The Day I Lost My Mixing Mojo (And How I Got It Back)

2015 May 25, 2015

Last week I mixed the same song 6 different times.

No, it wasn’t some challenge or experiment. At least not an intentional one. Rather it was the result of me losing something: my mixing mojo.

The problem grew exponentially when I started doing really dumb stuff. Read on.


Via jseliger2 Flickr

Where I First Went Wrong

It all started when I pulled up a session I needed to mix and instead of first listening through to hear what the tracks needed, I began dropping in plugins and doing complicated mix moves.

That’s where it all initially went wrong.

Much like a doctor who blindly writes a prescription before observing the patient, I started mixing on autopilot without first considering what would be best for the song.

This is so backwards that it baffles me as to why I let it happen. All the mixing greats will tell you that the song tells you how the mix should go – you must only pay attention in the beginning and take some notes.

A couple of hours into the mix I had no direction; No clue as to where I was going and why. It was a mess from the start.

Unfortunately I only made things worse.

I Started Swapping Out Gear

Since I hated the mix, I decided to start over. Good idea. But this time I convinced myself that I would use different studio monitors and plugins. Bad idea.

Yeah – this is the guy who has spent over 5 years making the case for limiting your options, sticking with a handful of plugins you know well, and becoming super familiar with your speakers or headphones so you can make accurate mix decisions.

If only I would take my own advice.

So, I pulled down my current monitors, put up some older monitors I’ve used before, and even started relying more heavily on a new set of plugins I had never tapped into much.

I re did the mix another time , only to discover that it still wasn’t a good mix. Can you guess where this is headed??

I Mixed Under Silly Prideful Assumptions

If you’re following me so far, I’ve made two big mistakes that have already derailed this mixing process: I mixed blindly without really listening to what the tracks needed and I swapped out a lot of my usual gear.

And I’ve lost two rounds of mixing at this point. Great.

So a third problem I created for myself was that with this song in particular I was mixing under some prideful assumptions:

  1. That I should do it with minimal plugins on my mix buss (not sure why that was an issue at the time)
  2. And that I wouldn’t use drum samples (even though the song really needed them).

You see, my gut told me initially that this song needed a certain kick and snare sound, one that (in this case) would only come from some super modern samples. The raw tracks just weren’t what they hoped they would be.

And that’s fine – that’s why I have samples. For this very scenario.

But my pride kicked in and said “No, I can do this without ANY samples.”

But here’s the thing.

The client doesn’t care if I use samples or not. The music fans don’t care if I use samples or not. Only I care (at least in that moment). And I was feeling elitist that day so I said “No” to the samples and went my way trying to create some killer drum sounds without them.

Usually this is possible if the tracks were recorded well. These weren’t BAD tracks per se, but they definitely weren’t up to snuff.

So I lost another few hours mixing this song two or three more times just trying to make the drums sound awesome, but to no avail.

And at the same time I got it stuck in my head that I wasn’t going to use hardly any plugins on my mix buss. Again, I’m not sure why I thought like this. I just did.

You see, typically I employ the heavy mix buss theory because it gives me great results in less time. But for some reason I was stubborn and tried to do it another way.

I lost a lot of time dropping in tons of plugins on my individual tracks only to still have a bad sounding mix.

Just Do What You Know Works

So at this point I’ve mixed a song 5 different times, on two sets of speakers, with two sets of different plugins, fighting the fact that it could benefit from drum samples and some key plugins on my mix buss.

And now I’m sick of the song – because I’ve mixed it 5 times. Big trouble.

That night I was lamenting about this ridiculous mixing situation to my wife, telling her about all of my switch ups and stubborn assumptions, when she asked me a very obvious and clarifying question.

“Why don’t you just do what you know works?”

Huh. Great question.

That next morning (after being humbled by some lovely wife wisdom) I got in the studio, hooked up my original monitors from a few days prior, wiped out the mix session to start for a sixth time, and decided to listen intently to what the song needed – and then give it precisely that.

I used plugins I was more familiar with. I mixed on the speakers I’ve had great results with. I used the drum samples that I knew would help (and they did), and I went heavy on the mix buss like I prefer to do.

The result? A really good mix!

Wow, what a concept. Doing what works.

Learn From My Mistakes – Keep It Simple

I wanted to share this epic failure of a story to help you. I don’t want you to have to mix the same song 6 times and get super frustrated.

So here is some parting wisdom if you ever get stuck or lose your mixing mojo (like I did).

Keep mixing simple.

In the end all you’re job is as a mixer is to get a great balance of the tracks.

Taking things a step further, you could boil mixing down into two steps: fixing the bad and enhancing the good.

All of this is best done with as few plugins as possible, relying heavily on EQ and compression more than any other effect.

Remember to let the song tell you what it needs. Trust your gut, use what has worked in the past, don’t look to new (or different) gear to solve things for you. It will only prove a distraction and potentially steal hours (or days) from your week.

Have YOU ever lost your mixing mojo? What mistakes did you make? And how did you get back on track? Share your thoughts below!

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