The Tim Ferriss Approach To Mixing

2013 Jul 01, 2013

Today I want to share a method of mixing that has been giving me good results in less time. Borrowing from the world of business and time management I’ve been developing some new workflows that I think can really help people in their studios. I call it the Tim Ferris approach to mixing because it’s based on some principles that were beautifully explained in the book The Four Hour Work Week by author Timothy Ferriss.


Via Gaurav Mishra Flickr

Get Better Mixes In Less Time

In Tim’s book, he addresses the problem found in the modern workplace: work for work’s sake. If we have 8 hours in a day, we fill those 8 hours and keep ourselves busy. It feels good to be busy, but are we really accomplishing much? Are we being effective? Most of the time we are not. Instead, Ferriss proposes we use two well known principles in combination to see extraordinary results in effectiveness and time savings: the 80/20 rule and Parkinson’s Law.
The 80/20 rule (or Pareto’s Principle) states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities. We see that in getting most of our mix in the first hour. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Said another way: your mix will take as much time as you give it. By exploiting these two principles we can achieve better mixes in less time.

Focus On The Big Wins In Mixing

To save time in mixing, we should be focusing on the big wins. The critical 20% of activities and mix moves that make the biggest impact in final sound. In my mind these activities are clear: initial setup things like gain staging, volume, and pan, and then the core mix effects like EQ and compression. Those activities are what make up your mix. The rest is just candy.

Looking at this from the other end of the spectrum, try to avoid spending much time on the 80% of your activities that only contribute to 20% of the final mix. These would be mix moves like reverb, delay, automation, trying lots of random plugins, etc. It’s too easy to get caught up in the complexities of these activities instead of spending your time where it counts.

Give Yourself Tighter Deadlines

You know how if given a week to write a paper in school, you’ll take a week? But when a paper is due in 24 hours, you somehow find a way to get it done in 24 hours? That’s Parkinson’s Law at work. The power of a short deadline creates immense focus, allowing you to get more done in less time. Why not exploit that for our purpose of mixing?

By simply imposing a tighter deadline on yourself, you’ll likely increase focus and see better results. It seems counterintuitive, but it works. So if you typically take 6 hours to get a mix done, try to do it in 3. If you take 4 hours to mix, try to do it in 2. Give yourself half the time you normally take to mix and see what happens.

The Powerful Combination

The beauty of the Tim Ferriss approach to mixing is this: the 80/20 rule helps you to reduce the time spent on unnecessary mix moves, while Parkinson’s Law forces you to do your remaning mix moves in less time than you’d like. The result? You can get a mix done in less time that was completely focused on what really makes a difference to the listener.

I know that the goal of mixing isn’t purely to be fast. And I understand that if you’re brand new to this craft, it takes time to finish a mix. But I hope your eyes were opened to the possibilities and the power of this approach. Minimize work for work’s sake. Don’t waste your time on the mixing moves that don’t produce big results. And create more focus by having shorter deadlines. In the end you’ll get better at mixing. And ultimately that’s the goal.

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