One Question that can be pretty obscure is: How do I really know when my mix is finished?
If mixing were as technical as many others make it out to be then it would make sense that there would be some point where you knew it was done. You’d simply just stop when it was “technically finished”
Like Art, Mixing is Subjective
The truth is that thinking about mixing in that kind of way is a bit obscene. Mixing really is an art form and just like any other type of art, it’s very subjective. You may like something that I absolutely detest, but that’s what makes art great. But this also makes finishing a mix fairly difficult because there is no objective end point.
Now for most people this porbably would leave you very frustrated not knowing where to finish. There are however some helpful strategies that you can lean on to help you know when your mix is finished. I’m going to share them with you now.
The Improvement Technique
This is a little technique that I developed though I’m pretty sure that there are other engineers out there doing something similar. You basically just listen to your mix until it gets to a point where it is boring or uninspiring. Whenever you feel like your kind of getting out of the music, then you know it’s time to do something.
It could be something as simple as adding some reverb or a little delay trickery to keep the mix fresh and interesting. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it fits the song and that the listener remains engaged. I will never finish one of my mixes if I feel like it doesn’t pass this test. It might only need a few more minutes of work but if it’s not compelling from start to finish than I don’t think I’m done.
Become the Average Listener
I try to do this atleast once during the mix, before or after the last technique I mentiones, it doesn’t really matter. But what’s important to note is that I won’t touch the faders, plugins, or pan pots. I’m just listening. I’m trying to find anything that’s distracting.
If something takes me out of the average listener mode and I get back into engineer mode, than I know I’m not finished. It could be something like a harsh vocal that pops out every so often or maybe a drum kick that’s a bit too loud. It doesn’t really matter, because whatever it is, I’ll make a note of it and then fix it right away. Nothing about the mix should distract the listener from the song.
Know Your Time Limit
It’s good to build up an idea of just how long it takes you to mix a song. I know for me it takes about 8-10 hours, give or take so I make note of that. If I’m working on a song and it goes beyond my average mix time, I’m probably hitting a point of diminishing returns, so I would probably stop focusing on the non essential parts of the song to get back to the fundamentals of what makes the music good.
But don’t some songs just take a lot longer to mix than others?!
Yes, this is true and of course rules are always made to be broken but I find that the timer really does give me a good gauge to let me know if I’m on track or not. The timer doesn’t lie – It knows when you should be putting the finishing touches on. Everyone has their own time limit and for some its 3 hours and others 10 hours. But whatever your time limit is, try and set up a timer and then trust it.
But Seriously, Are We Ever Really Finished?
Those thre tips I laid out help me gauge when I sould be stopping my mix. Noticed that I never when my mix is finished. The truth of the matter is that a mix is never really finished, we could be mixing the same song for the next 5 years if we could. There’s always going to be something more that you could do. I really just try to do as best as I can and then move on. I think of it like a time capsule. That was the way I approached mixing in a period of time. Try it Yourself!!