Why You Should Be Mixing With A Timer

2014 Mar 12, 2014

One problem plaguing home studio mixers these days is a giant lack of focus. We pull up faders, tweak knobs, drop in plugins, fiddle with automation, and then repeat this crazy process for hours. In the end we wind up with a mix. Maybe a good one, maybe not so good.

I believe that the power of focus is what helps the top mixing engineers in the world deliver great results every time. And do you know what creates focus? A ticking clock.


Via William Warby Flickr

The Power Of Parkinson’s Law

If you’ve never heard of Parkinson’s Law then this will blow your mind. His 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.
Don’t we find this to be true in other areas of our lives? Given two weeks to write a paper or report, we take the entire 14 days. Given just one day to write it, we stay up all night and get that sucker done. What changed? The pressure to perform under a tight deadline gave way to powerful focus.

We can magically flip on the power of Parkinson’s Law by setting a timer while we mix. Whether it’s one hour, two hours, or 10 hours, we see a clock ticking down and we know we must deliver.

Big Picture Thinking

In essence, by exploiting Parkinson’s Law, by artificially reducing the time we have to work on a mix, something in us is unlocked and we become more focused on what really matters. No longer do we aimlessly throw plugins around. There’s no time for that. No longer do we try a few different settings on the tambourine track. Who cares? It’s just a tambourine!

Rather, we move quickly and purposefully trying to create a mix that is balanced. And really isn’t that what mixing is all about? No listener is every going nerd out on which Q setting you used on that 2k boost on the snare track. All they hear is snare drum, and it’s either good or bad.

Sure microscopic thinking is important in mixing. We need to pay attention to very small details, I get that. But the small details only serve the greater mission which is to have a great sounding mix, big picture. It’s all too easy to lose perspective in micro mixing land.

The Goal Isn’t Speed

Let me make a disclaimer here. Some people have heard me discuss this concept of mixing to a timer before and falsely think that my goal is to mix as fast as possible so I can move on to something else. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While I don’t like wasting time, the goal of mixing with a timer isn’t about speed; it’s about results.

If I mix with absolutely no pressure (i.e. I have all the time I need), I will churn out a bad mix, guaranteed. Why? No focus. Remember Parkinson’s Law. Our work will expand as we give it more time. How is that possible? The tracks didn’t increase in number. The song didn’t get longer.

No, what happened was this: the more time we give a mix, the more we start tweaking things beyond what they need. We are no longer helping the mix. We may not even be hurting it, but rather we are simply changing it.

Purposeful Mixing

You see, the real goal of mixing with a timer is to mix with purpose. You mix with a clear head. You mix with intentionality. You mix with vision. The result of this type of purposeful mixing is always better than that of free for all mix as you please scenarios.

A great way to get started is to do your initial 10 minute mix. This will get your mix in the best starting place possible. Once that’s done, set your timer for an hour and see how much you can get done. Take a few minutes to break. Then come back and do another hour, with a timer.

You’ll be amazed at not only how much you can accomplish in only a couple of hours, but how much closer to complete your mix will be sounding by that point. Give it a shot on your next mix. You’ve got nothing to lose.

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