in the past have been produced and released using technically less superior equipment from what is available, even in a home studio, today. Just because we have access to some first-class resources, it does not mean that we are immediately capable of producing a masterpiece first time round.

The first part of the chapter also provides a refreshing perspective on mixing styles. There are a few pages dedicated to The New York Style, The LA Style, The London Style, The Nashville Style, along with the growing homogenization of regional and global mixing and working styles.

The next part of the book looks at monitoring and the listening environment. If you’ve already read Mike Senior’s book, you will already be familiar with the subject. A lot of the topics crossover, however, Bobby offers some interesting tips and considerations for those looking to purchase their first set of monitors.

The same chapter provides information for basic monitor setup (distances between speakers, the distance to the listener, and the equilateral triangle check). Basic instructions are also provided for mounting, speaker decoupling using an isolation pad, and speaker parameter controls. The chapter also provides a short section on Headphones Mixing, Listening Volumes, and Listening Techniques.

Part one of the book goes on to cover Mix Preparation, Workflow, Approaching a Mix, Balance, Stereo Sound Fields, Equalisation, and Adding Effects. Each section is well covered, providing adequate depth, and real-world examples.

Chapter 9 provides 20-odd pages on compression. Types of compressors, settings, and the application of dynamic control on common instruments found in a modern mix. Compression is, probably, the most challenging thing to understand on the mixing journey, and the pages in chapter 9 keep the subject under wraps by making the exclamations clear and straightforward.

Following a thorough review of parallel compression and New York compression Bobby reveals his insights for drum, kick and snare, room microphones, vocals, loops, the mix bus, along with various techniques for individual recorded tracks. The snare, kick, room, bass, vocals, piano, and guitar are explained alongside some of the relevant interview excerpts from some top mix engineers.

What is the difference between a good mix and a great one? We all strive to perfect the technical details and engineering aspects while recording, tracking, mixing, and mastering our work. But technical ability alone will not guarantee a truly great result. Instead, we must think about technical expertise plus our ability to add, maintain, and invoke interest throughout a piece of music.

As Bobby rightly states, “an interesting mix is all in the details,” and Chapter 10 of the book supplies some great suggestions to invoke and maintain interest in a mix. When considering the genre and style of the music, it is crucial to decide on a “direction” for the song.

Likewise, developing a groove and emphasizing vital elements of the song provide ways of stopping the music from becoming boring or repetitive. The chapter concludes with an extensive and useful checklist, “Fifteen Steps to a Better Mix” (you’ll need to get hold of the book to find out what the 15 steps are!).

Read chapter 10 in conjunction with Roey Izhaki’s section on emotion, and you won’t go far wrong.

Chapter 12 provides a practical eight-step checklist to help you decide if your mix is ready for release. It is often difficult for new home studio owners to judge if their work is complete - especially as we seem to have “unlimited” time to keep polishing away on our mixes. Very often, we need that line in the sand, and the eight checks certainly help with the decision-making.

Part 2: Interviews

Some online reviews of this book criticize Bobby for asking the same questions in all of the twenty-five interviews. Personally, I like the result and the ability to be able to compare how all of these world-class producers and engineers approach and think about mixing. The interviews really show how diverse mixing can be, and that technical ability is not the be-all and end-all of producing quality work.

The interview answers provide a great resource and knowledge of how modern-day mixing is being done in the real world. Insight is given into the trends, and split between working in a purely analog environment and working “in the box.”

If you are interested in finding out how long it typically takes for professionals to mix a track, the interview section gives some fantastic replies. Don’t be too dismayed though when you hear that some mixes can do eighty percent of their work in under two hours!

While all of the interviews are fun, educational, and relatable, the interviews with Greg Penny, Dave Pensado, and Ed Seay particularly stood out for me. Each interview is only a few pages long so they always make good reading material when you have a spare five or ten minutes.

Review Summary

On its own, this book could be useful to most people, but combined with Roey Izhaki’s “Mixing Audio Concepts Practices and Tools,” and Mike Senior’s “Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio,” all three books cover every aspect of running your own home studio you need for years to come.

Education is usually best done by approaching new subjects in a number of ways, from different perspectives. Especially topics that are either technically demanding or conceptual. Keep Bobby, Mike, and Roey close at hand, and you will always have something to relate back to when there is a problem to fix or process to carry out.