When Do You Know Your Mix Is Done?

One of the biggest questions I get asked is “how do you know your mix is done?”

This is a dilemma that every mixing engineer has encountered at some point in their lives; and depending on your workflow, it can have a major effect on your skill level, income and sanity.

I remember asking a Grammy award-winning engineer how I could improve my speed and get great mixes done faster; his response was:

“Stop being a perfectionist… No one is perfect. No mix is perfect. And everyone listens to songs differently.  That last 5% that you struggle to get perfect in your mix, means nothing to your client. Chances are they won’t hear it and you’re just going to waste hours trying to please your own ego – which you’ll never achieve because perfection doesn’t exist”

It can be a hard reality to face – but it is so true.  There are so many times engineers find themselves trying to make “one last change” or asking themselves “what if I try this?” only to find they’ve wasted their time and/or have actually made their mixes worse.

The biggest mixing engineers in the world work fast! Some of them including Chris Lord-Alge (Green Day, Black Eyed Peas, U2) make some of the best sounding mixes in a 3hr timeframe.

So how can you tell when your mix is done? Here are a couple techniques I use:

Before you start mixing:

Set a deadline

  • Give yourself a few hours to complete the mix
  • Setting a deadline will make you work faster
  • It forces you to commit to the work you’ve done
  • It allows you to keep a clear vision for how the mix should sound. The more time you spend second-guessing things, the more you will lose sight of what you should be doing

At the end of that deadline:

1. Listen to the mix as a listener (not an engineer)

  • Turn off your computer screen
  • Don’t make any adjustments to the mix during this listen
  • Listen for things a fan might find distracting. Are there any big volume jumps? Can you hear the instruments clearly?
  • Remember, your goal by this stage, is to have a song that sounds nice and complete. You don’t want to “hear” the mix.
  • If after listening, there aren’t any major changes that really stick out, consider your mix done.
  • If there are some changes, set another (much shorter) deadline to complete them

2. Ask yourself, “Am I just tinkering with plugins/faders without having an objective?”

  • Don’t change things just because you have the ability to
  • If you find yourself guessing what to do next; most likely, you’re all done the mix.

3. Ask your client

  • Don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel about the mix
  • They’ll let you know if they’d like any changes
  • There’s no harm in letting them hear something you might consider “an incomplete mix”. For all you know, they might actually think it sounds great and is done already
  • Remember, your job is to give them what they want – not what you want

4. Bring in a third party

  • When you think you’ve got your mix in a good spot, bring in someone who has never heard the song before and get their opinion
  • Preferably, try to choose someone who isn’t an engineer so they can give you a “fan” perspective
  • If they don’t point anything out to you that needs fixing, you’re done the mix

By personally implementing these steps, I’ve saved myself many headaches and hundreds of hours of mixing time.

Sure, it can be hard to let go of a mix; but if you’re constantly chasing perfection, you’ll never get anything done.

Think of how many more clients you can have; or how many songs you can release with all of that free time saved by no longer nitpicking.

I’d love to know what techniques you use to determine when your mixes are done.

– Mike

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