If we’re being honest, most of the time the best thing we can do for our mixes is to walk away. Whether you’re mixing for a client for your own material, we need to not only take breaks, but have a system in place that allows some separation to occur before we give our mixes the final seal of approval and “print” them.
Via Stuart Heath Flickr
Start Your Mixes Fresh
When I’m ready to mix, I sit down when I’m most fresh, most awake. For me this is first thing in the morning after a hot cup of coffee. I don’t check email, I don’t text anyone, I don’t catch up on last night’s game. I simply open up the tracks and start working. The reason is simple, give your best effort to the initial mix, with fresh ears.
If you aren’t able to mix in the morning (work, school, family, etc) and your only available time blocks are late at night, then you have to do whatever it takes to get your ears fresh and your mind sharp before you sit down. Don’t rush into mixing from whatever you were doing prior. Take a few minutes to quiet your mind, get your studio space clean and comfortable, get some caffeine in your system and focus. This is key.
Anything Goes In Round One
Then you simply need to mix the crud out of your songs. Don’t treat this is as your only chance to touch the mixes, so don’t be timid. Instead push the boundaries, try new things, take your time, keep your ears focused, be creative. Anything goes in this round.
This is your moment to flex your mixing muscles as best you can with the knowledge, experience, and tools you have your disposal. If you don’t flex here, you won’t get any stronger. At the same time, don’t expect this round to define you as a mixer or seal your songs’ fate. Just mix and think of nothing else.
Then Get Up And Walk Away
Here’s the most important part that so many young mixers miss. You must, I repeat, must get up, leave your studio and walk away from the mixes for a day or two. You need separation for both pysiological and emotional reasons. You are too biased to what you just mixed and your ears have already adjusted to your listening environment that you actually can’t make any accurate assessment of how it sounds.
Whether you come back the next day or the next week, this walking away is one of the smartest things you can do to ensure that you finish your mixes well. And yet, many of us don’t do it. If you have clients or band members, this is a good time to let them hear and take notes on your first mixes knowing that you plan on tweaking them further.
Coming Back For More
Finally, block off some time to return to your mixes with fresh ears and energy (like when you first sat down to mix). Listen to them as critically as you can, taking note of everything that jumps out at you. Make the tweaks, try a few more things, and then commit. Nine times out of ten, you’ll have arrived at your best possible mix in version two. If not, you can repeat the walking away and coming back steps for some last minute tweaks, no problem.
It sounds simple, but so many people miss this. And in order for this system to work you must set aside enough time to allow breaks to happen. This means being realistic with yourself, your band, and your clients about how long the mixing process will take. If you get it down sooner, no one will be upset. So don’t paint yourself into a corner only to rush things and deliver poor mixes.