I spend a lot of time talking about setting limits in the studio. Limiting the number of tracks you use, limiting the number of plugins or effects you employ, and even muting parts you actually recorded come mix time. But one great area you can set limits is in your time. Especially when it comes to mixing? Sound counter-intuitive? It is somewhat.
More Time Mixing Isn’t Always The Answer
Any good mixer will tell you that a great mix takes time. Logically, it would also follow that the more experienced of a mixer you are, the LESS time it will take you to get a great mix, than say a newbie mixer. But what is also very apparent in the age of the all powerful DAW, is we don’t know how to finish a mix and we tend to mix aimlessly for hours.
I imagine many of you are recording/mixing your own material, so there is no external pressure to finish the project by a certain time. Money is a non factor, and there likely is no label breathing down your neck. This is both a blessing and a curse. With the freedom of no time pressure comes the curse of no focus, and that my friends can breed terrible mixes that are drawn out for way too long.
The solution? Setting a time limit…
Say Hello To The 3 Hour Mix
Now, what I’m about to suggest is nothing new, and it certainly applies to way more than just mixing. But here’s the deal: next time you mix a song, set a timer, alarm, or stopwatch for 3 hours. That’s it. Turn off your phone, clear your desk and close out of your email, and do nothing but mix a song for 3 hours with the intent to finish it.
That’s right, all balance decisions, EQ, compression, effects, and automation should be done in that 3 hours. If this sounds tight, it is. But what it forces on you is FOCUS! With the pressure of focus looming, it makes decision making easier. Not getting that random keyboard part to fit anywhere? Mute the sucker. Spending 15 minutes EQing a tambourine part? Throw a high pass filter on there and move on.
The pressure forces you to prioritize and think big picture. You don’t have time to make crazy detailed mixing decisions on the most minute part of your song. Instead you quickly, but effectively, bring all of the tracks together to make a great sounding song. And hey, isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
Come Back Later
The final step of the 3 hour mix is to walk away the moment you hit 3 hours. Save your session, close it up, and move on with your life. Don’t print your final mix right away. Come back to the mix a day or two later with fresh ears and real world perspective.
You’ll want to listen back with your eyes closed, and decide if the mix is working or not. If it is, great you’re done! If not, then you need to go back for some quick mix tweaks. My suggestion is simply give yourself one hour for mix tweaks and then print the darn thing. That’s likely the best you will get the mix, and anything beyond that is just changing things, not improving the mix.
So the next track you have to mix, try out this 3 hour mix idea and see what happens. If you don’t like the results, you can always go back to the way you use to mix. I won’t stop you 🙂