The Art Of Walking Away

2012 Oct 26, 2012

Sometimes the best thing you can in the studio is leave. Just walk away. Whether you’re days deep into a big label project at a studio or doing some weekend warrior mixing, we all can lose perspective quickly. Things start to sound bad. We freak out. We start making bad decisions and changes in the name of “fixing” the mix. It usually doesn’t help. Sometimes we simply need to stop. Hit the “save” button, and step out for a while.


Via Stuart Heath Flickr

Better Than You Think You Are

The other day I was mixing a tune for next month’s Dueling Mixes battle. It seemed to be coming along well at first. I was perhaps 70% of the way into the mix. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the mix fell apart. Everything sounded flat and uninteresting. I began to question just about every EQ and compression move I had made up to this point. Not a fun feeling. Because I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m failing at something, I stopped. I did something else for the rest of the day.
Initially this was done out of pride and procrastination. I was afraid of not actually delivering a good mix. Afraid that perhaps I wasn’t any good after all. (On a side note, it’s amazing just how quickly I can go from super confident to completely pathetic!) But what resulted from my break, was a fresh set of ears the next morning. And what did these ears tell me? This mix actually DOES sound good. I was on the right track. No need to panic. I had just lost perspective. Things were better than I thought they were!

Worse Than You Think You Are

That’s a nice little story isn’t it? Graham thinks his mix stinks, so we walks away, only to come back the next day and realize that it sounded great the whole time! Yay for Graham! The truth, this isn’t always the case. A good chunk of the time the exact opposite happens. I’ll be (seemingly) crushing a mix. All is right with the world. I stop for the day only to return the next morning to a surprisingly sad discovery. My mix sounds like poo.

Now this is a pretty common experience for some people. We think we’re cranking out great mixes only to find after some separation that we had lost perspective about 3 hours ago and the mix is going no where fast. As frustrating as it is, this is a really good reason to walk away from your recordings or mixes. Even if you think things sound great, take a break and come back later. You might discover that things sound worse than you thought and you still have time to fix it before you share it with the world.

Some Practical Tips

Here’s some news: you and I are human. That means we lose perspective quickly. To put it plainly we can’t trust our ears. I firmly believe the saying “If it sounds good, it is good.” The only problem is, sometimes we aren’t hearing things in reality.

Did you know your ears have drums in them? And just like musical drums that we smash with a stick for fun, these drums can tighten or loosen due to temperature and pressure. In fact they can totally compress (a protection mechanism God invented) to shield your ears from loud noises, prolonging your hearing. Keeping this in mind, it’s a good idea to mix at low volumes so as to protect your hearing, but also keep your hearing accurate for longer periods of time. Also, walk away periodically to allow your ears to reset.

Also our ears become accustomed to the frequencies they are hearing and they compensate. If you are mixing something that lacks top end, your ears can easily “fill in the missing pieces” and help you imagine there is enough high frequency information in there. Unless you briefly bring in an outside mix for reference, you’ll have no clue what your mix really sounds like. A quick reference (as painful as that can be) might just be the difference between an amateur mix and a professional one.

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