After about 4 or 5 hours the mix was starting to come together, but if I’m being honest it was only just OK.

Then I did something that dramatically transformed this OK mix into a great one; a mix that had more punch, power, energy, and dynamics.

What technique or trick did I use to enhance my mix? I simply started over from scratch.

mixing board

The Power Of Exploration

The mix wasn’t really hitting like I wanted it to, and all I could do was add more and more plugins (or swap out plugins and settings). Things were getting out of hand fast.

I was so frustrated that I decided to something I rarely do – zero out the mix, delete all my plugins and automation, and start with a clean slate.

I went back to the first major step in mixing, getting the right volume balance.

Why did I do this?

Because I needed to get back to the exploration phase of mixing – the part of the process where you aren’t really making technical decisions but rather simply exploring what is available to you.

In this moment you simply are bringing up faders, balancing them against other faders and seeing what resonates with you.

Of course I had already done this at the beginning of my first mix, but I wanted another shot to see if there was something I had missed.

In fact, there was.

On my re-mix of the song I started to notice some synth parts that were super cool. Somehow I had missed them before and simply had them buried underneath the guitars.

But when I brought the level of these synths way up in the mix, the song came to life in a very different way. The did something cool to the guitars and vocals that simply gave the mix a different vibe – a better vibe.

I also got a better level and balance on the drums. I think the overheads were too loud before, so I turned them down and turned up the close snare and kick tracks. Way better tone this time.

All in all I was able to create a very different volume balance of the song than the first time and all because I took the time to explore and try different levels on each track.

After The First Plugin It’s Too Late

You see something happens to us the moment we drop in the first plugin. We stop “discovering” the mix and begin to “fix” the mix.

It’s a subtle mental shift in the process – and honestly a necessary one.

In the beginning you need to be creative, exploring and discovering what’s at your disposal. Crafting new combinations of track balances to get the desired vibe.

But then you need to take that great balance and chisel away the fat, leaving only the best and most beautiful parts. That’s where EQ, compression, and other plugins come into the picture.

And there’s the caution: once you move into plugin world, it’s too late to get your balance right.

Mentally you’ve already moved on and you’ll only be tweaking your balance, not creating a new (possibly better) one.

This is why it’s so critical to take your time when getting your static “no plugin” mix. Don’t rush into reaching for plugins until you’ve got the best balance possible without them.

And ironically after I started my mix over with a better volume balance, the rest of the mix came together much quicker and with less processing!

Don’t Let Your Stubbornness Get In The Way

One final thought for you: don’t be stubborn.

If you are dropping in plugins (or even nearing the end of your mix) and things just don’t sound the way you want – don’t do what I do many times, and stubbornly keep moving.

Don’t say, “But I’ve spent so many hours on this mix. There’s no WAY I’m undoing all that hard work and starting over!”

If starting over could lead to a much better mix, then the pride of not wanting to start over will cost you. It has definitely cost me before.

Not every mix needs be started over – but sometimes it’s the absolute best thing you could do to transform your OK mix into a great one!

Have YOU ever wiped the session and started a mix over? What was the result? Would you do it again on another song if you had to? Why or why not?

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