Today’s post is really important. If you can grasp this truth and let it sink down deep into your bones then it will truly set you free as you continue on your mixing journey.
The Moving Target
Let me ask you a question: how do you know when your mix is done? I mean, literally, how do YOU know when you’ve finished a mix?
Is it when you’ve spent a certain number of hours on it? What about when it sounds just like your favorite reference track? Is it when your girlfriend thinks it’s awesome? Or how about when it finally doesn’t sound horrible in your car stereo?
All of these are legitimate ways to measure your mix. I know because I’ve used each of them. But their is a looming problem underneath all of these barometers, and that is the moving target of a “perfect” or “correct” mix. We all have this invisible script that we believe that says something like “there is a correct way to mix and a correct way a mix should sound.”
Via JOHN LLOYD Flickr
We might not say verbally believe this, but functionally we do. The “correct” mix is a moving target, one that is elusive. Mostly because it doesn’t exist.
No Such Thing As Correct
The key to getting great at mixing is to understand that every good mix rests on the foundation of two pillars: the technical pillar and the creative pillar. Yes, there are some inherently systematic things that you need to understand and implement in order to get a clear, balanced, and functional mix. But do music fans engage with a mix because it’s clear, balanced, and functional? Not at all.
Instead, we are drawn to music because it is art. Not science. It captures our attention like a great painting. It moves us like a powerful performance from an actor on stage. It draws on our emotions and creative aesthetic. Knowing this is true, there can be no “correct” way for a mix to sound. Just like there is no “correct” way a painting should look or an actor should act. There is only taste, style, and preference.
What Do You Think Mixes Should Sound Like?
The best thing I could tell you today is that YOU get to determine what a mix should sound like. It’s totally up to you. You have certain musical influences, certain favorite mixes, and a certain aesthetic for music that is unique to you. As a mixer, your job is to leverage what you like and lay that out as your goal.
Forget about the moving target of sounding “correct.” Instead, define what correct sounds like to YOU and shoot for that. Having a personal standard is a healthy thing, not a burden. And it’s liberating to know that you are in control of your target, not someone else.
Change Your Questions
So as you are progressing on your mixing journey I want to challenge you to change the questions that you ask. Instead of asking questions like “How can I get the snare drum to sound professional?” ask questions like “What do I want this snare drum to sound like on this mix?”
Instead of asking things like “How much compression should I put on the mix buss?” ask questions like “How much compression makes this mix sound awesome?”
Have YOU been assuming that there is some mythical standard for a great mix and trying to get there? Share your thoughts below!