How To Know When To Stop Mixing (And Not Kill Your Tracks)

2015 Jun 01, 2015

How you start and end a mix can have a profound affect on the quality of the final product.

And while I talk a good bit about the smartest ways to start your mix I tend to get the continual question: “How do I know when my mix is finished?”

Today let me give you two simple ways to know when to stop mixing – so you don’t end up over-mixing and destroying all your hard work.


Via Andrew Hurley Flickr

What Is Still Sticking Out?

The whole idea with mixing is simply trying to balance your recorded tracks and present them in a way that has impact and musicality so it connects with the listener.

That’s it.

One way to know when you still haven’t accomplished that (i.e. you’re not finished with the mix) is if something is still sticking out of the mix and bothering you.

It could be a track that is too loud (or too quiet) for a moment in the song and you notice it every time it comes around.

It could be harsh frequency that still sticks out even though you’ve done some basic EQ.

It could simply be the transition from the verse to the chorus is boring, and it bothers you every time the chorus hits.

These are all examples of elements in a mix that are sticking out and saying to you “Fix me, I’m not right!”

Your goal is to simply address what is irritating you or continually catching your attention in a negative way. When there seems to be nothing else sticking out, you’re likely at the end of your mix.

The Head Bobbing Test

Here’s another non-technical method for you; You know the mix is finished (or close too it) when you find yourself bobbing your head to the beat of the song.

Or when you’re singing along to the lyrics or dancing a little bit in your chair.

The idea here is simple but profound: if YOU no longer “hear” the mix and instead hear the song, then the same will be true for the listener.

Which means you have completed your mix.

Because isn’t that the entire goal of mixing?

To put all these recorded tracks together in such a way that you can present a completed song to the listener, who then can enjoy the song?

Your goal is not to make a great mix (where people will say “Wow, what a great mix this is!”), but rather to help the song come through so people hear it and only it.

Ironically, we are so overly critical of our own work and afraid of delivering a bad mix that we have a hard time objectively listening as a music fan would listen.

So the moment that you actually find yourself bobbing your head or getting into the song, you know you’re close to finishing. You’re starting to hear the song, not the mix.

This Isn’t A Precise Science

There you go: the two big ways you can know if you’re finished with your mix.

Not technical or precise enough for you?

That’s the thing.

This entire music making process (whether recording or mixing) is not really a technical endeavor. It’s an artistic one, that simply uses technical tools to help in the process.

There is no formula that says X+Y+Z=Awesome Mix. Just the subjective feeling that the song is now a song, and no longer a combination of disjointed multi-tracks.

I wish I could give you something more tangible to measure, but I can’t. Mixing is an art, and one that you get better at over time.

If you look for these two clues you will have a much better idea of when to stop mixing and call it quits. And you’ll be able to do it with more confidence that the mix truly is finished.

If you miss these clues, you’ll end up “going past the mix” as Mixerman would say and doing more harm than good.

Now I want to hear from you. Answer these two questions below:

  1. Have you ever “over mixed” a song and known it?
  2. How do YOU know when your mix is finished? What signs do you look for?

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