One question I’m often asked is: How do you know when the mix is finished?
To be honest that is something that I’m still figuring out myself. For the most part I just try to eliminate all the issues that bother me, get the record to sound musical and move on. Trust me, I know it’s not easy to step away from a record sometimes but it has to be done. If you dwell on it for too long you can end up taking things too far and over mix it – that’s never good.
I don’t think of this subject as something that’s overly complicated but it did take me a while to get into a groove of being able to finish and move on. So this is just a short little article with a few tips that helped me finish my mixes so maybe they can help you.
1. Give Yourself a Deadline
Most projects will come with a deadline but there are times when you work with an artist and they aren’t sure when or if they are going to release the song. At this point you need to step up and create a deadline that way the project isn’t looming for months. It really is in both parties interest.
The topic of deadlines is something I’ve covered before, more specifically in my article 4 Ways to Overcome Growing Pains as a Mix Engineer. I feel this is truly an important step in the mixing process because it forces you to stay on task. If you only have a day to mix a record you can bet you are going to spend every waking moment trying to figure it out.
2. Quality Control
This is probably my saving grace and something that I support very strongly. I like having the artist, producer or whoever else give me feedback on the mix. This lets me know how I’ve done and how close I am to the finished project. Hopefully it’s close but sometimes you might have to make some adjustments to get it to there.
I call this process Quality Control because they catch those little details that I may have overlooked. It really is a sense of relief for me because once they listen to the record and approve that it sounds good, than that’s all I need. The fact that they are happy with the record means that my job is done and that’s what gives me my peace of mind.
If you aren’t working for a client because you are working on your own record, I would find someone who you trust. Pick someone who is musically inclined and knows a little something about the mixing process. Then give them your deadline and send them the record – ON TIME! Even though you produced the record try and stay humble when you get their feedback. I know it can be hard to hear negative criticism but if you don’t get past the mixing process, than no one will hear your record. But I guess if you don’t like criticism then maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know.
3. Limit Your Options
By having too many options we can become overwhelmed, putting ourselves into analysis paralysis. Let’s be honest, it’s nice to have 30 compressors but we don’t need that many. I’m using [maybe] 3 different compressors during a mix and more often than not, it’s probably 2.
This is even truer for when you are starting out. All the faders and knobs are exciting for a beginner because it’s all such a new experience. We are fascinated by the different choices and what we think they are doing to our records but the fact is, by having unlimited options, we don’t actually get to learn how any of our tools sound.
Learning your tools and what each one can do for your sound, will save you time and headaches down the road.
If you can’t decide on which EQ to use than how can you expect to ever finish a mix?
If you know the sound of an EQ then you can just grab the one that you know the best. After some time, once you have pushed your tools to the limit, you can start adding to the tool box. I think that is the easiest way to learn the sound of your tools – start with a few and slowly build up the catalogue.
There has even been books written about why too many choices is not a good thing but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
4. Know Your Limitations
This one I battle with from time to time; knowing how much you can push your mixes and not be disappointed when you A/B against some great soudning records. The reason why this one is so important to understand is because there are many factors that determine how good or how bad a mix is.
I’m a firm believer that tools don’t matter all that much though I know many will disagree. But I do think experience trumps everything.
How can you expect your mix to sound better than someone whose been mixing for 20 years? Especially when they are doing it 5-6 days a week and you are lucky to get 1 or 2 projects a week. It’s just not possible and it has nothing to do with tools because we can now [affordably] have the same tools as the best engineers in the game. It just takes time and practise to get to the same level as the elite engineers in the game.
Even Grammy Winning Engineer Lu Diaz admitted to me that he is completely in the box as of the past year. He thinks that we are now living in a time where you can get just as good a result inside the box as you can outside the box. I say cheers to that!
So if you can overcome the hurdle of not sounding quite as good as the best guys out there then you are on your way. At least you are humble enough to admit you have room to grow, which is the most important thing. Take it as a learning experience and move on because arrogance is definitely something that will impede your growth. As long as the client is happy than that’s all that matters.
There’s definitely no silver bullet but I think that experience and confidence will help you get those mixes finished promptly. It does take time but the day you mix a record, sit back and think to yourself “Wow, that actually sounds good” is probably the most rewarding feeling.
Let me know what you do to help you finish a mix and move on – Leave a Comment Below!