Mike Senior Book Review: Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio

This is the second book that I bought for my home studio, and I have read it cover to cover more than a few times. The book continues to provide useful information and references and is always close by when I am working on a new mix.

Author : Mike Senior

Published : Focal Press ISBN: 978-0-240-81580-0

Williams Sound Studio Rating: A commendable 8.5 out of 10

Is Mike Senior’s ‘Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio’ a good read and worth the $40 price tag? Spread over 20 chapters with more than 320 pages of practical information, this book is most definitely worth the price tag. The book also contains a useful discography of mixing engineers in the appendix.

If you’ve got a copy of Roey Izhaki’s ‘Mixing Audio Concepts Practices and Tools,’ Mike Senior’s book is the perfect next step. (Read my review for Roey’s book here.) If you don’t have a copy, getting both would be a great way to start building your knowledge. The two books cover just about everything you need to get your home studio up and running.

Book Review of ‘Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio’ by Mike Senior

In Summary “Mixing Secrets” bridges the gap between professional studios and home studios. The book draws on the real-world experience Mike Senior’s work with major artists, including Reef and Wet Wet Wet, and his work with Sound on Sound’s “Mix Rescue,” in which Mike receives, reviews, and “rescues” home studio owner’s homebrewed recordings and productions.

“Mixing Secrets” joins up the dots for the modern, accessible world of the home music studio enthusiast. The book is helpful for those who aim to get radio-ready mixes that can compete with big-budget commercial studio releases. Mike does a great job of whittling down techniques and budgets to bare essentials and making the most effective use of cash and limited experience.

Assuming a basic understanding of audio and a DAW, the book quickly dives into a step-by-step walk-through of home studio mixing setup, techniques of preparation, processing, and finalizing. Each new chapter refers to previously presented explanations from earlier chapters, so it is recommended to work through the book chapter by chapter. That said, the book remains useful as a reference book after reading the whole thing.

Part 1: Hearing and Listening

In part 1, the emphasis is placed on the ability to accurately hear what is being mixed. Something that seems obvious once pointed out but is maybe not that obvious for a beginner. Mike also explains the importance of training yourself to listen effectively in a home studio environment.

The first few chapters of the book dig into monitor selection and setup, including room modes, acoustic treatment, and bass trapping. Mike also provides some unique ways to get around the more common problems of bass frequency reproduction in a home studio – one of my own ‘aha’ moments for sure was realizing how much I needed a decent set of headphones if I wanted to get the bass under control.

This section also includes a handy chapter on “Supplementary Monitoring”, something which is of considerable importance to the home studio enthusiast. This chapter provides invaluable insight into the problems home studio owners have that concern stereo imaging and phantom stereo. Overcoming the majority of these issues is swiftly dealt with the introduction of mono monitoring without any loudspeaker crossover circuitry. The conclusion, of course, resulting in consideration of such speaker units as the Aurotone 5C Super Sound Cube.

Read my article here “What Makes The Avantone Cubes So Special? Is It All Just Hype?” for a more thorough discussion on the advantages of mono monitoring.

Part 2: Mix Preparation

This section of the book is invaluable. Mike reveals that the typical home studio enthusiast is unlikely to have any professionally engineered and recorded tracks to work with, and therefore must rely on their own methods to raise the quality level of tracks to be mixed. Timing and tuning are looked at in-depth.

It would be nice to receive all recorded tracks for mixing in a polished and professional state. However, the reality for home studio owners is that tracks are either recorded or provided at sub-optimum levels. As a home studio owner, therefore, we must take on the unenviable task of putting things right as much as possible.

The amount of work needed for home-recorded and produced productions should not be underestimated. Mix preparation is far, far, away from the glamorous notions most of us have about mix engineering. But if you want your work to sound professional, this is an essential step, and Mike leaves no stone unturned when it comes to turning your tracks to potential streams of gold.

Part 3: Balance

Balance is arguably the most essential part of mixing. Part 3 of the book covers balance in-depth, from the perspective of a mix engineer without years and years of experience. Mike’s advice is simple; balance the mix logically and progressively. This section introduces compression, and EQ, and provides valuable know-how for home studio owners.

Perhaps the most useful part of this section is Chapter 9 “Compressing for a Reason,” which looks in detail at the uses of audio compressors for balancing tracks. Mike undertakes the challenge to dispel the confusion, for new engineers, about the purpose of using a compressor on a recorded track. The chapter provides details on deciding which tracks need compression and a step-by-step breakdown of the individual controls.

An equally valuable part of this section includes Chapter 11 “Equalizing for a Reason”, which provides much the same breakdown, as compression, for EQ processing.

The latter part of the section on Balance discusses the relationships between frequency and dynamics, and how to manage those. The section also provides some beneficial information on side chain processing.

Part 4: Sweetening to Taste

In the last section of the book, Mike turns his attentions to mixing effects. Reverb, delays, stereo enhancement, and the mix bus are discussed. The chapters reveal some insightful breakdowns of each effect. In particular, the section on reverb provides a keen look at the way this vital effect can be broken down into its constituent parts.

Chapter 16 provides an extremely useful breakdown of reverb into five significant elements; Blend, Size, Tone, Sustain, and Spread. Mike explains each of the five elements in detail and provides details how to separate each element, understand its function, and apply it to your own tracks.

On first read, personally speaking, this chapter was a little difficult to digest, and it did take me some time to set up five separate reverbs to understand the concepts. However, it was time well spent as it truly demystified the elements of the reverb processing, and the power of the processing.

Review Summary

In many respects, “Mixing Secrets” is an ambitious project. How can it be possible to produce material that suits real beginners, seasoned musicians moving into home recording, and those of us who have picked up a little technical knowledge but want to learn more? In truth, one book cannot provide the answers for every level of enthusiast. However, the book is rich with nuggets of information for all levels.

Some may find the text a little technical, but that is the nature of mixing, isn’t it? Don’t think you can get away with mixing at home without some exposure or technical stuff. After all, this IS a book about “Audio Engineering”.

If you are serious about learning this new craft, you don’t need to think too hard about whether you should purchase this book or not. Don’t be too misled with the word “Secrets” in the title of the book as this conjures ideas of “shortcuts” and “easy work,” which mixing certainly is not. The material does provide access to “must-have” technical know-how and can save you the price of the book in otherwise misguided purchases.

In summary, this book, coupled with “Mixing Audio” by Roey Izhaki, will fulfill the initial needs of anybody starting up their own home studio. Highly recommended that you have copy sitting on your shelf at home. WSS gives it a commendable 8.5/10.